Entertainment

Five Qualities of Next Generation Entertainment Platforms

By Simon Pulman, Partner

If your only exposure to TikTok is seeing the occasional funny video pop up on Facebook or watching your nieces studiously rehearse one of Charli D’Amelio’s signature dances, then you could be forgiven for wondering what all of the fuss about a potential ban is about. Likewise, if you’ve heard of Fortnite but you have no idea how Twitch works, you might not be aware of the degree to which Twitch is disrupting the audience for traditional television and even live sports.

Irrespective of whether TikTok survives (at least, in its present form), the impact that it has had on the future of entertainment consumption is immeasurable. And likewise, having fended off competition from the likes of Mixer, Twitch is poised for further extreme growth. Both platforms have lessons that those in traditional media would do well to heed when seeking to identify (or perhaps create) the next major media platform.

1. They Are A Culture And A Language: TikTok is not merely a video sharing platform. It is its own discrete culture and language that is impenetrable to those who are not on the platform. In essence, TikTok is an extreme evolution of “meme culture,” and without familiarity with the various “trends” that move rapidly through TikTok and the key creators and personalities who often create them, it is impossible for a viewer to understand many TikTok videos in isolation. Like all languages, TikTok builds upon itself, as users create videos that mimic, parody or comment upon an existing popular video. None of this is explained to the user upon joining the app. It has to be absorbed and understood by interacting with videos. This means that for Gen Y and college students, it is simply essential for them to be on TikTok in order to communicate with and relate to each other. It’s the concept of tuning into an old broadcast “watercooler show,” just amplified exponentially.  Likewise, Twitch has its own “language” in the form of “emotes” that viewers can post in chats while watching videos. Like memes, emotes require an understanding of context and meaning – and a shared understanding of emotes can create a common bond between the user base.

It is not an exaggeration to state that TikTok in particular is the single biggest communication and culture platform for Gen Y, and accordingly, is also the easiest way to mobilize young people. If TikTok still exists, it could have a significant impact on the upcoming US election – which is perhaps why President Trump is so keen to shut it down. We have already seen the influence of TikTok in action when TikTok users apparently reserved tickets to Trump’s June rally in Tulsa Oklahoma, falsely giving the impression that the event was a sellout. TikTok content is also highly shareable, meaning that content can live and spread off of the platform. This helps to bring new users into the platform. Compare with Quibi, which launched with zero sharing or social capability whatsoever, and a rigidly old-world walled garden approach.

2. They Have Their Own Stars: To millions of teenagers, the biggest celebrities on the planet are not actors or pop stars, but rather two sisters from Connecticut – Charli D’Amelio and Dixie D’Amelio. The D’Amelio sisters built a presence on TikTok at an astoundingly fast rate (at the time of writing, Charli alone has almost 86 million followers and over 6.6 billion “likes”). The D’Amelios have parlayed that platform into myriad commercial endorsements (Charli has her own drink at Dunkin Donuts) and, in Dixie’s case, a singing career. Likewise, within the world of Twitch, the likes of Ninja and Pokimane are bona fide stars, often attracting millions of fans for their “streams.” Like the D’Amelios, big Twitch influencers monetize their profiles in multiple ways, ranging from traditional product endorsements, to sponsored content, to Twitch “donations” whereby fans can simply donate cash to the influencers to thank them for their content (and for a moment of fleeting recognition).

These new influencers operate differently to celebrities of old. While they still have managers and publicists, and seek to curate a brand, they are generally more open about their personal lives because “authenticity” is highly valued by their audiences. With that said, several influencers have publicly articulated their struggle at maintaining a distance between their public persona and private life, most recently Twitch streamer Pokimane, who has been unfairly accused of concealing that she has a boyfriend in order to maintain her fanbase. Maintaining a level of distance can be difficult for influencers whose livelihoods depend on interacting regularly and directly with fans. Indeed, there are many “gossip accounts” that focus on the rumors surrounding influencers and their personal lives.

The challenge for traditional entertainment executives is that the new era of talent does not necessarily need to crossover into traditional media. While it was recently announced that Addison Rae Easterling has accepted a role in “He’s All That” (a reimagining of the Rachael Leigh Cook/Freddie Prinze Junior romcom), most TikTok influencers, and certainly most leading Twitch influencers can make more money, more quickly simply sticking to their core platforms (or other media that they can exert more control over, such as podcast).

Moreover, as an attorney who has negotiated many deals to hire Twitch influencers for “traditional media,” it is important to note that new media influencers, and their reps, value different things to traditional talent and are not always prepared to agree to otherwise accepted “industry norms.” For example, we typically see a lot of pushback against “options” in TV or anything that could lock the talent in for an extended period of time. Additionally, the concept of providing free promotional services (including by social media) as part of the engagement is totally foreign to influencers used to being paid on a “per post” basis.

3. They Are Broadcast Platforms: While platforms such as Instagram and particularly Snapchat have leant into the concept of users sharing content with people that they already know, TikTok and Twitch are broadcast platforms on a massive scale. They operate on a “one to many” model, whereby an individual user can theoretically reach millions of total strangers all across the world from their own home. TikTok in particular is probably the biggest and most effective broadcast ever built, with its “your page” discovery algorithm allowing hit videos to potentially reach billions of users. Many Gen Y users want to experience stardom above all else, and while TikTok’s incumbent “stars” (such as the D’Amelios, Addison Rae, the inhabitants of Hype House, and now Bella Poarch) certainly have a leg up, TikTok remains the only platform in the world where a user can potentially acquire half a million followers in a day. Twitch is a harder platform to crack, and many streamers labor away streaming for few viewers. However, there are still opportunities to rapidly grow a userbase on Twitch – especially around the launch of a new game. For example, multiple Twitch users gained over one hundred thousand followers in the month following the release of the hit battle royale game “Fall Guys,” with the user “MrKeroro10” gaining almost 400,000 users.

4. They Are Highly Personalized. At first glance, there may be little that seems to differentiate TikTok from predecessors such as Vine, or its many clones. It’s a platform for short videos, right? Well, yes and no. The strength of TikTok is actually in its algorithm, which by tracking user behaviors and habits in many ways (some no doubt concerning to privacy advocates), is simply the most accurate recommendation engine ever created in a media app. As a result, within a few hours of using TikTok, the algorithm will learn an individual’s preferences – whether that’s music, cooking, dancing or humor. Thus, while it is likely that most TikTok users will see videos from the megastars (Charli, Addison Rae, etc.) at some point, it is not unusual for the “for you page” of two users to be completely different.

It’s quite fascinating to see the differing approaches of two media companies through 2020 so far. Quibi bet on extremely expensive, traditional television or film content chopped up into smaller chunks and, presumably, aimed at a broad audience. TikTok focused on serving up an endless stream of short, user generated, highly personalized content. It’s not a secret that one company’s approach was more successful than the other. Media companies need to accept that the future of media is personalization – which is perhaps why Netflix has invested so heavily in a diverse range of scripted and unscripted content, often internationally focused.

5. They Can Create New Hits – And Revive Old Ones: The power of TikTok to create hits and stars (it is now the essential driver for creating new music hits) is well documented, as is the influence of Twitch in popularizing new video games. However, both platforms have the capability to revive catalogue titles as well. On TikTok, a popular influencer posting a lipsync to a scene from an old movie, or a dance to an old song (which will inevitably lead to thousands of copycat videos) may lead to millions of users discovering that piece of content for the first time -essentially introducing it to an entirely new audience and increasing its value significantly. For that value, media companies may wish to advise their legal departments to be judicious in policing content that could arguably be infringing (whether TikTok videos are sufficiently “transformative” to be fair use is a discussion for another day), because the halo effect of trending on TikTok could be significant.

Disclaimer: While our firm does not represent either Twitch or TikTok, we do represent multiple clients active on both. We also represent Triller, a TikTok competitor.

Proposed Guidelines for Resumption of Motion Picture, Television and Streaming Productions

By Amy Stein

Earlier this week, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force released proposed policies and guidelines for the recommencement of productions, known as the White Paper. As of June 1, the White Paper was submitted to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and California Governor Gavin Newsom for review.

The Task Force, comprised of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, major studios (e.g., Amazon Studios, Apple Studios, HBO, Netflix, Sony, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Fox), and many guilds and unions (i.e., Director’s Guild of America, I.A.T.S.E. and its West-Coast Studio Local Unions and New York Local Unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Basic Crafts Unions, and SAG-AFTRA), sought expert advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, health care professionals, and industry professionals who know the ins and outs of production working conditions.

The White Paper is meant to be fluid and will evolve over time in conjunction with governmental suggestions and requirements. As of now, the White Paper is intended to create the initial road map to a safe return to production, which provides guidelines with respect to, for example, “regular, periodic testing of cast and crew for Covid-19,” “universal symptom monitoring, including temperature screening,” providing disposable masks which will be replaced each day, social distancing, as well as suggestions for access to mental and physical health resources.

While the White Paper will directly affect the productions produced under the studio and network system, it also provides a framework for independent films to follow (which frame work will have to comply with governmental requirements and protocols in the jurisdiction of production, and will have to be approved by the applicable guild(s)/union(s) of the production).

It should be noted that the White Paper is a set of recommendations for government authorization to commence production and has yet to be commented on by any governmental authority or department. The White Paper can be found here.

Character Exclusivity in Rights Deals

By Simon N. Pulman

In this increasingly competitive media landscape, companies are seeking to create entertainment brands that can endure, serve as the basis for dozens of hours of content on the new generation of owned-and-operated premium platforms, and extend across various forms of media. However, transmedia deals are seldom straightforward, and may create issues that one is less likely to encounter when negotiating a relatively simple deal for a book-to-film adaptation.

One such issue is character exclusivity – the idea that when an entertainment property has multiple rightsholders, certain characters (or, in hyper-complex instances, certain characteristics of certain characters) are owned exclusively by only one rightsholder. The phenomenon of character exclusivity (and the schism in a property that it tends to create) tends to arise from one of three main deal-making circumstances, as follows:

Creator Sequels

Traditionally, a purchaser in a rights deal acquired only one “installment” of a property, such as a novel. In the event that the author of that novel decided to write a sequel, the film and television rights in that sequel would typically be “held back” for a period of time (usually between three and seven years), and the purchaser of the first book would have a first negotiation right and some kind of matching right to acquire the rights in the sequel.

That structure is fine when one is acquiring a discrete novel for which a sequel is a hypothetical future possibility, and which would be (if written) a direct continuation of the original story. It works less well when a property is conceived from the ground up as a series, an anthology, or a shared universe (more on that below). However, even this relatively simple traditional structure begs the question: what happens if the original purchaser does not acquire a sequel?

Most studios include some form of the below language in their option agreements with respect to the creator’s reserved sequel rights:

“If Purchaser does not acquire any Author-Written Sequel, then Owner’s right to dispose of any rights in such Author-Written Sequel shall not include the right to produce or cause the production of any audiovisual production which contains any of the characters or incidents contained in the original Property.”

In essence, this language provides that a creator can sell sequel rights to a third party (subject to the holdback and first negotiation/matching right), but not rights to any characters that appear in the original work. So, to illustrate, the author of Bridget Jones could sell the screen rights to the second Bridget Jones book, but would not be permitted to grant rights to the character Bridget Jones (feel free to replace “Bridget Jones” with “Harry Potter,” “Harry Bosch,” “Frodo” or any other character of your choosing).

Suffice to say, this creates instant character exclusivity and in many instances makes the development of a sequel by a new buyer unworkable.

On the subject of “creator sequels,” it is also worth mentioning that contractual standards that were very simple when formulated to address the acquisition of discrete works such as novels or plays may be much less elegant in the modern world. For example, it may be difficult to discern the line between the “original property” and a “sequel” when you have an ongoing comic book series with multiple spinoffs. How about a true crime podcast anthology that presents multiple “seasons” focused on different crimes, under one united brand? Or what about a video game where updates are presented via a series of continuous downloadable updates, as opposed to individual and clearly separate releases at brick-and-mortar retailers?

These are issues that we are thinking about and addressing on a daily basis and should evidence why it is important that rightsholders and purchasers alike engage experienced rights counsel!

“Studio Created” Elements

Another provision commonly found in rights purchase agreements reads substantially as follows:

“The Reserved Rights do not include, and Owner will have no right to exploit or use, any new or changed element created by or for Purchaser and/or any new characters, new characterizations and other new elements from any production produced by Purchaser.”

Think of this as the “Daryl Dixon” clause. When AMC optioned and developed “The Walking Dead” comic books for television, they created Daryl as a new character. Daryl promptly went on to become one of the most popular characters in the series.

Because of the clause above, the comic book writer and publisher were not permitted to use Daryl in the source material – or in connection with any other reserved rights (such as video games and merchandising based on the comic book, as opposed to the TV series).

Historically, there were good reasons for this clause. It does not make sense for the author to be unjustly enriched by the studio’s creativity and investment, and the inclusion of a new character back in the original source material could trigger additional guild or contractual obligations (in essence, putting the purchaser on the hook for exploitation that it doesn’t control).

However, we are finally moving towards a paradigm where characters move fluidly across media and different forms of exploitation – where new movies are promoted in Fortnite, and where Freddy Krueger, the Demogorgon, and Michael Myers can all appear as killers in Dead by Daylight. In gaming in particular, there may be a compelling reason for a game publisher to be able to use a character in their games who initially appeared in a television series. Moreover, the expectation of audiences is increasingly that there will be some level of coordination and consistency across media, and so it may be necessary to reexamine the necessity of this clause in very specific circumstances.

Shared Universes

The concept of character exclusivity becomes particularly complicated in the instance of a “shared universe” – a vast sprawling story world that may encompass dozens of separate narratives that could be tied together by relatively obscure or minimal narrative threads. Think Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere or, of course, the Marvel Universe.

For a shared story universe, it is possible, or even likely, that different characters or story elements will be controlled by different rightsholders. This concept has become familiar to audiences due to the X-Men and Avengers living (up to now) in completely separate story universes – or via the high profile and very public negotiations that were necessary to bring Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Absent special arrangement, characters are “stuck” in one universe and cannot “cross over” – even if they did so routinely in the source material. This may lead to audience confusion and frustration.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and in addition to the aforementioned Spider-Man example, two characters were “shared” by Fox and Disney pre-merger – Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (who appeared in the X-Men franchise starting with Days of Future Past, and in the MCU starting with Avengers: The Age of Ultron (after a brief post-credits appearance in Winter Soldier). However, the two iterations of the characters were played by different actors and, there were purportedly very specific contractual stipulations on how they could be characterized in each universe.

While the concept of a “shared universe” applies mostly to superhero and fantasy worlds, there are still potential repercussions for creators in other genres. For example, an author who writes crossovers between two book series (as Michael Connolly has done with the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books), or includes an Easter egg type cameo in their romance novel with a character from another book may be inadvertently creating rights and contractual issues that must be carefully addressed (and may be potentially headache inducing). Of course, the most successful US author of all – Stephen King – does this routinely. But creators must be careful because it is unlikely that they have the leverage that King does over his intellectual property!

COVID-19 Relief

By Tyler Horowitz

While certain states have started to ease lockdowns and shelter-in-place limitations, the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects have taken a toll on many lives, communities, and small businesses. One of the many challenges this unprecedented situation has spawned is how small business will weather the economic downturn it has caused. This situation has been particularly dire for the entertainment industry and businesses that are in early start-up stages as well as early stages of financing.

On March 27, 2020, the President signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) to provide emergency financial and health care assistance for individuals, families, and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. On the financial side, the Small Business Administration (SBA) received funding and authority through the CARES Act to modify existing loan programs and establish a new loan program to assist small businesses nationwide that have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 emergency.

For those small and medium-sized businesses who are unfamiliar with, or haven’t applied to, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) or other similar state and federal relief programs, this post will provide a high-level overview of what such businesses need to know to pursue monetary relief.

Paycheck Protection Program

What is the PPP?

The CARES Act, in Section 1102, authorizes the SBA to temporarily guarantee loans in accordance with the terms and conditions of Section 7(a) of the Small Business Act. This relief program provides loans designed to incentivize small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. Small businesses receive funds to pay for up to eight weeks of payroll costs including benefits, and the SBA will forgive the loan if all employees are kept on the payroll for that time and the money is only used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities. Applicants are required to submit a good faith certification stating the following:

  • The loan is needed to support ongoing operations;
  • The loan will be used to retain workers, maintain payroll, and pay for mortgage, lease, and utility payments;
  • The borrower does not have a pending application for a similar loan; and
  • The borrower did not get a similar loan between February 15, 2020 and December 31, 2020.

 Who can apply?

A business is eligible for a PPP loan if the business has not more than 500 employees and if its principal place of residence is in the United States. A business’ principal place of residence is determined in accordance with the guidelines set out in the Code of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”) §1.121-1(b)(2). Similarly, PPP loans are also available to 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees and the self-employed, sole proprietors, and freelance and gig economy workers.

In order to qualify under the PPP, a business must have been in operation during the “Covered Period” of February 15, 2020 – June 30, 2020. The loan may be used to ensure that a business meets its payroll obligations as well as any costs related to family leave, sick or medical leave, insurance premiums, commissions, or rent that is incurred during the Covered Period.

How is the loan size determined?

The loan size is calculated on a case-by-case basis as follows and in accordance with the terms of 13 C.F.R. § 120:

  1. Add all payroll costs for all employees whose principal place of residence is in the United States.
  1. Subtract any compensation paid to an employee in excess of a salary of $100,000.00 annually and/or any amounts paid to an independent contractor or sole proprietor in excess of $100,000.00 annually.
  1. Calculate the average monthly payroll costs (divide the number from Step 2 by 12).
  1. Multiply the average monthly payroll costs, calculated in Step 3 above, by 2.5.
  1. Add the resulting number to any outstanding amount of an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (“EIDL”; discussed below) made between January 1, 2020 – April 3, 2020 and subtract the amount of any EIDL advance.

On April 24, 2020, the SBA issued further guidance on how to calculate maximum loan amounts for each type of applicant (available here).  

How to apply?

You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. A list of participating lenders as well as additional information and full terms can be found here. These loans are first-come, first-served and the Government will continue to make disbursements so long as Congress provides funding.

Economic Injury Disaster Program

The EIDL Program is another option for small businesses administered by the SBA under Section 7(b) of the Small Business Act.  EIDLs are lower interest loans of up to $2 million, with principal and interest deferment available for up to 4 years, that are available to pay for expenses had the pandemic not occurred (e.g., payroll and operating expenses).

To qualify for an EIDL, your business must have suffered “substantial economic injury” from COVID-19. EIDLs are based on a company’s actual economic injury determined by the SBA (less any recoveries such as insurance proceeds) but the amount of the loan may not exceed $2,000,000.00.

Loan parameters

  • The eligibility period commences January 31, 2020 and ends December 31, 2020;
  • Any small business (including sole proprietorships, with or without employees) with 500 or fewer employees;
  • The interest rate on EIDLs is 3.75% fixed for small businesses and 2.75% for nonprofits. The EIDLs have up to a 30-year term and amortization (determined on a case-by-case basis);
  • The money can be used for payroll, rents or mortgages, or other operational costs;
  • Up to $200,000 can be approved without a personal guarantee; and
  • No collateral is required for loans of $25,000 or less. For loans of more than $25,000, a general security interest in business assets will be used for collateral instead of real estate.

Emergency advance

The EIDL Program provides an emergency advance of up to $10,000 to small businesses harmed by COVID-19 within three days of applying for an EIDL. To access the advance, you must first apply for an EIDL and then subsequently request the advance. The advance does not need to be repaid under any circumstance, and may be used to keep employees on the payroll or pay business obligations, including debts, rent and mortgage payments.

Applications and more detailed information can be found here.

Snapshot differences between PPP and EIDL

TermsEIDLPPP
Maximum Loan Amount$2,000,000$10,000,000
Interest Rates3.75%, up to 30 years (2.75% for non-profits)   Any portion of the loan not forgiven will be treated as a two-year loan with a 1% fixed interest rate  
Forgivable AmountOnly $10,000 of the emergency advance is forgiven100% forgivable provided employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is only used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities
Approved UsesRent, payroll, accounts payable, and any other expenses that could have been met had the pandemic not occurredPayroll expenses, rent, mortgage interest and utilities  
Collateral and Credit Check RequirementsYesNo

Can I Apply to Both?

Yes! However, it is important to note that you cannot use funds from both loans for the same purpose.

For example, you can’t use both EIDL and PPP funds towards payroll.

Additional Resources and News

In addition to PPP and EIDL, private companies have lent support for members of the entertainment industry. For example, Sony Music announced a $100 million Global Relief Fund to support not only medical workers, but also creators, artists, and other partners in the entertainment community who have been impacted by COVID-19.  Similarly, Live Nation Entertainment’s Crew Nation Fund is currently providing financial support to music crews who have been directly impacted by suspended or cancelled shows.

Further, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Chris Coons, Tim Kaine, and Angus King introduced the New Business Preservation Act . This legislation would create a new $2 billion program at the Treasury Department that would partner with states to invest in promising start-up businesses in areas of the country that do not currently attract significant equity investment and who are particularly vulnerable to the current economic crisis as a result of COVID-19.

Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP will continue to provide updates on legal developments related to the present crisis and we are available should you need further guidance.

“The Good Lord Bird” Trailer Just Released

CDAS represented producer Blumhouse in its deal to acquire rights to the James McBride book, the deal with Ethan Hawke (who stars as abolitionist John Brown), and the deal with Showtime where the miniseries will premiere on August 9. Watch the trailer here.

Congratulations to CDAS Client Colson Whitehead on Winning a Second Pulitzer Prize

Just announced, Colson Whitehead received the Pulitzer Prize for The Nickel Boys. He was previously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his best-seller The Underground Railroad, making him one of only four authors to win the Pulitzer twice for fiction.

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