Act Now on COVID, Stream Early, Virtual Theme Parks, Some Hope
It took me a while to figure out today was Friday. That’s not even a joke, in our new work-from-home reality, this is the way (that’s a joke). Speaking of, I didn’t think I was going to send a newsletter this week. There’s just way too much going on in the world around us. To say that a newsletter feels trivial is to trivialize trivial.
And yet, my own reality is that I tend to deal with stress by working. And I tend to relieve stress by writing. So thank you for allowing me to do so here.
At the same time, I want to acknowledge our actual reality. Hopefully no one reading this is sick with COVID-19. If you are, may you have a speedy recovery. If you’re not, it seems prudent at this point to assume you’re going to get it. Which is a crazy thing to think about, I know. It’s surreal. It’s like living in a movie. A disaster movie.
Given that I’m still in my 30s and in relatively good health, I’m less worried about getting very sick — though that’s obviously a possibility — but I’m more worried about other people I know getting sick. My family. And also that I might somehow spread this sickness to others who may not be so fortunate in health. It’s too much to think about. And the only thing worse is the dread of waiting for what seems to be inevitable at this point.
I hope that’s not the case. I sincerely do. While I may come across as pessimistic online, I’m actually a pretty optimistic person. And so, probably naively, I want to believe that something is going to come out of left field to stop the worst-case scenarios from descending upon us. But since I’m being truly honest, I’m getting more pessimistic by the day. Still, life has to go on, right? Such a cliched phrase has never been so haunting. Please stay inside in your homes if you can. Good luck to us all.
Kicking off with the most important read. Honestly, the only important read. This entire post by Tomas Pueyo is well worth the amount of time it will take. It honestly goes by quickly because it’s well-written, well-charted, and terrifyingly provocative.
Less Important (More Fun)
Now for something much more lighthearted — but related! — here’s Matt Donnelly:
The Walt Disney Company is taking the edge off of “social distancing” from the coronavirus this weekend, by streaming the animated blockbuster “Frozen 2” three months ahead of schedule.
Disney Plus aims to surprise families this Sunday with “some fun and joy during this challenging period,” referring to the global pandemic of COVID-19, which on Friday was declared a national emergency.
To some, this may seem exploitative. But I’m more than happy to view it the other way here: by doing this, Disney is giving families a massive reason to stay inside on Sunday. And maybe Monday. And maybe Tuesday… With schools increasingly being shut down, and parents home from work, this is a small bit of relief. If Disney really wanted to go above and beyond, they’d launch a promo to let families sign up for free to stream Frozen 2 for the next month.
Anyway, while I’m happy to give Disney the benefit of the doubt here, it is also without question a savvy business move. And it’s not the first time they’ve done this: as Julia Alexander remembers, they moved up the streaming release of Avengers: Endgame by a bit to launch Disney+.
An arguably more aggressive move by Disney was to move up the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on iTunes by a few days. It was supposed to come out on Tuesday, but it’s live right now. Clearly, this is also meant to ease and/or capitalize on the reality of our current situation.
Given that all the studios, including Disney, are having to postpone major releases in theaters, you have to wonder if there will be some major studio that “crosses the line” and cuts a deal with Netflix to launch a big movie on their service, in millions of homes where we all are stuck, instead. Or if Disney does it themselves (pulls a movie that was going to theaters and puts it on Disney+ instead). The theater lobby will be pissed, of course. This will effectively break the window to which they cling. But you could certainly argue per above that it would be helpful for our current situation.
More Fun, More Important
Speaking of Disney, here’s a great long read from Matthew Ball. A few excerpts:
However, one of the biggest storytelling “lessons” in the 20th and early 21th century was that audiences have an unending desire for “more” of the stories they already love. And the Internet has enabled this to an unprecedented degree. You can constantly track production (cast Instagrams, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and leaks on social media), engage in fan communities (message boards and YouTube theory/Easter egg videos), consume endless amounts of fan content (e.g. fanfic and watch-along podcasts), play this content back on demand (e.g. Netflix), and engage in never-ending and constantly updated online multiplayer games (e.g. Star Wars: Battlefront 2). This is a powerful, self-sustaining financial and cultural flywheel. And Disney has many of the franchises that best lend themselves to this model. Many of those they don’t own, such as Harry Potter, have their rights fragmented.
The competitive consequences are profound and only growing. Fans simply cannot enjoy DC or Lord of the Rings or Dragon Ball the way they do Disney’s Princesses, Pixar, most recently, Star Wars, and soon, the Avengers franchises. This fundamentally limits a franchise’s ability to grow love — the lifeblood (and profit driver) of all IP-based companies.
These parks exist and thrive because of our desire to be “inside a living story”. This was Walt’s primary goal with Disneyland: to go beyond passive consumption and into active immersion. Consider the following quote from one of Disney’s chief Imagineers: “Disneyland is an experience involving many moving parts in harmony, like an orchestra. Everything has to be tuned, what you hear, what you smell, what you see, how you see it, the speed at which you assimilate all of that, just like a film, is choreographed. But how do you choreograph that if you don't control the camera, because the camera is you — it's you when you come to Disneyland".
For decades, the only real way to experience a digital world with agency and an individual sense of self was to go to the theme park. Games have been on the cusp of these experiences for years, but in 2020, they’re well under way. These are “games” like Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox, to a lesser extent GTA Online, and Pokémon Go.
I’ll stop now. Just read the whole thing.
Nice post by Sarah Tavel on how an online marketplace can still find its way in 2020. Hint: “What so many people forget, however, is that many of our current incumbents actually disrupted the prior incumbents.”
Apple is planning an iPad keyboard with a trackpad. Yes, I have many thoughts on this. Yes, most of them are already written — again, just felt weird publishing them in a time like this. More soon. Hopefully!
I couldn’t care less about Pepsi buying Rockstar energy drink for $3.85B. Yuck. But I am fascinated that the founder started it with $50k of his own money when Skyy Vodka, where he worked, rejected the idea. He owned 85% at the time of sale — the other 15%? The CFO, who just so happened to also be his mom. 🤘
Jif teamed with Giphy to… further confuse a certain naming debate.
A few words of optimism in our period of pessimism.