By HPA Founder Sumeet Goel
We’re in the thick of awards season and the confluence of most things sports related, while competition among streaming services catering to niche taste heats up. As March Madness and Spring Training kick off, while the NBA and NHL close another season and the NFL begins drafting, and movie studios and exhibitors ramp up their games, it may be the time for old school diehards to cut the cord. As HPA’s resident guru on all things media and sports related, the team asked me to share my thoughts on these timely topics. Below are some of my personal thoughts, along with links to articles and data from journalists. Just for fun, I’ve added my own personal peak TV reviews of a couple of dozen shows I’ve recently devoured, and I’m eager to share them with you.
(1) Movies: Self-professed geeks like me have spent a lifetime feeding off the thrill of sci-fi and superheroes, which over the past two decades have given rise to a multi-billion-dollar box office battle.
Any casual moviegoer would tell you that superhero movies have taken over, but the data is startling to look at:
Marvel is central to this rise. The Marvel vs DC debate had comic fans arguing for decades, and 20 years ago, both sides would have agreed that DC’s IP was much more valuable than Marvel’s. We would have expected Spider-Man to be tangled in the Batcave by now.
As Disney’s Marvel moves into its final phase 3, it looks like all systems go for 2019, per CinemaBlend.
Meanwhile, DC is finally fighting back, as Aquaman flooded the U.S. box office with $332 million ahead of its 10th weekend, and might ride the wave to become the 7th biggest superhero movie ever, Forbes reports. I love having a sideline seat to this big screen battle, and I look forward to what comes next from the DCEU as well as how Marvel transitions to its next challenge. If Hulk wore shoes, they’d be tough to fill!
As an avid moviegoer, I can’t help but think about the disruption MoviePass created by offering, for a short time, a $10 a month subscription service enabling members to view unlimited movies. While they tried to put on a brave face during a recent in-depth interview and pseudo-confessional, the good times weren’t lying ahead and they laid off their business-development team on Thursday, per Business Insider.
I never subscribed to MoviePass, but the game-changing play spurred the exhibitors to action and now I pay $20 a month for AMC Premiere because the combination of unlimited movies, the bar and dine-in experience, and the ability to save (or as I call it make money), by attending two movies per month, appeals to me. I have to fork over an additional $60 for one movie with my kids, including dinner in reclining seats. If my buddy and I check out a sci-fi flick, we pour out another $40 for cocktails. Moreover there are perks you won’t get elsewhere, like access to the hottest shows before they hit cable.
(2) Television: Call it OTT (over-the-top) television, Internet TV, or streaming TV. However you say it, cutting the cord can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, depending on your tastes and habits.
I was wasting four figures a year for DirecTV for too long to get every channel, including NFL SUNDAY TICKET (Go Iggles!). Not to mention several years of MLB Extra Innings and NBA League Pass. With multiple DVRs, my annual spend was north of $4,000. I made the leap, cancelled it all, and set up a basic DirecTV Now subscription for $39.99 a month. That, along with my Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime subscriptions (and my handy Roku box), is all my family needs. You can do it too, while engaging your household.
- Check out suppose.tv and think about what you really need, and explore options. Trust me, it’s eye opening.
- Ask your kids if they know what time their favorite show airs, and they’ll have no idea. Live television isn’t a concept for Gen Y and Gen Z.
The UBS Evidence Media Lab Consumption survey released this month found that 39 million Americans plan to stop using traditional cable. FierceVideo notes that the sea change in consumer behavior, and here are the highlights.
- Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV are the most popular options among those quitting cable.
- Fewer households plan to “double up” by simultaneously using streaming and traditional pay TV.
- 20% of respondents said they’d cancel traditional TV in the next 12 months, nearly double the 11% who said the same thing in late 2017.
In a recent survey conducted by research firm cg42, cord cutting is a sure-fire formula for cost cutting. Here are some details.
- Cord cutters paid an average of $118 per month for telecom and entertainment, compared with $203 for pay TV service for a savings of $85 a month, even when paying for Internet service and streaming video providers.
- 81% of Gen Xers, 77% of Baby Boomers, and 63% of Millennials paid for standard cable or satellite TV last year.
Fortune predicts that the arrival of two hotly anticipated new Internet streaming services will change the game even more in favor of unbundling. Survey your own family’s interests as you pare down.
- Disney CEO Bob Iger said the behemoth will focus on its “iconic brands and franchises” when it launches its Disney+ service this year. More will be revealed at an April 11 investor day, including possibly the price, which they’ve already said will undercut Netflix.
- Apple is expected to announce a new service on March 25, which looks to outside talent such as Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Steven Spielberg.
Unbundling is the new wave. Disney is the next post-Netflix 800-pound gorilla thundering our way. ESPN+, overseen by Disney’s BAMTech division, swiftly surpassed 2 million subscribers. In another game-changing move, you’ll be able watch Captain Marvel on Disney.
Network apps are another route to OTT services. They range from brutal (Starz) to seamless and info-laden ((Prime), and everything in between. Even the titans are still floundering. Ask anyone trying to “enjoy instant and unlimited access” falsely promised by HBO Go.
It’s the 21st century’s Wild West, and it’s pretty darn clear that the eyesore of balled up cables connecting devices to your oversized screen will soon end up in the recycling bin.
(3) Sports: Trailing behind Europe, where sports betting is mainstream entertainment, betting industry behemoths are pouncing on the emerging legalized U.S. market in order to grow their empires.
I’ve been keen on the evolution of legalized sports gambling for some time, eagerly observing the slowly building tidal wave. The Boston Globe has an interesting take on how this industry will flood America with a massive sea of regulation and income. Here are some key points.
- Lobbyists are testifying at public hearings, and secretly encouraging lawmakers to include business-friendly clauses and consumer safeguards in bills in the 42 states still not offering sports betting.
- Media companies are clamoring for sports betting content so fans with an itch to wager have instant informational access on a superstar’s knee strain and which direction the over-under is moving on a big NFL game.
- Daily fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel have have transformed their platforms for legal betting.
League-wise, Adam Silver and the NBA have led the charge. Silver is visionary at the forefront of this burgeoning market, offering to share real-time data to bookmakers and bettors. Think about that in contrast to just a decade ago when the NBA had a huge scandal around referees fixing games for gamblers, and ESPN’s recent deep dive here is fascinating.
I’m betting that in five years sports gambling will be legalized nationally.
(4) Reach the Peak –
As I mentioned at the top, I have been a big consumer of peak TV. I’m fascinated by why some shows succeed while others flop, and want to share my thoughts with other peak TV consumers. If you’ve gotten this far into my musings, perhaps you’ll enjoy my thoughts on a few dozen shows that I’ve watched over the past few years. Maybe you’ll find something in here to binge on? Or avoid? Regardless, I’m always looking for new stuff, so if I’ve missed a “must see” or if you’ve got your own personal “1-star” shows that nobody should watch, drop me a line.
MUST SEE (call these your 3 star rated shows):
- Sneaky Pete (Amazon): Hooked from the pilot. Actors are perfectly cast. Acting is great. Writing is great. Each character has depth (I mean each and every character – you get invested in every single one – that’s SO hard to make happen IMHO, and they do it so well), and the show juggles the different storylines and subplots quite well. Pete somehow gets by on the skin of his teeth so often it’s mesmerizing. It’s not entirely unbelievable, which is what makes it so so watchable. Can’t recommend it highly enough.
- Billions (SHO): My appointment viewing every week when it’s in season. Enough has been written about this show. It’s phenomenal. Each time you think they’ve crossed the line, they just move the line. It will jump the shark at some point, a la the train tracks in House of Cards for me, but until then, I’m loving every single episode of this show, especially the ones that don’t have Malin Ackerman in them. Just give the juicy scripts to Chuck & Bobby, Wags & Wendy, and get out of the way.
- Silicon Valley (HBO): 30 minutes goes by like a flash. Fun and makes so much fun out of the current tech culture it’s a pleasure to watch. Also enjoy seeing actual famous SV folks attempt to act just so they can say that they got their cameo. I think if you have any exposure to the SV culture (e.g., mine is extremely limited, but that’s all that’s required), you’ll enjoy it.
- Better Call Saul (AMC): I think you can watch BCS as a standalone, but obviously it works so much better (so so much better) when you’ve already consumed Breaking Bad. Not only do you get more connective tissue between the two series and the characters, you also are comfortable with the way in which the same showrunners lay out the stories, the long set ups, the silent takes, the double and triple turns, etc. I’d recommend watching this regardless, but if you haven’t seen BB, I’d recommend watching that first (yes, all of Breaking Bad – it was that good), and then watch this.
- Narcos / Narcos Mexico (Netflix): Go watch all 3 seasons of this. Right now. I’ll wait. And while you’re doing it, don’t be tempted, like I often am, to google any of it. Let it wash all over you and then, afterwards, feel free to read up on the real world stuff that happened. Their ability to stay ridiculously close to reality and still tell an incredibly compelling story in an action packed and dramatic show, tells you how truly insane the reality was.
- Peaky Blinders (Netflix): The show that made me ask my social media friends “Now what do I do?” and then eventually led to this write-up. Oh my lord, I loved this show. Combination of Sopranos & The Wire (and even a little GoT, without dragons) set in the early 20th century just outside of London. Story of Tommy Shelby and his extended family – I can’t do it justice. His attempts to grow his little business into an empire, straddling legal & illegal, working with cops, the government and other gangs – it’s all just amazing. I have little nits about time/continuity issues over the seasons and was not as in love with Brody & Hardy characters as others seem to be, but those are nits. They’ve said that they want to take the family story through until World War II (it started just after World War I), and I’m all in – we’re about 2/3 of the way there so far. Bring it on.
COULD SEE (2 star):
- Homecoming: Loved the 30 minute digestible aspect of this; comes from a successful podcast (which I didn’t know about); very Mr. Robot-esque (as you’d expect from the same creator). Acting was great and that’s what’s going to keep me coming back for Season 2, as I need some sort of conclusion, and not years and years of unrequited “love”
- Counterpart (Starz): J.K. Simmons is great and the writers seems like they’ve given the long-game a lot more thought than in something equally conceptualized but poorly executed like Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, which I gave up on after the first season. The Starz OTT app is just brutal to deal with, but if you can get past that (or use DirecTV Now), Simmons’ performance and what’s setting up to be some great long-term potential, make this a good watch. Season 2 was much tigher than Season 1 and got me excited for where they might take it.…… Sadly, as we “went to press” on this write-up, AMC announced that Counterpart would not be renewed for Season 3. The producers are trying to find it a home and I have my fingers crossed that they will! One quick note – if you’re going to watch this, you might want to keep the Counterpart Wikia handy in the early going – until you get the cadence of the two worlds, you can get lost with the storylines and who is whom.
- Patriot (Amazon): Strangest ‘spy show’ ever – it’s ½ Wes Anderson and ½ John Clancy. The first season took me a long while to get into, but the 2nd season stepped up the game for me significantly. You will only enjoy this if you can put on your Wes hat. They tie everything together rather well, with interwoven storylines, touchpoints past and present, jumping around on timelines. I started Season 2 because I thought there was *something* there for me after I wasn’t totally into Season 1 – but wanted to give it another chance. And now I’m looking forward to Season 3. I have it in the 2 star group because of those personal ups & downs, and because this may not be for all people…but it may be perfect for others!
- Ozark (Netflix): loved premise, loved most of first season. Love Jason Bateman (side note – go see Game Night right now, especially if you’ve ever been married). Didn’t keep me the whole way through – was way too drawn out and dark – not necessarily in tone but the actual screen. Just dark & moody and no variance. The acting was good, but they didn’t need to stretch Season 1 out over 10 episodes. Didn’t do season 2 – the early reviews were brutal and since I was not taken in by Season 1, I passed.
- Bosch (Amazon): Amazing RT scores (83% for Season 1, 100% (!) for each of Seasons 2, 3, and 4) had me intrigued to try it out during some winter downtime. I got through Season 1, but it wasn’t without some struggles. It is trying to be gritty Los Angeles detective noir, but in a contemporary setting. Some of it makes you roll your eyes (the constant background jazz music, the bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the city and the lights, the cigarettes – not the smokes themselves, but the mic that they placed *on* each cigarette so you could hear the crackle of each inhalation), but behind that is a pretty decent detective procedural with some decently fleshed out roles and good character actors. You’ll recognize everyone in here from something or another. The 100% (albeit on 10 reviews) for Seasons 2, 3, and 4 intrigues me, so I might revisit it during a future downtime.
SKIP (1 star):
- Jack Ryan: Jim! And Bunk! Together! But alas, couldn’t transfer Tom Clancy’s oeuvre fully to the small screen over the course of a series. Clancy was great at weaving multiple storylines through a book and having them intersect and interact. They tried to do it here, but the individual storylines weren’t equally compelling, and they also didn’t tie the different ones together effectively. And what killed this for me was that it was all rote and by the book. There were exactly ZERO twists & turns, ZERO gotchas, ZERO double agents, ZERO anything. It was straightforward. Good guys were good. Bad guys were bad. No ambiguity, moral or otherwise. It was fine for what it was, but I’m not going back for Season 2.
- Jessica Jones (Netflix): Enjoyed season 1. Gave up a few episodes into Season 2. Just not going anywhere. Season 1 worked for me. Whatever Marvel was trying to do with the Defenders and cross-overs and keeping individual shows going at the same time just killed things. Especially when trying to create that much content for characters that are not that well developed in the Marvel Comics universe. These folks were never meant to have television shows that are 12 episodes per season, at an hour each, over multiple seasons!
- Luke Cage (Netflix): Speaking of which – this one killed me the most. The actors were great. The character, while still just a Tier 3 or 4 in the Marvel pantheon, had a lot going for it. But the writing was sooooo bad. Tropes and stereotypes. So easy to guess the next line because it was from screenwriting 101 (note – I have zero experience in any of this, but I could still guess the line). I had to stop ¾ of the way thru the first season, and I hated doing it. Had such high hopes. Such a great cast.
- Comedians in Cars (Netflix): Great concept, sketchy execution. Essentially, when Seinfeld is spending time with folks that he has a long-standing relationship with, the 20 minute episodes are light, funny, full of interesting stories, and leave you wanting more – you want some sort of 2 hour extended cut (see: Louis-Dreyfus, Julia; Wallace, George; Baldwin, Alec). But the majority of them seem forced regardless of whether you know it’s going to be forced because the counterpart is trying too hard (bless you Jimmy Fallon), just because there is no long-time connection there, regardless of the talent (I love Kate McKinnon, but it doesn’t work), or because there is truly no reason to have them there except because the comic has a Netflix special to promote (Hasan Minhaj). I LOVE comedy and will continue to watch these, hoping for the Alec Baldwin-esque episodes. But note that the *majority* of them are really forced.
- Condor (AT&T): Fan of the original book and movie from my youth, so decided to give this a whirl. William Hurt is great – best I’ve seen from him in a long while. However, the internal conspiracy plot line and middle eastern double agents smacks *way* too much of early Homeland, and the whole U.S. side of things is way way too unbelievable. Final straw for me, which put the show at the bottom of my queue was the lead, Max Irons. No problem with his work here, but he’s supposed to be 100% ‘Merican, thru & thru. And he does a perfectly fine job of doing so, American accent and all. But, and this might be a directing/editing thing, in *every single one* of the first 4-5 episodes, he will drop into his native British accent, if only for a few words, and it totally messes up the show – pulls you right out from the watching experience. Brutal.
- Man in the High Castle (Amazon): Never read the book, but was fascinated by the concept – WWII goes a different way, the U.S. is split into two geos – Eastern controlled by Germany, Western by Japan, with a DMZ of sorts in between. An underground insurgent group, the mysterious & eponymous man, a potential alternative timeline, etc., etc. Had a lot of potential. But it was relatively slow, and the characters didn’t really pull you in. Throw in the long break between Season 1 & Season 2, and then when I tried to start back up with Season 2 to give it a little more rope, I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t even get through the first two episodes of Season 2 before shutting down permanently. Just couldn’t grab hold of me.
BONUS SECTION – STUFF FROM THE U.K.
British Stuff (BBC / Netflix): Those folks on the other side of the pond like their detective procedurals. Watched several of them; most suffer from what I affectionately refer to as “Law & Order Syndrome” where in every episode in L&O, the criminal almost always ends up being tied back to the very first person they spoke to, the one that was *clearly* innocent and had *nothing* to do with anything and was *really* helpful. Same thing here with these BBC shows, except in this case, we’re doing that full circle over an entire season of episodes, so a lot more investment is required and you’re not getting a commensurate return on that investment. Not always the most fulfilling.
- Broadchurch: First season was great. David Tennant rules. Tough to replicate the dynamic between the two leads over multiple seasons, especially when much of the hidden backstory that drives their actions, ends up coming to light in subsequent seasons and you lose some of the mystery. I watched them all, hoping for more of that magic, but couldn’t get it back. Watch Season 1 and then call it a day – you’ll enjoy the experience more.
- Luther: I’ll sign up for almost any Idris Elba. They’ve done 4 seasons of this, and while I loved the first two seasons, the hook was not as tight in seasons 3 & 4. A little bit of the Broadchurch syndrome, though they added in more unique angles and plot pivots with internal heel turns and things happening with his ex-wife. Season 5 is now out on BBC (waiting for it on BBCA/Netflix), and has good reviews, with some snark mixed in. I’ll definitely watch.
- Safe: Have been a fan of Michael C. Hall since 6FU, and of course Dexter (final scene notwithstanding) and suffered through 8 episodes of this because of that. This could have been done really well in 3-4 episodes.
- Collateral: This is another one – luckily this one only lasted 4 episodes instead of Safe’s 8. But still not worth the time spent.
- Hunted: I shut down halfway through. Just bad. Don’t waste your time.
- Bodyguard: OK. Apparently crazy highly rated over in the UK. But nothing unique about the experience. I’d watch it over Hunted, Collateral or Safe, but that’s not saying much!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your personal peak TV recommendations or stay-aways – I’d love to hear about them… and share with others in my next iteration!