Disney recently removed a LGBTQ+ moment from “The Rise of Skywalker” in Singapore, leaving many confused why the media company would make this kind of decision. The answer itself is simple: Disney did this to ensure a lower age rating for the film in its Singaporean markets. This edit translated directly into a wider distribution of the movie and a larger audience. In short — Disney earned more eyes on that film and it was able to better protect its brand in that market. Disney made sure it was not seen as irreverent of local customs or bring any doubt to its kid-friendly, family-focused brand in Singapore. And, as for the Southeast Asian country itself, LGBTQ+ rights have long been a hotly controversial topic despite growing progressive movements within Singapore’s traditionally conservative politics.
While the choice on Disney’s part to remove the scene may be controversial in the eyes of some, it’s important to recognize the business rationale for adjusting content to respect local regulations and cultural sensitivities, while also acknowledging the differences in each culture that calls for such actions. And, in this case? While the seemingly strict crackdown occurred, the removal of the short scene had a positive outcome on the financial and brand successes of “The Rise of Skywalker” in Singapore. For a global company like Disney, its brand is paramount to its success, no matter the territory or region, and cuts like this are commonplace in the industry.
How could this scene have impacted the Disney brand, though? It’s cut and dry — Singaporean censorship rulings firmly state that any film containing LGBTQ+ themes or content may completely be restricted to viewers 18 years of age and above, while any films focusing on homosexuality face harsher scrutiny and may be subject to a 21 and over rating. If the film had been left as is, it automatically would have received an 18 or even 21+ rating in Singaporean markets, due to featuring material that many Singaporeans aren’t comfortable viewing for themselves or for their families. By virtue of removing several seconds of film not integral to the movie plot, the maturity rating completely changed (receiving instead a PG-13 rating for violence) and allowed a much wider audience to be able to pay for, attend and enjoy a film they otherwise would not have been able to. This was a deliberate move on Disney’s part, rather than some last-minute effort or mistake.
Regardless of Singapore’s specific laws, many have said this removal disenfranchises LGBTQ+ representation, and even J. J. Abrams stated in an interview, “In the case of the LGBTQ community, it was important to me that people who go to see this movie feel that they’re being represented in the film.” Others have said that it doesn’t matter that those few seconds were removed, as many viewed the scene as a simple ‘throwaway’ that did not push the envelope or give people from the LGBTQ+ community the representation they wanted or deserved. With many saying it was a step back for LGBTQ+ representation in film rather than a step forward, multitudes of voices on the internet have since called for openly LGBTQ+ characters in future Disney productions instead of relegating the representation to background characters.
Content providers today distributing their titles internationally are often faced with the similar challenge of balancing storytelling and statistics, the integrity of their film with the profits of their franchise, and importantly, the physical distribution of their title within regions that may find some parts of it contentious. Many studios, as a result, elect instead to respect local laws and ensure their films are culturally appropriate so they have the ability to reach the widest market, impact the biggest audience and make the most money. Even just knowing when or where to change a small scene or remove a single frame in a region-specific compliance edit could allow the film to be seen by hundreds of thousands more viewers, and in some markets, even millions.
This example of Singaporean censorship serves as a shining example for how being culturally compliant can be good for business and a brand, while also serving to stress the importance of executing that cultural compliance as openly and tactfully as possible.
The media and entertainment (M&E) division of V2 Solutions has been spun off into a new M&E company named Spherex, led by CEO and founder Teresa Phillips, and the new company is “creating a new category: the first digital market network for the M&E industry,” according to Jim Delli Santi, its VP of marketing.
“We named it Spherex because our metadata and merchandising platform provides an unparalleled 360 degree view of titles across digital stores around the globe,” he told the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) Dec. 19.
“Our mission is to connect global storytellers with digital stores and their local audiences worldwide,” he said, adding the company’s artificial intelligence- (AI-) assisted market network “acts like a smart merchandising assistant, monitoring and notifying you of metadata issues for titles across global” over-the-top (OTT) and multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) platforms.
In the process, Spherex will help customers “understand and react to changing market conditions and discover new market opportunities,” he said, explaining: “The large industry problem we are solving touches every aspect of today’s inefficient digital supply chain — but then extends this value from problem solving to creating an entirely new way to market and merchandise digital titles globally.”
The company has seen from the “significant technology investments” it’s made that “the existing supply chain — how we’ve always done things — won’t scale and is starting to buckle under current and projected OTT growth,” according to Phillips.
Explaining how V2 evolved into Spherex, she said: “A couple of years ago, we began thinking about the digital supply chain as circular workflows rather than linear processes. And the result is Spherex — our solution to the core M&E pain points. Spherex’s matching IDs and controlled metadata across Product, Avails and Stores solves for today’s store compliance issues such as availability, pricing, metadata and artwork.”
The company’s solution also tracks price changes and promotions across storefronts, she pointed out.
“But this is just the beginning,” she said, adding the Spherex platform “now allows retailers, who know their customers best,” and content providers, “who know their products best, to communicate back and forth through common data translations and structures.”
That allows each to “do what they do best, while providing an infrastructure to increase updates transactional velocity end-to-end,” she said, explaining: “This new, always-on connectivity lets both benefit from marketing activities such as smart distribution or dynamic pricing and solves for what we all ultimately want: Letting customers find the right content at the right time as a sea of new content washes over the globe. We’ve built workflow and utility underneath our platform and analytics on top to enable smart distribution decisions and continuous translation and flow of metadata and content.”
For more information – See https://www.mesalliance.org/2018/12/20/v2-solutions-me-division-spins-off-into-spherex/
In launching our new global title expansion platform – we are thrilled to be able to deliver industry insights to you about the changing global media landscape in our four business blogs on Local Age Ratings, Global Title Monitoring and Global Title Metadata. We look forward to discussing major industry trends and developments with you.
If there is one meaningful insight we took away from Mipcom 2018 – it is that the creative economy is fast converging with the platform economy and a sea of content is about to wash over the globe. This mega-convergence is creating market forces that are pressuring today’s siloed metadata and linear workflows to become more open and fluid, requiring new levels of global visibility and control to monetize content better.
A Content Tsunami
Mipcom events clearly indicated continuing growth in digital platforms is happening at an incredible pace. 2018 Keynote Speaker and ITV CEO, Carolyn McCall, announced ITV’s Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) service launching by year end in the UK while a host of new DTC services are targeting domestic audiences residing in other countries such as Cinedigm’s new OTT channel offering Chinese film and television content to North American audiences. More than a few content-hungry video platforms were presenting as well. Huawei’s Director of Content Cooperation Jian Ju announced the expansion of their global mobile video network connecting content partners in seven countries to audiences worldwide. Mr. Ju said Huawei is looking to expand its content network from 200 content partners today to over 1,000 by 2022.
The platform growth is driving explosive content and revenue growth. Juniper Research now forecasts worldwide OTT video revenues will double from $64 billion this year to $120 billion in 2022 with SVOD services fueling this growth. The Economist recently reported a Goldman Sachs analysis that Netflix will surpass its 2018 content budget of $8 billion to spend between $12 to $13 billion by year-end. Content budgets are exploding as multinational content attempts to meet insatiable demand across too-numerous-to-name smart connected devices, access methods and formats offered through overlapping pricing models – FVOD, AVOD, TVOD, and SVOD.
A Metadata Perfect Storm
It’s not entirely clear how the management of content metadata can keep up when the number of titles requiring marketing and distribution is growing exponentially. IndieWire reports that while Disney and Warner Bros. expect to release 10 and 23 films respectively in 2018, Netflix is expected to release north of 82 films while producing or acquiring 700 new programs, many of which are being produced in multiple countries. Multiply anticipated releases by the number of studios, platforms, devices, and OTT services, and what results is a historically all-time high volume of multinational content and a near-perfect storm for the supply chain processes required to create and manage title metadata.
If one considers the metadata changes required to manage title, price, synopsis, language and artwork across windows, storefronts, devices and formats (SD, HD, 4k and now 8K/UHD previewed at Mipcom) – the sheer volume of global updates to be managed will cause sensory overload.
Billions of Metadata Variations
As a service provider to the media and entertainment industry – we believe that the value chain operators best qualified to author metadata who will convince an audience to watch their content – are the content providers themselves. A title’s discoverability within retail storefronts is directly dependent on the quality of its metadata, yet the creation of this metadata is a less than desirable task for most studios – and is often left to downstream operators including distributors, post-houses, aggregators and other types of service providers.
The metadata variations of the million global titles we track illustrate these points very well. Our algorithms processing historical title metadata yield over two billion metadata variations across title, synopsis, genre and the names of actors, actresses, producers, and directors. We’ve seen the number of synopsis versions that exist for a single popular title range from five to as high as thirty to forty variations across global storefronts. Although we find film run-time to be reasonably consistent across storefronts, something as basic and essential as film genre can have ten or more variations between first and second level genre categories (Action/Adventure vs. Sci-fi/Fantasy vs. Action Sci-fi). The names of studios that own the rights to distribute the content also have problematic variations while the names of actors and directors can be abbreviated multiple times, in numerous different ways across retail platforms.
Recent initiatives by the EIDR coalition are a much-needed effort to standardize metadata to accurately track and manage content titles end-to-end through the business systems used to license, distribute, localize, market and calculate/distribute revenue and royalties. We fully support EIDR because we believe content metadata should not be siloed and should be free – dynamically flowing through these business systems to increase content transactional velocity, fix revenue leakages and create new sales opportunities.
However, to tap these exciting new revenue opportunities, we also believe content creators, and marketers need the ability to track, measure and adapt storefront metadata to the preferences of their global audiences who are accessing their content through an ever-increasing number of channels, platforms, and devices. Given the volume of multinational content coming our way as the creative and platform economies merge, we believe a new approach for managing and calibrating film and television metadata for global audiences is required now. A reimagined digital supply chain is needed to provide an entirely new level of metadata fluidity, visibility, and control across platforms, devices, formats, languages, and geographies – so that the opportunity to improve content monetization looks as bright as the creativity and platforms making all of this content growth possible.