A Plea to Amazon: You Have (Part of) MGM’s Library. Let People Watch It
Plus: a Cold War classic assigned!
Amazon has concluded its deal to purchase MGM for $8.5 billion.* Most folks are focused on what will happen to James Bond (spoiler: not much, since MGM only owns half his rights and the owners of the other half are very stingy with what they’ll allow the property to do). Others want to know what the internet’s megastore is going to do with classic characters like Rocky Balboa and Robocop, both of whom are owned by MGM. Will the world finally get to see Apollo Creed fight the ED-209? Who can say.
That said, I have a slightly more prosaic concern: What will happen to MGM’s library?
Or, at least, the part of MGM’s library that MGM still owns. Back in the 1980s, Ted Turner bought MGM’s pre-1986 catalog as part of a deal designed to give his then-nascent cable companies some 2,200 films for people to watch as well as a film studio from which he could make shows and movies for TBS and TNT. Still, Amazon is getting about 4,000 titles, which they could add to their Prime Video service. In theory, it seems like a pretty simple thing to add them to the Prime Video and beef up the number of streaming titles to offer to viewers.
In practice, though, it’s not so simple. While many, perhaps even most, MGM titles are already on various streaming services, there are others that aren’t. Getting a title ready for digital isn’t free, especially if you want to do it well: If you don’t already have HD files ready for upload, you need to find negatives or lightly used prints to make a proper digital transfer. And if you want to update what you do have from HD to 4K, well, you’ll probably have to find the negatives anyway.
Then you’ll actually have to spend the time getting them ready for the digital catalog: writing synopses, labeling actors and characters, etc. It’s not difficult work, but it is mildly time consuming. And that’s after you ensure that you actually have the rights, that they’re not tied up with some other service for the time being.
All of which is to say that it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which Amazon makes some percentage of their new MGM titles available while letting many others wither on the vine. After all, consider the state of 20th Century Fox’s library under its new owners, Disney.
Again in theory, the vast 20th Century Fox holdings should be a boon for Disney, given that it owns both Disney+ and Hulu. Disney+ could serve as the site for family-friendly fare, while more adult-oriented material could migrate over to Hulu. In reality, older film libraries are never worth quite as much as we film lovers would like. You remember when you’d walk into a Blockbuster and see a single movie taking up an entire wall in the new release section? That’s because 90 percent of business came from the newest 10 percent of titles. People want to watch new stuff.
Which means that Disney doesn’t really have much reason to spend resources making movies like The Firebrand or Night Train to Paris available online. But they also understand these are assets and all assets are worth protecting, which is why Disney has been incredibly stingy with allowing repertory theaters to show classic 20th Century Fox titles like Alien or the remake of The Fly.
Despite one of the world’s greatest film libraries (20th Century Fox’s) being owned by a company that has two separate and well-trafficked streaming services (Hulu and Disney+), the films available on either is spotty, at best. Let us hope that the same fate does not befall MGM’s library.
So if I have one request of Amazon, it’s this: digitize everything and make it all available as soon as possible.
*$8.5 BILLION with a B, apologies for the million-with-an-m in the initial email.
As a reminder, members of Bulwark+ have a bonus episode of Across the Movie Aisle to listen to today. This week, Alyssa, Peter, and I discuss our favorite Pixar movies. Sign up today to listen right now!
If I see a better movie than Everything Everywhere All of the Time this year, it’ll have been a great year. I haven’t been this shook walking out of a theater since seeing The Matrix for the first time 20-some years ago. Read my review then go buy your tickets.
On Across the Movie Aisle’s main episode this week, we discussed Disney’s reaction to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and whether or not Bob Chapek’s initial instinct to not be used as a pawn in the culture war was the correct one.
Proponents of the aforementioned bill say it’s merely a guard against children being taught about sex. Regardless of the intent, for families like The Bulwark’s own Sarah Longwell, the law is over-broad and written in a way that could exclude her children from discussing their parents.
Script-readers like Adam Novak have a vital role to play in the filmmaking ecosystem. As WME’s head of story he’s read for some of the greats, like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger (and read some of the great films before they were made; his story about Titanic here is a hoot). Adam’s also a novelist, and his latest, Rat Park, is a bit strange and well worth your time.
Hannah Yoest asks a sadly timely question: When is it okay to laugh during war?
I didn’t watch Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club because I’m not a tween girl, but I did find this piece on the streamer’s decision to cancel it interesting. It remains somewhat unclear to me what Netflix is doing from a creative or commercial standpoint.
Speaking of Netflix, the Entertainment Strategy Guy’s newsletter in the Ankler about Netflix’s declining market share is must-read material. What’s interesting is that the overall size of their subscriber base is still growing, just at a much-slower rate than the rest of the streaming universe. The winner-take-all idea that drove their fantastic valuation is dying an ugly death and it remains to be seen if the company can survive by “merely” generating revenue roughly equal to the entire domestic box office back when that was an impressive figure.
Assigned Viewing: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Showtime)
In our weekly meeting, my colleague Mona Charen suggested writing a piece about Cold War movies in light of Russian aggression. I don’t know that I have a whole piece about such films in me just yet, but I do think it’s worth revisiting some of these films while Russia reclaims its rightful role as world villain.
So this week I’m assigning Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Ten years ago, it was up for a handful of Oscars, and for good reason: It’s slow, subtle, and mournful, featuring an absolutely brilliant performance by Gary Oldman as Le Carre’s master spy, George Smiley. The cast as a whole is just out of this world: Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Graham, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, etc. But the guy I love most? Tom Hardy’s Ricki Tarr, who is nearly broken by the fact that a woman he loved was killed by the KGB as a result of his activities.
One day I hope director Tomas Alfredson makes the sequel to Tinker Tailor, The Honourable Schoolboy. But instead of that book’s lead character, Jerry Westerby, I hope they give Westerby’s arc and his tragic end to Tarr. Hardy would absolutely crush the part and it would give the character a little closure he’s denied at the end of Tinker Tailor.