The Queen’s Gambit is probably the TV hit of the season and is helping cement Netflix’s market strength, but will video streaming kill the movie theatres?
The Queen’s Gambit gives Netflix a boost, but will video streaming kill the movie theatres?
I am not allowed to recommend shares in this column, but I don’t think I’ll get into trouble with compliance for recommending a TV series. I can’t explain why, but I love the new Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. It is not the first drama set around chess that I have enjoyed. Back in 1992 there was Knight Moves starring Christopher Lambert— I can’t believe it was that long ago. But how a seven-part TV series based around chess can be so compelling is beyond me, all the same; I felt sad when I had finished watching it, and so promptly watched it again.
I know, I am not alone. The series has been a hit — and even chess has seen a pickup in popularity as a result. I think it is the best thing Netflix has done to date. There was a time when I used to think the BBC was the master at producing quality drama, well, I think Netflix has moved ahead.
It’s a big deal for the company and in the long run, its share price, as Netflix needs quality shows to add to its 167 million subscribers (at the end of last year). Earlier this year there were fears that lockdowns would eat into Netflix’s production schedule, creating a dearth of new shows later in 2020. Well, the filming for Queen’s Gambit occurred between August and November 2019, during those halcyon days when we had never heard of Covid-19. But if pharmaceutical companies can come up with Covid vaccines in nine months, I am pretty sure the streaming companies with their massive market caps can accelerate their production schedule.
Of course, Netflix has to do it over and over again. It needs to keep churning out the hits to keep its subscribers happy, but I think The Queen’s Gambit shows what it is capable of.
Netflix has Disney breathing down its neck. In its first year, the Disney service landed 73 million paid subscribers — surprising analysts and Netflix alike with it its rapid customer accumulation rate. I think it partly achieved this thanks to its competitive pricing structure. It has also got its back catalogue of movies of course. When my kids were little, we spent a small fortune buying Disney DVDs. I don’t think the monthly subscription is high when you compare it to what DVDs used to cost — the cost of a year’s subscription would have bought you around six DVDs 15 years ago. It’s not a bad deal. Disney also has The Mandalorian — that’s its big series hit, and is must viewing for the millions of Star Wars fans out there — not least because it is probably the best Star Wars product since 1983.
Of course, this year has seen limited movie releases, but when Disney starts churning out the big movies again, I can only see the number of subscribers increasing.
Apple and Amazon
You have also got Amazon and Apple waiting in the wings. Amazon has got its hit — The Boys, probably the best superhero TV production seen to date. Amazon is hoping it may have the next Game of Thrones type hit with the adaption of the Wheel of Time series — possibly the best fantasy book series ever written.
Meanwhile Apple is working on The Foundation TV series, based on Isaac Asimov’s magnificent science fiction series of books.
As for other Hollywood players, Time Warner (owned by AT&T) is planning to simultaneously launch its big movies next year across movie theatres and online, via HBO Max in the US.
When I was a kid, my two favourite science fiction books/series, were the Foundation Books and Dune. Well, Apple has got the former, Time Warner has the latter with what could be the big movie release of 2021.
So that is quite the line-up of TV shows and movies.
What does all this mean for the cinema? Speaking as a cinema fan, I think the news is sad. The likes of Cineworld, floundering under a mountain of debt, having been hit so hard by Covid, will now have to compete with streaming.
Not surprisingly, the Cineworld share price has crashed — it is less than a third of the start of year price, and a fifth of the price 18 months ago.
The case against Cineworld is so obvious that it would take a brave person indeed to invest in it.
And yet, I don’t think the cinema is dead. There is a magic about the cinema that you don’t get at home — besides it’s part of the mating ritual. I reckon, post-Covid, people will be desperate to start going out again, and the cinema may be (note use of ‘may be’ — this is far from certain) a beneficiary.
The big five
For Netflix, Disney, Apple, Amazon and HBO parent’s parent, AT&T, I reckon things will continue to improve — Covid has enabled them to leapfrog where they would otherwise have been today, like a knight in chess. But while I think the cinema business is in check, it is far from Checkmate; maybe, however, it needs to apply a smart move, to survive — it may need a queen’s gambit of its own.
These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of The Share Centre, its officers and employees.