The thing about free TV is that, while it has ads, it’s … free. Netflix with ads, however, will not be free, the company announced today when it finally provided details about the long-anticipated ad-supported version of the most popular streaming long-form video platform on the planet.
The new Netflix tier is called Basic With Ads, and it’s launching in 12 countries in November for $6.99 US. Basic with Ads joins existing Basic, Standard, and Premium plans, and includes:
Almost all of Netflix in terms of shows, but not all
Some movies and TV shows won’t be available due to licensing restrictions
720P video quality, not 1080P or 4K
Permitted use on one device at a time (can be a phone, tablet, computer, or TV)
4-5 minutes of ads per hour which will play both before and during content
15-30 second unskippable ad units (you also can’t fast forward during ads)
Ads will be targeted by country and type of show you’re watching, but also what Netflix knows about you (for example: age, gender, location, and what you watch on Netflix)
Ads will not be shown on kids’ profiles
No ads will show during Netflix games
No ability to download shows for offline viewing, like on a flight or trip to the no-internet-here cabin
Genuine question: will the number of people watching on kids’ accounts grow as a means to avoid ads? I guess we’ll see. “We’re confident that with Netflix starting at $6.99 a month, we now have a price and plan for every fan,” Greg Peters, Netflix Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer said in a statement.
“While it’s still very early days, we’re pleased with the interest from both consumers and the advertising community — and couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead. As we learn from and improve the experience, we expect to launch in more countries over time.” It’s probably true that Netflix has a price and plan for most fans, but not all if you want good old-fashioned free TV.
Granted, that’s rare today given that most people pay either for cable, satellite, or streaming services — or some combination of those three — plus of course internet access fees. But some still get terrestrial TV for free: in the UK, for example, people can get 70 free-to-air standard channels, 15 HD channels and around 30 radio services over digital terrestrial TV. There are hundreds of TV stations still broadcasting over the air in the US as well.
For streamers or those considering it, $7 is not onerous, and probably neither is 4-5 minutes of ads per hour. And the ability to watch what you want when you want is also worth something. Of course, as we’ve seen with other media, the percentage of time and space allocated to advertising seems to inevitably creep upwards.
The question now is: will other streaming services like Disney+ and HBO Max start to follow suite with their own cheaper ad-supported services? Basic with Ads will be available in these countries at launch: Australia , Brazil , Canada , France , Germany , Italy , Japan , Korea , Mexico , Spain , UK , USA.
What was once believed unthinkable is now a reality: Netflix with ads is here.The streaming giant unveiled “Basic with Ads,” its much anticipated ad-supported subscription plan, on Thursday. The new tier will cost $6.99 a month in the US and be available Nov. 3 in the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain and the UK.
The company said that “current plans and members will not be impacted” and that “Basic with Ads complements our existing ad-free Basic, Standard and Premium plans.” The new option will feature much of what’s available with Netflix’s current $9.99 a month Basic plan, but will include an average of four to five minutes of commercials per hour.
Those ads will be 15 or 30 seconds in length and will play before and during TV series and movies. Netflix (NFLX) noted that it will offer broad targeting capabilities by country and genre to help “advertisers reach the right audience — and ensure our ads are more relevant for consumers.”
“Advertisers will also be able to prevent their ads from appearing on content that might be inconsistent with their brand (e.g. sex, nudity or graphic violence),” Netflix said. The company said that it is working with ratings tracker Nielsen in the US in 2023 “to enable advertisers to understand how Netflix can reach their target audience.”
“While it’s still very early days, we’re pleased with the interest from both consumers and the advertising community — and couldn’t be more excited about what’s ahead,” Netflix said. “As we learn from and improve the experience, we expect to launch in more countries over time.” In a first, Netflix’s ‘Knives Out’ sequel will play in theaters for a week
The debut of the ad-supported subscription plan is a momentous moment in Netflix 25-year history. CEO Reed Hastings said in April that the company was open to adding commercials to the service, sending shock waves through the media and advertising industries as Hastings had for years been adamant about not putting ads on the platform.
“We … are advertising free,” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders in 2019. “That remains a deep part of our brand proposition.” But after a nightmarish 2022, the platform can no longer stick to that approach. In April, Netflix disclosed that it lost subscribers for the first time in more than a decade. Following that news, the stock tumbled, and the company lost billions in market cap, hundreds of employees were laid off and doubts ran rampant about the platform’s future, raising questions about the viability of the entire streaming marketplace.
In July, Netflix announced that it will partner with Microsoft (MSFT) to enhance sales and technology for this new subscription plan. Ultimately, Netflix needs more revenue and ads is one way to achieve that. This doesn’t mean all subscribers will have to watch commercials since existing plans will stay ad-free, but there will now be a choice between a cheaper ad-supported plan and a premium one. Ultimately, the Netflix of the future is bound to look different than the Netflix users have come to know.
“Damn, it’s hot out here,” says Tyler Perry, who isn’t making it easy on himself, clad in all black but for the shock of a white mask, as he directs a 12-person crew through a scene for the BET comedy Sistas. Last year, Perry might have avoided shooting in Atlanta’s July sun, but in this coronavirus era, you take any window you can, and “Camp Quarantine” at his Tyler Perry Studios is trying to pioneer post-pandemic entertainment making.
“Get out of the car,” he calls out to an actor in a cop car who walks over to a silver pickup driven by show regular Devale Ellis. Then he feeds Ellis his line—“What’d I do?” No one seems to have seen the script. When you’re looking to get an entire season of primetime television in the can in 11 days—all before the rest of Hollywood has made it out of hiding—corners must be cut.
Away from the shoot, sitting alone on a metal folding chair in the center of a cavernous and empty soundstage, a container of Lysol wipes at his feet, Perry explains his method. “I mostly go on my gut and my instinct. I like to challenge the system and see what I can do differently.”
That’s an especially winning strategy in a system that feels stacked against you. Mostly dismissed by the Hollywood establishment and even some other Black luminaries (Spike Lee once derided Perry’s crass slapstick approach as “coonery buffoonery” before later relenting), Perry has succeeded for two reasons: He has honed a product that too many others viewed as destined for the discount bin. And he made sure to control it all.
The 51-year-old entertainer owns the entirety of his creative output, including more than 1,200 episodes of television, 22 feature films and at least two dozen stage plays, as well as a 330-acre studio lot at the edge of Atlanta’s southern limits. He used that control to leverage a deal with ViacomCBS that pays him $150 million a year for new content and gives him an equity stake in BET+, the streaming service it debuted last September. Forbes estimates Perry has earned more than $1.4 billion in pretax income since 2005, which he used to buy homes in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as well as two planes. Quite a lifestyle for a once-homeless playwright raised in poverty in New Orleans. Today, Forbes estimates his net worth at $1 billion, with a clear path to future membership in The Forbes 400.
Rallying Around Madea
Anatural ham, Perry grew up making his mother laugh with impersonations. He was dealing with more than poverty: He describes an upbringing by an abusive man who he later learned was not his father. He was inspired to write out the stress he was feeling after watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, and spent his 20s touring small theaters around the country performing the plays he wrote, produced and starred in—a crash course in what was to come.
“You got to understand, I had no mentors,” Perry says. “My father doesn’t know anything about business, and my uncles and mother, they know nothing about this. I didn’t go to business school. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned in progress.”
After dropping out of high school, he gained knowledge any way he could. In his early 20s, he worked at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans, home to the annual National Association of Television Program Executives conference. The young Perry would use badges left behind in empty rooms to sneak into closed gatherings. One highlight: meeting game-show host Pat Sajak.
He began writing scripts while selling cars and serving as a bill collector. He eventually cobbled together $12,000, which he used to rent space at a community theater in Atlanta to produce a work he had drafted in his spare time.
The play, I Know I’ve Been Changed, was a story of child-abuse survivors. It was hardly an overnight success. At one point it wasn’t generating enough money to enable him to pay his rent, and for three months, he lived out of his car on and off while he tweaked the production, working out the kinks until it started to garner some notice. He designed the set, made the programs and hung the lights; he even sold snacks during intermission.
It took me I don’t know how many days to finally get him convinced that the writer, director, does not do this,” says Arthur Primas, Perry’s promoter for more than two decades.
Perry toured relentlessly, slowly building a strong following among Black Americans, particularly the churchgoing set—older women like his mother, who had their burdens to bear and relished the chance to have someone give them a voice and, even better, a laugh. His iconic character, Madea, a straight-talking grandmother with a bad wig, a large stomach and even larger breasts, delivered her homespun moralism with brutally honest humor, becoming a must-see spectacle on the so-called “Chitlin Circuit,” a loosely defined network of small theaters in Black communities nationwide.
“I was aware of the traveling plays, but I never really took them seriously because . . . I considered myself a person who appreciates theater and Broadway,” Winfrey says. “But I went to see one in Los Angeles, and I was not just moved by it, I was changed by it.”
She invited Perry on her talk show in 2001, when he was in his early 30s. Onscreen they shared the requisite inspirational language of tenacity and renewal, but backstage they mined another seam altogether: money. Winfrey, who by then owned her show and Harpo, the company that produced it, offered Perry a secret, one he was already beginning to learn on his own: the importance of “writing your own checks” and being fully in control.
She became a friend, sounding board and, perhaps most importantly, a catalyst. Even before he made his first film or TV show, Perry hauled in more than $100 million from theater ticket sales, moved $20 million worth of merchandise and collected another $30 million selling videos of the performances.
It was time for him to go to Hollywood.
Retreat To Atlanta
The introduction was made at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, a 1,200-seat Italianate building opened in the 1920s, the dawn of Los Angeles’ ascension as an entertainment capital. In 2001, Perry booked a three-night run of Diary of a Mad Black Woman, an event designed to bring out the kingmakers—producers, executives, lawyers and monied benefactors—who could make him a star. The show sold out, but the seats weren’t filled with power brokers, just locals and some assistants sent to see what all the fuss was about.
“I couldn’t walk down the street without people screaming, ‘Madea, Tyler, Madea!’ ” Perry says, recalling his days on the road. “And then I got to Hollywood, and they had no clue. No clue to what I’d done, who I was or the following I had.”
One of the assistants who had seen the show worked for Chuck Lorre, the acclaimed showrunner high on the success of hits Grace Under Fire, Cybill and Dharma & Greg. After hearing about the play, he decided he’d try to pitch a sitcom built around Perry. The networks wouldn’t bite, though, so Lorre moved on to Two and a Half Men, the Charlie Sheen show that became a breakout hit for CBS.
“There was about a 10-year period where everything went on a deep lull and there was nothing being made for people of color,” Perry says. So he retreated to Atlanta, where he continued working on his stage plays and a film script. But he couldn’t stop thinking about television. A recipe for syndication he remembered from sneaking into those sessions at the broadcasters’ convention stuck with him: 100 episodes, a loyal audience and a willing distributor.
“The ignorance I had about Hollywood was so wonderful, looking back on it,” he says.
He rented a warehouse behind a strip club in south Atlanta and turned it into a soundstage, investing in the tools of the trade he knew little about—lights, booms, mics, set decorations—and began shooting. He focused on scenes of a multigenerational Black family living together in Atlanta, the origins of his first sitcom.
A break came in 2006, when two struggling broadcast networks, UPN and WB, merged to create a new one called CW. The new network needed content, and Perry had it. He went back to Hollywood, this time armed with 10 full episodes of television shot, paid for and ready to air. CW bought it and aired it as House of Payne, which pulled in ratings wildly above expectations. Executives at the much larger TBS network took note. Before Perry had filmed another scene, he landed a guarantee that TBS would air at least 90 new episodes of his show that he would own outright. The network offered $200 million to get him away from CW, pure gold for such cheap productions—“primetime programming on a soap opera budget,” as one top agent calls it—that spent nothing on writers, directors, producers or showrunners. Perry pocketed a huge haul: an estimated $138 million.
“It was so out of the box, such a different paradigm,” says entertainment lawyer Dan Black, who says Perry’s deal is still referenced in negotiations today. “You can get meaningful fees and meaningful back-end, but if you own the content, that’s very, very impressive and not an easy thing to do.”
Though he was clearly drawing huge crowds, the overwhelmingly white Hollywood executive set still didn’t quite get it. Perry’s attempt to rework Diary for film yielded little more than suggestions for rewrites and plot turns that would be more palatable for “mainstream” audiences.
“ ‘Black people who go to church don’t go to the movies,’ ” Perry recalls one executive telling him at the time. “I came from a place where Black people had already embraced me and loved me. I was completely happy there, and still am.”
So he forged opportunity out of others’ ignorance. He made Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer a proposal: He would put up half the money, collect half the profits and keep control of the content. The studio held the right to deduct all marketing costs from his cut, which Perry knew would be minimal, considering his following, as well as another 12.5% in distribution costs. The sweetener: Perry would eventually own it all outright.
“ ‘What do you want [Diary] to do?’ ” Perry recalls asking.
“Well, if it makes us $20 million I’ll be very, very happy,” Feltheimer replied, referring to its lifetime box-office haul.
“I said, ‘OK, great—$20 million the first weekend?’ ”
Diary, which cost $5.5 million to make, grossed $51 million in theaters and has since brought in an additional $150 million in video rentals, on- demand viewing, DVD sales and TV licensing.
While most of Hollywood shrugged off the movie’s success as a fluke, Perry and Lionsgate began pumping out Madea movies—11 of them over 14 years, all made on speedy production schedules and minimal budgets. By the time Perry decided to retire the franchise in 2019, it had grossed more than $670 million at the box office and netted him about $290 million in fees and profits, Forbes estimates.
That’s all now starting to come home, as those Lionsgate titles begin reverting to his control. With the help of financial adviser John Cary at Atlanta’s NextGen Capital, Perry is starting to exploit the films more aggressively overseas, with early success in South Africa, South America and parts of Europe, all while continuing to self-finance hundreds of new TV episodes and at least one new feature film every year.
Revenge On Rebel Soil
Poetically, Tyler Perry Studios, America’s most prolific production venue for entertainment for Black audiences, was once a Confederate military stronghold. Renamed Fort McPherson, the army base was used to house prisoners during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Its historic brick homes and structures have hosted luminaries including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Colin Powell, and its rutted 18-hole golf course, Perry says, once rivaled Augusta. The challenge for Perry, who once lived in a car he parked nearby, is to make it the setting for the denouement of his Horatio Alger narrative.
From the outside, it’s a hard piece of real estate to be excited about, bordered on the north by a long stretch of barbed wire, to the east by a mile-long stretch of train tracks and to the south by the din of State Highway 154. It’s sandwiched between two neighborhoods that have seen better days, with rows of middle-class houses, some spiffed up with bright landscaping, most with faded paint and chipped siding. More than a few are littered with old mattresses left to the elements.
Inside the gates, though, is a paradise no one enjoys more than Perry. During a visit last fall, he zipped around in a Polaris Ranger to the new soundstages he opened and christened with the names of showbiz legends including Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. As he drove, he called out the highlights—a strip mall, a yacht, an empty soundstage, a house fronted by four façades—and then, after rumbling over the abandoned golf course, gestured toward his favorite new purchase: a replica White House.
“I own the lights. I own the sets,” Perry says, before settling into a couch in his office on the top floor of a modern, renovated four-story structure he calls the Dream Building. “So that’s where the difference is. Because I own everything, my returns are higher.”
He paid $30 million for the property in 2015 and has since spent $250 million building a studio operation that’s now more than twice the size of the storied Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, California—all of it paid for with the cash he’s brought in churning out movies and television programming for the past 15 years. The acquisition was a masterstroke, giving him a place to build a top-tier movie facility in a state that aggressively courts Hollywood productions, as well as a huge swath of land smack in the middle of one of Atlanta’s red-hot economic Opportunity Zones.
“I love land the way some women love shoes,” says Winfrey, one of the few people to see the property when Perry was considering making an offer. “I said ‘If you don’t take it, I will.’ It was astounding to me. I am officially in awe.”
In truth, it was a deal that perhaps only Perry could have made. He’s been operating out of Atlanta since he released Diary in 2005; in the ensuing 15 years he has produced at least one feature film every year, as well as 13 more television series, nearly all of it filmed in and around the city.
When it came to the fading army base, Atlanta was in need of a development partner who might inspire commercial activity that could help revitalize the otherwise forgotten section of the city’s southern edges. Perry had an in—not only via his rapport with President Obama, who at the time could have nixed any deal for the military land—but through his history of offering jobs to local crews.
His timing couldn’t have been better. In 2008, the Georgia Film Office had piled on tax incentives for production companies, and Perry made his purchase amid the streaming revolution, which triggered an arms race for content that has spurred a boom in demand for soundstages.
Even during the pandemic, he’s keeping it all humming. With Madea retired and an exclusive deal with Winfrey’s OWN network expired, Perry set his sights last year on BET, which has been struggling for direction and has now practically built the BET+ streaming service around him. The network will pay Perry $150 million annually to produce a minimum of 90 episodes of new TV each year until 2025. BET, its streaming service—which hit a million subscribers in August—and other Viacom properties get exclusive rights to air those shows for five years, as well as the reruns of his House of Payne, Meet the Browns and For Better or Worse, plus some of his early stage work, which Cary is beginning to exploit. After that half-decade, the rights to all those BET-funded shows revert to Perry. The first two—The Oval and Sistas—became BET’s two top-rated programs in their first seasons.
The best part? “I don’t have a noncompete,” Perry says, which means still more projects, such as A Fall From Grace, which debuted in January on Netflix to terrible reviews—and 26 million streams in its first week. He also plans to start financing productions from other Black creators whom Hollywood has overlooked.
Fueled by those Georgia tax breaks, meanwhile, others are on hand to soak up extra capacity as well. Perry has rented studio space to major productions including Walt Disney’s Black Panther, the Will Smith sequel Bad Boys for Life and TV’s The Walking Dead. Last year Disney, Warner Bros. and other major studios, as well as new entrants like Netflix, Amazon and Apple, spent a combined $100 billion on original content, according to Frank Patterson, CEO of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, a rival lot 20 miles to the south.
With his studio humming, Perry is taking a page from Disney and Universal for lot development, with plans to build restaurants, shops and an entertainment complex with a theater and a theme park–like experience. Think Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, but with the feel of a down-home Southern kitchen. Perry admits that such a venture will take him outside of his comfort zone in terms of scope, control—and debt, since his business has always been, extraordinarily, a self-financed, all-cash operation. His plans also include housing for trafficked women and LGBTQ youth, and an academy to teach kids who grew up like he did the things he never learned—financial literacy, for one.
The risk, though, is worth it. “I can go outside and take this dirt and put it on my hands and know that there were Confederate soldiers here walking this land, plotting and planning everything they could to keep us Negroes in place,” Perry says. “The very fact that I am here on this land, the very fact that hundreds of people—Black and brown people—come here to make a living, that is effecting change.”
I cover the intersection of Hollywood and money—that’s everything from media moguls to the highest-paid actors to YouTube stars. When my reporting isn’t taking me to Hollywood restaurants and Atlanta’s movie lots, I’m writing about the world’s richest, including billionaires and self-made women entrepreneurs. Prior to Forbes, I wrote about media, food and education for the New York Observer, and about the New York shopping scene for Racked. Follow me on Twitter @MadelinePBerg. Have tips? Send them to me anonymously at forbes.com/tips, and submit sensitive documents anonymously and securely at SafeSource.forbes.com.
Among my favorite films is Roman Holiday, an enduring classic and spiritual forerunner to today’s rom-coms, released this month in 1953. In the event you’re not familiar with it, Roman Holiday is the story of a royal who decides to be bad. Audrey Hepburn plays Princess Ann, a monarch from an unnamed, exotic country on a state visit to Rome who decides to sneak away and embark on a voyage of discovery in the Eternal City. Hepburn’s character even claims that her father is in public relations! But in fact, he’s royalty!
While out adventuring, she encounters Gregory Peck’s character, Joe Bradley, an American reporter. During their first encounter, Joe doesn’t recognize the princess, but after an unlikely and chaste night together, he soon does. As the morning headlines scream about a missing princess, Joe realizes that he has stumbled across the year’s biggest scoop. Instead of admitting that he is a reporter, Joe claims to be a fertilizer salesman, joining Hepburn’s character on a whirlwind romantic adventure around Rome. Much joy and adventure ensue.
In the event you haven’t seen the film, I will try not to spoil it entirely. But the hero journalist, having worked his way so close to the story under initially accidental and then utterly false pretenses, begins to have doubts about using fraudulent access to write a story that will advance his career. Joe Bradley’s character is joined by Eddie Albert, playing a sort of beatnik photographer, Irving Radovich, who is following the princess’s story as well as chasing a big payday, offering a devil’s advocate sort of perspective.
And in a way, this set of circumstances is precisely why Roman Holiday is a metaphor for instances when public relations professionals – or even clients – and journalists become too close. Reporters being too chummy with their subjects has long been an issue in journalistic and PR ethics. Such closeness can lead to unintended consequences. Facts can become blurred, and both parties’ desire for a favorable outcome, in most cases positive coverage, can mean that tough and fair reporting isn’t likely or even possible.
Inaccuracies are often ignored, and “softball” coverage can occur in the name of loyalty. Or, the inverse happens, and negative news about a client can be published without corrections or any sort of forceful rebuttal from PR, because they’re hoping to preserve editorial relationships.
However, there is simply a time to walk away, particularly when the relationship with the subject (or in the case of PR, the subject’s advocate) is going to cloud ethical waters or let key facts or other issues “slide.” This might include the passage of insider or confidential information between reporters and PR people. In many cases, even what seems like a positive story can do longer-term harm, including creating potential long-range consequences for valuation.
Knowing when to walk away from a story based on too much-shared information is a key skill for PR people. This is especially important given that many people who call themselves journalists these days are in fact, opinion writers and wannabe pundits. The integrity of these types is usually suspect, as are the media outlets that they work for.
Furthermore, not walking away from a potentially negative or controversial story can have the effect of lumping a client in a group with unsavory other subjects, creating unpleasant comparisons across the marketplace and tarnishing a firm’s brand image. It is also acceptable to walk away from stories that take up too many company or agency resources or stories that move forward even when the reporter has the wrong premise. It is also highly acceptable to walk away when the story goes against company values and/or hurts client allies.
In case you’re itching to know what happens in the film, Gregory Peck’s character does choose the honorable path and sacrifices a large payday in the name of romance and honor. Stoically, his character leaves the big scoop unpublished, ultimately assuring the princess that no negative coverage will come as a result of their “Roman holiday” together, and they part ways.
His honorable act in the film echoes the sort of ethics and good judgment that PR people should practice when it comes to overly-cozy relationships with the press and deciding whether or not to walk away from a story.
When Bong Joon-Ho went onstage to accept the Academy Award for Best International Film for Parasite at the 2020 Oscars, he thought his night was done. “I am ready to drink tonight until next morning,” he said gleefully. He had already collected one Oscar before that, for Best Original Screenplay.
But instead, Bong would return to the stage to collect two more trophies: one for Best Director, making him the second Asian to win that award, after Ang Lee—and one for Best Picture. Parasite‘s upset win in the biggest category of the night, over frontrunner 1917, made it the first foreign language film ever to win Best Picture across 92 years of Oscar history. “I feel like a very opportune moment in history is happening right now,” one of the film’s producers, Kwak Sin-ae, said while accepting the award.
Gone are the days when foreign films only stood a chance of opening to coastal cinephiles. Parasite has shown that foreign language films can be unifying blockbuster events—and its success is proof of the fact that, as director Bong Joon-Ho himself said at the Globes, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
Released concurrently with many structural changes—including the advent of streaming and concerted widespread efforts to champion diversity—Parasite’s runaway success could mark a pivotal turning point for foreign language films, and especially Asian ones, in America. “This is a huge breaking of a psychological barrier,” Janet Yang, a veteran Hollywood producer, tells TIME. “This wall we’ve built, in which non-English language movies were limited not just in release or box office but in people’s minds, is being cracked.”
But Parasite’s success also arose from a very specific set of circumstances that may not be easily replicable. And in Korea and elsewhere, a new crop of Asian filmmakers is working hard to ensure that Parasite isn’t just a momentary bout of glory but the start of a new global era.
The marginalization of foreign films
Things were very different for foreign language films at the start of Yang’s multi-decade career. When she arrived in Hollywood in the ’80s, Asian-language films, in particular, weren’t even considered a possibility for mainstream wide release. “They would be marketed in a different way. It was all about getting the Asian audience out, along with the specialty festival crowd,” she says. Indie distributors that are now long gone, like New Yorker Films and Circle Films, funneled international films to theaters like New York’s Film Forum, where they found success with erudite and adventurous audiences.
But these films were mostly low-budget, low-grossing specialty affairs that rarely made a dent at the box office—and received even less recognition from the Academy Awards. While Hollywood likes to think of itself as the center of the film world, 92 years of Oscar nominations support Bong’s claim that the Oscars are “very local.” Just 12 foreign language films have ever been nominated for Best Picture—and most of those films depicted a monumental historical event or figure, whether it be the Holocaust (Life is Beautiful), World War II (Letters from Iwo Jima) or Pablo Neruda (Il Postino). The Academy’s choices pointed to the idea that voters valued the modern lives of people around the world less than their historical or American counterparts.
In 2000, Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon exploded to $128 million at the North American box office, becoming the highest-grossing foreign language film produced overseas at the American box office. The 18th-century martial arts film, the first Asian-language movie and only other one besides Parasite to land a Best Picture nod, showed that audiences would be willing to read subtitles—but also reinforced the idea that the only foreign films worth paying attention to were those that told exotic or historical stories. Over the next few years, other martial arts films like Hero and Kung Fu Hustle successfully replicated Crouching Tiger’s success, but did little to expand the scope of foreign language film in America.
The Korean auteur generation
While Lee was stringing together a run of multilingual epics, a new generation of Korean filmmakers was in the midst of its own golden age. Emboldened by the country’s expanding democratic rights and flush with cash from chaebols—large family-run conglomerates—a group of auteurs led by the trio Bong Joon-Ho, Kim Ji-woon and Park Chan-wook rose in the ’90s with films like The Quiet Family, Joint Security Area and Barking Dogs Never Bite. In 2004, Park’s Oldboy became the first Korean film to win the Grand Prix at Cannes.
But it was Bong, in particular, who would chart a path toward international stardom through a set of savvy strategic choices. “He’s able to think 10 years ahead—he understands the industry very, very well,” Jason Bechervaise, an entertainment professor at Korea Soongsil Cyber University who also wrote a Ph.D. thesis on Bong’s work, told TIME. In 2013, Bong crossed over to Hollywood with Snowpiercer, his first English-language film, which raised eyebrows for being one of the first films to come to streaming soon after theatrical release. In 2017, his bilingual film Okja caused a firestorm at Cannes when audience members objected to the inclusion of a Netflix production in the festival.
“This chaos is all good news for Bong because they talk about him, and more people become aware of who he is,” Bechervaise says. Having gained an international profile—and many high profile friends and admirers like Tilda Swinton and Quentin Tarantino—Bong ensured that when he returned to Korea to make a fully foreign language film, the world would still be paying attention.
Streaming and social media rewrite the rules
At the same time, American audiences were also seeing more faces of color on their screens thanks to the erosion of traditional gatekeepers in film and television. In 2015 and 2016, #OscarsSoWhite exploded on Twitter after two consecutive years of all-white acting nominees, leading the Academy to announce an initiative to double their number of female and minority members by 2020. In 2018 and 2019, social media campaigns helped lift Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians to huge box office returns—and even non-blockbusters like Roma (in Spanish) and The Farewell (in Mandarin and English) fared better than expected thanks to insistent support from communities of color.
All of these successes showed production companies and distributors that increased representation was, if nothing else, a sensible economic move. It was in this climate that the distributor Neon came to the fore as a rising powerhouse that invested both in English and non-English films. In 2019, they released four well-received foreign language films, including Parasite, Honeyland and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
While traditional film production companies and distributors warmed to a broader range of releases, they also received a push from streaming services, whose potential subscribers could come from anywhere in the world. In 2016, Netflix put a stake down in South Korea, spearheading not just Okja but the zombie series Kingdom and the romantic teen drama Love Alarm. Their algorithm placed Okja in the same ‘taste cluster’ as Mad Men—meaning that viewers with no experience with foreign language films might still be prompted to watch it, and give it a chance from the comfort of their couch. In the coming years, the Japanese reality show Terrace House and the Spanish language drama Narcos: Mexico would become global phenomena.
In May, Parasite opened at Cannes to an eight-minute standing ovation, eventually winning the festival’s top prize. In October, the film opened in the U.S.—and thanks to rapturous reviews, word-of-mouth campaigns that included the efforts of Gold House—an Asian American organization that had formed in 2018 to boost Crazy Rich Asians at the box office—and all the factors mentioned above, Parasite claimed the biggest-ever opening for an international film in the U.S.
Of course, it was not merely these external factors that drove Parasite’s success, but the quality of the film itself. While the movie is distinctly Korean in its approach to horror and humor, its incisive exploration of inequality hit the zeitgeist at the exact right moment. “Uneven distribution of wealth is a disease we all live with, wherever you are,” Suk-Young Kim, a theater and performance studies professor at UCLA, tells TIME. “It’s something we can all relate to.” This subject material elevated the film from a local Korean story into a larger wave of movies exploring the same subject—from Burning to Us to Joker.
And it can’t have hurt that the movie was shot in a rising center of culture and fashion thanks to the increasing dominance of K-pop. “Seoul is a cultural hub: a fashionable place that more people want to visit and know about,” Kim says.
Thanks to a shrewd rollout from Neon, Parasite continued to excel at the box office throughout the fall and gain momentum into awards season. The awards season success of Roma the year before had eased the path, as had the the increased diversity within the ranks of the Academy. Since 2015, the percentage of female Academy voters has risen from 25 to 32 percent, while the number of minorities has doubled from 8 to a still paltry 16 percent. This year, the invitees hailed from 59 countries.
But the movie’s momentum was also carried by Bong Joon-Ho who led the way as a witty and charismatic presence on the circuit. He quickly became the main event at many Oscars parties and generated headlines for his extremely quotable speeches. “It’s impossible not to be charmed by him, for sure,” Yang says.
In January, Parasite became the first foreign language film to ever win the SAG Award for best cast of a motion picture. Backstage, Choi Woo-shik, who plays Ki-woo, used the platform to open the door for the next generation. “Other than us, there are so many legends out there in foreign countries,” he said. “I really truly hope that after this moment, maybe next year, we can see more foreign-language films and Asian films.”
While the SAG Awards were an exciting bit of recognition, the Oscars were another matter. It was widely expected that Parasite would fall to the heavily favored 1917, meaning that the first non-English Best Picture winner would have to wait at least another year. But Parasite pulled out a stunning upset, much to delight of many online—who christened themselves the #BongHive—and the celebrities in the audience. When the producers tried to turn the lights out on a show that ran half an hour overtime, the crowd roared at them to let Parasite’s team finish.
“Milestone and motivation”
But Parasite’s best picture win does not guarantee lasting change. The Korean film industry has recently become stagnant—with admissions plateauing since 2013—and top-heavy, with many blockbusters taking up an increasing amount of space at theaters. (Last year, a Korean Film Council study said that on any given day, 67.5% of all screenings would be occupied by the three most screened films).
And while any movie by Bong, Park and Kim attracts widespread interest, the rest of the country’s filmmakers are far less known around the world. “The industry, globally at least, is heavily reliant on the auteurs,” Bechervaise says. He worries that the circumstances that led to their creative rise are not replicable—and that young filmmakers will not only have to contend with the trio’s long shadow, but competition from the onslaught of global content arriving in Korea thanks to streaming services.
But for some Korean filmmakers, Parasite’s success is already causing a trickle-down effect. At the 2020 International Film Festival Rotterdam last week, the director Kim Yong-hoon noticed a change in the way people were looking at his new film Beasts Clawing at Straws. “I definitely felt this increased global interest, not only from the festival programmer but from the audience,” he wrote in an email to TIME through a translator. “These international film industry people now notice that there are plenty of good filmmakers in Korea.”
Beasts Clawing at Straws won the festival’s special jury award, while another Korean film, Yoon Dan-bi’s Moving On, won the Bright Future prize. At Sundance, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, which is set in Arkansas but spoken mostly in Korean, made a big splash, winning the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for the dramatic category. The Steven Yuen-led film, produced by Brad Pitt’s company Plan B Entertainment, will be distributed by A24, which successfully launched movies like Moonlight and Lady Bird.
So anyone hoping to find the next Parasite won’t have to look far. The Truth, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first non-Japanese-language film, stars two French legends in Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche and arrives in March. On streaming, Alan Yang’s Tigertail, which is mostly delivered in different Chinese dialects, will arrive on Netflix, while an adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko in Japanese and Korean is in the works at Apple. Thanks to Parasite, they all have the opportunity to make an impact not just at Film Forum but across the United States and the world.
“I think Parasite could be a milestone and at the same time a motivation to the next generation filmmakers,” Kim Yong-hoon says. “This is a huge opportunity.”
“Check your ego at the door. The ego can be the great success inhibitor. It can kill opportunities, and it can kill success.” – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has one of the most impressive and consistent cross-platform brand of any celebrity alive today. With a net worth of nearly $300 million and $90 million in earnings this year alone, there is obviously a lot to be learned from Johnson’s branding success.
After beginning his career as a wrestler, Johnson has leveraged his movie star status into an impressive Instagram following, branding collaborations with companies from Apple to VOSS water, and a personal brand so comprehensive that he needs his own marketing agency, Seven Bucks Creative, the strategic portion of Johnson’s Seven Bucks production company that helps promote all of his creative projects.
Here are five brilliant ways The Rock has built his brand online.
Johnson wisely uses his existing reach to amplify the new markets he’s seeking to break into. With three blockbuster films being released in 2019 (Jungle Cruise, the Jumanji sequel, and Hobbs and Shaw) on top of an already long and successful film career, he has amassed quite a following. Johnson leverages the stardom from multiple blockbuster films a year and his 153 million Instagram followers to build markets in other areas. But this strategy is not just for movie stars – brand builders everywhere have existing reach, even if it is only hyper local contacts, past career colleagues, or student networks.
2) Aligning his brand with his passions.
Johnson is the king of brand collaborations, but he makes the decisions about which branding expansions to pursue wisely. Shilling for brands that do not align with who he is would feel inauthentic, so he chooses products that he already uses and loves.
VOSS water is one of those product collaborations that feels natural, since Johnson has been drinking it for years, as he mentions on his Instagram announcement. That rings true, since it even comes up in this GQ feature from way back in 2017. Johnson shared on his Twitter, “Owning water always intrigued me – partly because I drink 4 gallons a day. But finding the right partner with shared values, ethics and a corporate culture I admire is what motivated me to make this deal.” He is starring in VOSS’ new brand campaign called “Live Every Drop,” that will feature behind-the-scenes peeks at his lifestyle and will be produced by his creative agency Seven Bucks.
He also recently helped launch the Project Rock Collection with Under Armour, another brand favorite of is that feels like a natural extension of the things he already loves to use and do. These thoughtful branding collaborations make his brand feel authentic and trustworthy.
3) Discipline, discipline, discipline.
Johnson’s worldwide success is impressive, and according to those who know him, not at all a surprise. He works hard, and is so consistent, that his discipline has manifested into dollars. His Seven Bucks Chief Marketing Officer had this to say about his discipline in a Fast Company feature, “It’s meant to speak to how training is a mentality, that the work you put in the gym extends to real life, and that mentality is consistent. That’s part of what makes Dwayne magical—is how he applies that same discipline from the gym into everything, and we wanted to express that in this campaign.”
It’s obvious even to the casual observer how consistently he churns out Instagram content and how hard he works promoting his films, and it seems that discipline is paying off.
4) Expanding to new markets.
While some may make light of the films Johnson puts out or the North American box office takes, his films are extremely popular in Asian market, which has helped expand his brand to new markets. His recent film Skyscraper had lackluster box office receipts in the United States, but took in over $48 million in its Chinese opening weekend and became the top grossing title worldwide that weekend as a result.
Like his predecessors Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford a decade or two ago, Johnson has been able to leverage his films’ popularity in the Asian market to do Chinese and Japanese branding collaborations, where some others might ignore the potential for success there. But Johnson works hard cultivating those markets – he recently visited Beijing and Hong Kong to promote Skyscraper, for example – and that foresight pays off in his brand’s success.
5) Integrating across mediums.
Because Johnson makes his branding collaboration decisions with such care towards keeping the products consistent with his lifestyle, it makes it easy for him to integrating products across mediums. He wears Under Armour in his films, for example, gaining free promotion for his products and deepening his brand’s consistency.
With all of the success that Johnson has had across genres, continents, and decades, there is much to be learned about his online branding strategy. The ease with which he leverages his social media following, the brilliant alignment of his real-life passions and product integration, the discipline he shows in content creation, and the vision with which he seeks out new markets are all strategies even the tiniest brand can learn from.
I’m known as the “Oprah of LinkedIn.” My video channel, #DailyGoldie, won LinkedIn Top Voice (the highest honor on the platform) and was the platform’s longest-running daily show with a global community and millions of views. I’m a top LinkedIn creator, digital strategist and personal branding expert.
I run Warm Robots, a corporate social media strategy agency and help companies tell engaging brand stories and navigate C-level executives toward unique personal brands. Previously, I’ve led social media strategy for tech and entertainment companies such as Legendary Entertainment.
On the side, I’ve represented the U.S. as part of an inaugural delegation through the Mayor of London’s office and often lead workshops and summits around storytelling and personal branding. I am a proud member of the Producer’s Guild of America, New Media Council, a Stanford University graduate and have been regularly featured as a fresh voice in CNN, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company and more.