The Banker – Marketing Recap

How Apple is selling its first original feature film release.

the banker poster 2Like most other media (and some technology) companies in the last year or so, Apple is finally branching into distributing original feature films, specifically using its Apple TV+ streaming service. It has already released a handful of series and a couple documentaries, but narrative features are new with this week’s The Banker.

The movie stars Samuel L. Jackson as Joe Morris and Anthony Mackie as Bernard Garrett. Morris and Garrett are two bankers who want to help others like them own their own homes and move toward the American Dream. The racist policies of the 1960s, though, keep them from owning their own bank. So they enlist Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult), a white man, to act as the public face of their venture while they pretend to be his hired help. Eventually the Feds get wise to their scheme, threatening to bring the entire operation to a halt.

Unfortunately early reviews haven’t been great, with critics citing a corny story and uneven plotting. Even more troublesome is controversy surrounding the people depicted in the story that has caused Apple to change its release plans, dampening what should be a big coming out for the company’s media ambitions.

The Posters

the banker posterThe photo of a white hand and black hand coming together in a shake is the central focus of the first poster from November. Copy explains “They built an empire like nobody’s business,” a nice bit of double entendre writing that conveys the unusual nature of what the characters accomplished. Notably, this is the first movie whose poster bills it as “An Apple original.”

February’s second poster uses the same kind of stark black and white photography, but this time features Morris and Garrett, both looking dapper in their suits and hats. It reminds people the movie is “Based on true events” but features slightly different copy that reads “Don’t pay the man. Be the man.”

The Trailers

It wasn’t until early November that the first trailer (956,000 views on YouTube) finally came out. The spot introduces us to Garrett as an ambitious businessman who wants to keep growing, expanding into more banking and other services. Limited because of restrictions – both formal and informal – on black-owned businesses at the time, he first enlists Morris’ help with the financing and then that of Steiner to act as the white face of the operation. We see clearly the movie will deal with redlining and other discriminatory practices, all of which are deserving of more general attention.

Online and Social

The website Apple is using to promote the film is pretty bare bones, but the addition of a Common Sense Media rating is a nice touch.

Advertising and Promotions

Apple acquired distribution rights to the film in mid-July of last year, making the film part of the lineup for the company’s upcoming (at the time) streaming service. News that the movie would be the closing feature at AFI Fest in November came shortly after Apple gave it a theatrical release date.

Just a day before that AFI Fest screening, Apple abruptly pulled it from the event amidst concerns over sexual abuse allegations involving the son of the real life subject of the story. The movie’s release date was soon delayed as well. Shortly thereafter the cast and crew released a statement clarifying that while they respect the grave nature of the accusations made, they don’t feel the film disrespects that at all and doesn’t touch on that subject matter.

In mid-January Apple finally rescheduled the movie for early March, with a theatrical run followed just two weeks later by its debut on Apple TV+. Almost immediately, though, Garrett’s former wives issued a statement saying the film should be permanently shelved because of what they felt were inaccuracies and elements that are disrespectful to the family.

After those issues were more or less in the past (but still lingering out there), Apple started running paid ads. Online units used elements of the key art, specifically the image of the two leads standing next to each other, while pre-roll ads used a cut down version of the trailer to highlight the stars while lightening up the focus on the story.

the banker online ad.png

Media and Press

Mackie was profiled in a piece that talked about this and other recent roles that allow him to revisit his dramatic chops instead of flying around as a super hero, which is where many people would recognize him. He later stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about the movie as well as his continued Marvel role and upcoming series.

An interview with costar Nia Long to talk about how important it is for stories like this that have slipped through the cracks of the history books to be told.

The cast and crew turned out for a premiere screening at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.


The movie and its campaign seem to have been caught between two lightning rods. On one side is the point raised by Long that stories like this that expose the systemic racism dominating centuries of this country’s history need to be told with more regularity, so it’s an important method to fill in the gaps of what’s covered, especially in popular culture. On the other, because it’s the story of a problematic individual, simply the act of telling that story is going to be fraught.

With that in mind, the campaign has worked more often than it hasn’t, but the controversy obviously caused Apple to pull back some of the effort it has been putting in to recent series releases. Hitting AFI and other events would have allowed the company to make a much bigger splash for its first foray into original movies and raise the profile of the Apple TV+ service that keeps struggling to gain traction.

What remains is a movie that looks like a solid drama featuring a handful of great actors, which is hard to pass up.

The Streaming Wars Are Being Fought on More Fronts Than Many People Think

Never fight a war on two fronts. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. These are solid, reliable maxims for those going into battle. You never want to find yourself overwhelmed and overstretched as you attempt to create supply lines to multiple locations and divert your attention.

The Streaming Wars feature dozens of fronts, all of which require the full attention of the various combatants. In the last few weeks, armaments and strategies of more parties became clear. Apple+ recently announced its pricing and original content lineup, Disney+ did likewise and NBCUniversal unveiled Peacock, coming soon and sporting a lineup of classic and new movies and shows. Netflix scored “Seinfeld” and Quibi unveils new shows every three hours.

If the battlefield is beginning to seem ridiculously crowded, you’re not alone.

As media commentator Mathew Ingram said,

Someone – possibly Ingram – pointed out that media was never really supposed to work like this, meaning a separate channel or platform for every media production company or distributor. NBC has always aired NBC programming (though that material used to be produced by a more diverse array of companies), but the television signal coming into your house wasn’t only delivering NBC shows.

Maybe this works better: If you wanted to buy DVDs of the shows you like, you didn’t have to go to the Fox store to get “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” the Warner Bros. store for “Friends” and the ABC store for “Lost.” You could get them all at Best Buy.

This Used To Be Their Playground

At various times many of these companies have run their own retail operations. The Warner Bros. Store was great counter-programming to The Disney Store. The Viacom Store never expanded beyond Chicago. All offered media and goods specific to that company, but that’s what was expected. And, importantly, you didn’t need to pay a cover charge just to get in the door.

The one time media did work like that was when studios owned movie theaters before the 1948 consent decree that such vertical integration was unfair and unlawful.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has said it will be a “whole new world” come November when both Apple+ and Disney+ are scheduled to launch, and there may indeed be a price-based shakeout in the landscape not too far in the offing as people decide how many of these are actually affordable. It’s going to be a bit sad if it comes down to who has the more attractive premiere classic sitcom to act as its differentiator.

For as exhaustive as the list above might be, what’s notable is that it’s actually incomplete. At the same time NBCUniversal and others were solidifying their strategies, Instagram announced a new Jonah Hill-produced documentary would be hosted on that platform. Facebook continues to expand its Watch programming with original series featuring big name talent. Twitter isn’t participating in this particular game at the moment, but it has a number of deals with media companies for news programming. Snapchat has found success with original material.

These social media companies aren’t implementing the same model as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ etc, but are competing for the same hours in people’s days. They want to be a go-to-destination for the significant number of hours people spend each day watching television and other video. And those social channels come with the advantage of not requiring paid access along with the fact the habit of checking them for updates, Stories and more is already baked into the audience.

The DTC Media World Won’t Last

Yes, these media companies are in many ways chasing the same direct-to-consumer model that has popped up in the last few years, one that’s evident to anyone who’s listened to more than eight minutes of any given podcast. But there’s a big difference between subscribing to a shaving accessory service and one that delivers original movies and shows. It’s fairly unlikely someone is going to subscribe to three shaving services, mostly because doing so would represent a significant and unnecessary overlap of features.

That’s going to hit streaming as well as people realize that one show they setup a trial account to check out isn’t worth the monthly fee given they don’t watch 75 percent of the other content available. If that sounds familiar, it’s just about the same reason given when people ditch their cable subscription.

I have to wonder how many of these companies are considering the sheer volume of competition they’re up against, including Instagram, Snapchat and more. Goodness knows that people in the audience know exactly how much time to spend on video and will make choices taking that into account, along with which shows/platforms have the attention of their peers.

Streaming Originals Could Change How Movie Marketing Campaigns Are Run

Original content may decide who wins the streaming wars

Where were you when you found out Netflix would lose “Friends” next year? How many sad face emojis did you use when you Retweeted the news “The Office” would be leaving?

Much of the news surrounding the launch of streaming services from all the big media companies has focused on the fate of what we’ll call “legacy IP,” shows and movies that are at least a few years – if not decades – old. HBO Max will soon host “Friends” while “The Office” will go to NBCUniversal’s still-unlaunched service. Disney+ will be the exclusive home of Star Wars, Marvel and other franchises.

That these older properties still hold so much allure and potential for the companies that own them is telling in and of itself. Their continued popularity makes them pure revenue generators, their production costs long since recouped and little additional expenditure required. Better to keep selling audiences what’s old and familiar because it’s cheap to do so.

The future of media is, it seems, largely dependent on the availability of 20+ year old sitcoms. Some surveys have shown that licensed content is what people want from a streaming service. It’s likely safe to include legacy IP in that since it makes up a good chunk of that licensed content.

Despite this, each company also realizes the need for original material. Apple has a reported $6 billion budgeted for original shows and movies. Quibi has raised $2 billion for the new shows it seems to announce every other day. The $15 billion earmarked by Netflix includes acquisition as well as production. By these measures, the $1 billion Disney is said to be spending on production for Disney+ is miniscule, but given the strength of the catalog titles it has at its disposal it’s understandable it would start smaller.

So much money being devoted to producing original series and movies shows there’s an appetite for that material among the audience. That would also explain why the announcement of each has come with a list of what new content will be available. HBO Max was touted as featuring two movies produced by Reese Witherspoon and four by Greg Berlanti and just made a new Steven Soderbergh film its first major acquisition. Disney+ will offer a handful of remakes of classic films along with new movies starring Anna Kendrick, directed by Tom McCarthey and so on.

We already know that advertising for the services themselves – which usually includes snippets of highly sought-after content serving as the core proposition – has dropped recently.

While a handful of teasers and promotions for some of the series and shows coming to these services have already been released – Apple dropped the full trailer for its much-anticipated “The Morning Show” just a couple days ago – we’ve yet to see any marketing for the films and movies scheduled.

Still, a number of assumptions can be made based on the campaigns run for original films on Netflix, Amazon, DC Universe and other streaming platforms.

Trailers will likely be released on YouTube and social networks. This despite the fact that all these platforms are in many ways competitors, featuring their own original content productions and/or deals. Shows exclusive to YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook and others compete with those currently found on Netflix or coming from Disney etc for the time, money and attention of the audience. Still, the critical mass built up by those platforms as distribution hubs seems to trump any concerns about using a competitor’s infrastructure.

One has to wonder how much longer this will be worth it, though. It’s already clear that Facebook in particular actively prioritizes its own material in the content it shows users, illustrating how these platforms act in their own self-interest. For the time being, though, use of third-party video hosting remains the default and I don’t know if we’re actually headed toward a return of the days when trailers were available only as uploaded media on an official website.

Putting distribution to the side, the format of trailers may also be up for a bit of reinvention. The standard 2:30 running time is one dictated by the MPAA as the maximum allowable. While objectively a short amount of time, it’s eons in terms of online video. User preferences on social platforms are much shorter. It’s possible instead of one primary trailer and subsequent shorter shorts studios begin to create collections of :45 second promos. Each could offer a specific value proposition instead of trying to cram as much as possible into a single, longer video.

Whatever the case, studios need to stop simply cropping 16×9 videos for formats preferred by social networks. That’s terrible.

Websites themselves are even more questionable. The attention paid to them by studios of all kinds has waned in recent years to the point where the content shared is limited to a single trailer, a brief story synopsis and links to buy tickets. Some movies get more attention online than others, but the default now seems to be minimum viable effort, just enough to justify securing the URL.

That shift reflects changes in the overall media landscape in the last half-dozen or more years. Many media companies no longer see “drive traffic to website” as a primary goal of their online marketing, choosing to produce content that lives solely on one or another social media profile. Asking people to click from Twitter to a website in order to buy tickets isn’t as efficient as simply putting the ticket-buying link in a social update where it can be immediately acted upon.

It’s likely at least some of the streaming services will follow Netflix’s lead and simply abandon the standalone website altogether. That company, with a couple high-profile exceptions, hasn’t even bothered to create sites for its movies, a tactic that makes sense given the call to action for them is “watch now” or “subscribe now.”

Social media, for that reason, is more likely to continue being a tactic consistently implemented. This is how studios are going to increasingly reach modern audiences who live on their mobile devices and use those networks for news, personal connections and work.

Hints as to how those networks could be activated are likely found by looking to not only Netflix but smaller studios like IFC Films. Both rarely create standalone profiles for their films, preferring to support them on the brand channels. The level of that support varies from film to film, though. IFC recently paid little attention to Vita & Virginia since it was busy promoting The Nightingale. And Netflix props up its original shows much more frequently than it does the movies it debuts.

You can see that brand-centric approach already being taken by Disney+, which recently made headlines after debuting its Twitter account and engaging in conversation with all the IP it manages.

The reality is that creating Facebook and other profiles for every individual movie has never made a whole lot of sense. Movies are products whose expiration date is clearly displayed on the label, so devoting significant resources to building up an audience for each one – and audience that is then abandoned within months of acquisition – seems wrong-headed.

Posters are also a format that may not be long for this world. While Netflix and other streamers have continued producing them over the years, in a world where theatrical distribution is reserved for only the biggest of the big releases there wouldn’t seem to be much rationale for creating the 24×36 one sheets designed to fit in backlit cases in theater hallways.

Studios are already producing promotional graphics formatted to work well on social platforms, so why not drop the facade of needing to create a “theatrical poster?” As with trailers, focus instead on a series of images that, when released in sequence, tell some sort of story.

That’s what Netflix did on the Instagram profile for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, posting several collections of images that on their own weren’t much. When viewed in “grid” mode, each collection showed a full picture of one of the movie’s stories, offering a better look at what audiences could expect in a way formatted to take advantage of how that platform was used.

buster scruggs instagram.png

Advertising campaigns could also be due for a shakeup. Studios usually begin paid campaigns around the time the first trailer debuts, using Promoted Posts on social networks, putting pre-roll ads on YouTube and placing banner and other ads elsewhere on the web. TV commercials are often reserved for the last month before release.

Some of that could be retained in a streaming-centric world, but general online ads are likely to be changed significantly. For theatrical movies those ads point to websites where people can buy advance tickets, but Netflix usually reserves online ad buys for *after* a movie is available to watch, not before. That’s a big shift in tactics and could have serious implications for the kinds of sites that depend on movie ad revenue.

Again, we’ve yet to see marketing campaigns for the original films from Disney+, HBO Max or any of the other to-be-launched streaming services. So it’s not clear what kind of marketing support they will receive or how tactics may change.

One factor that could play a big role in how these campaigns are rolled out is that, unlike Netflix, the companies behind these streaming services all have long histories of theatrical releases. While Netflix has battled on many occasions with theater chains, WarnerMedia, Disney, NBCUniversal, Paramount and others all have comfortable relationships with the MPAA, NATO and others in the exhibition industry.

Those groups – and their members – have previously supported the big media companies as being continued supporters of theatrical movie-going, especially compared to upstarts like Netflix. Even Amazon has preserved those relationships by giving their original features theatrical distribution prior to streaming, though that window is shrinking from months to weeks with upcoming titles like The Report and The Aeronauts.

It’s possible, then, that the campaigns for streaming exclusive films could be decided based on which feathers are or aren’t being ruffled by companies that want to continue to live in both worlds.

More clear is that the current function of movie marketing campaigns have been dictated by the form of release patterns, specifically putting films in theaters. As that default setting is increasingly no longer applicable, the function will change in ways more relevant to today’s consumers, whose media habits change daily.

Apple Wants Indie Films Because Of Course

Apple’s Eddie Cue has made Apple TV’s content strategy at least a little more clear: The company will focus on producing fewer shows of higher quality, hoping that beats others who have taken a “more is more” approach. This comes just a little while after a similar statement was made about the company’s feature film ambitions, which include making a half-dozen or so films a year that are positioned as award nominees.

It also comes at about the same time Netflix is reportedly scaling back some of its ambitions, tightening the purse strings a bit, with some recent movies – Triple Frontier was apparently called out – not proving to be successful for the streaming company.

That Apple wants to focus on smaller, prestige movies that will bring with it accolades makes sense given it’s where just about where all of these streaming services start.

Think about Netflix’s first few releases: Beasts of No Nation, Talullah and others all play like the kinds of movies Fox Searchlight or Paramount Vantage would have put out back in the day. So too Amazon Studios, which kicked off with Chi-Raq, The Neon Demon and more.

They start there for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s cheap: Unlike movies like Bright and others, these smaller movies are usually inexpensive. The same goes for the kind of broad comedies Netflix has been making with Adam Sandler and the end-of-the-world sci-fi stories.
  2. It’s notable: These movies generate headlines and gain attention for the same reasons their they do when they’re released in theaters, because they involve talented actors participating in interesting stories.
  3. It’s long-term: As we’ve seen time and again, independent, character-driven movies rely much more word of mouth than massive blockbusters. Set It Up, Velvet Buzzsaw and others all generated a ton of conversations following release. That likely lead additional subscribers to watch them and even sign up for that specific purpose. So they have a long shelf life, much longer than a big, stupid action film like Bright probably had.

Contrast that with what Disney is doing with their nascent streaming service, which is go all-in on big titles with massive name recognition. That’s because they can and don’t have the same risks others do with the properties it manages.

If Apple follows the same path carved out by Netflix and Amazon Studios, it will eventually start to weave in more “blockbusters” over time, probably after the third or fourth New York Times article about how the movies it’s producing are too niche to really catch on with the mainstream. It will start to experiment with bigger budgets and higher concepts and, much like those other companies have, eventually find that smaller works better because the economics are more manageable. Not everything needs to bring in 100,000 subscribers, you just need five or six titles that bring in 25,000 subscribers each and keep the budgets reasonable.

The Future Is In Original Content

Here’s the key passage from the news that Netflix was investing 85% of its available funds on original material:

Sarandos reiterated that Netflix’s heavier focus on original and exclusive content is driven by more favorable economics — as opposed to licensing TV shows and films owned by Hollywood studios — and the expectation that big media companies would eventually put more weight into their own streaming-subscription services.

There’s a lot that could be said – and has been, by myself and others – about how the dynamics of the media industry have changed, are changing and will continue to change. Phrases like “media fragmentation” are used often as more and more options for consumers to choose from arrive on all platforms, whether it’s via a home-based or mobile connected device. Two things are clear, though:

#1: Everyone is out for original content

That’s a point that’s been hammered home on many occasions. Netflix is producing or buying more and more original shows and movies. Same goes for Hulu, Amazon and even Apple. These companies are placing the same bets HBO, Showtime, TNT and other cable channels have for years. Each one hopes that even if the shows or movies aren’t award-winning prestige material (though there’s a heavy dose of that as well, exemplified by not only “Game of Thrones” but how Amazon is searching for its own version of that show) they’re good enough to keep people’s attention and convince them to become or remain subscribers. A recent survey ranked which services people thought had the best original content, with Netflix coming out as the clear winner.

That original content, then, supplements the catalog material offered by each channel. As each media company launches or plans for the launch of their own OTT subscription service, they’re often reclaiming their back catalog from whoever they’ve previously licensed it to as soon as those contracts expire. WB pulled “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and other shows off Netflix so it they could be exclusive to Hulu, which it has a stake in. Disney will be letting its Netflix contract lapse as it seeks to build out its upcoming service. There are a number of other examples, though there will likely always be some material that’s licensed out to other players in the game.

It’s important to note that this isn’t just a trend in the entertainment industry. Target, according to a recent report, has brought in a lot of shoppers with its new exclusive brands and other offerings. As “house brand” has become less associated with “generic” and is seen as better able to compete with other products on both quality and prestige, retailers like Target are ramping up those products. When Target, Walmart, Meijer and other big-box retailers all sell the same national toothpaste and dishwasher liquid, they seek to differentiate themselves in other ways. As direct-to-consumer brands, facilitated by online shopping and bespoke boutique physical locations, become more popular, exclusive products become a powerful competitive feature, giving shoppers a clear reason to choose to shop at this store, not that one.

So everyone, then, is adopting some variation on what I’ll call the “HBO Model,” a mix of licensed and original content. That means how we talk about things will matter more and more, which brings me to my second point.

#2: We’re going to need some new terminology

If we accept that Netflix, CBS, Disney, Apple, Amazon, Crackle and others are all playing the same game, we then need to look at how the platform on which they operate determines the terminology with which we refer to them. And since the platform question is increasingly answered by “all of them,” that becomes a tricky task, though one that’s still necessary to address if we’re going to have intelligent discussions.

Consider how HBO Now is only used by about 10% of its U.S. subscribers according to a Bloomberg story from February. That service, though, is available on a number of platforms. The same can be said of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other services. Apple’s iTunes service is really the only one that doesn’t cross platform lines, available exclusively on Apple devices with the exception of PCs.

So is HBO a streaming service in the same way we would apply that label to Netflix? Is Amazon a cable company because of how it offers “channels” to different media companies, allowing consumers to subscribe to those individual outlets? A recent survey indicated customers were much happier with streaming subscription options and content than with their traditional cable subscriptions, so things are coming to a head as the one begins to increasingly look like the other and vice versa.

I don’t know what those new terms and labels are, but they’re going to be needed in the same way we need a new word for “TV” that doesn’t comes with the baggage of being intrinsically tied to distribution technology. If you have thoughts, leave them in the comments or @ me on Twitter.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Amazon and Apple Bidding for Bond

Included among the companies bidding for distribution rights to the James Bond franchise? Apple and Amazon, according to a report in The Hollywood Reporter that details how valuable this franchise, which is among the only brands in play in terms of rights, is to the potential winner.

Amazon makes a certain amount of sense as it’s ramped up its feature film activities in the last two years. It would be a huge get for the company, no doubt, but that’s almost at the level of being an expected party in the same way Warner Bros. and other studios are.

Apple, though. I’ve long wondered what would happen if Apple got involved in either producing or acquiring original feature films. It recently made news by announcing it had put aside $1 billion for the development of original content, but I have to think Bond money would come from outside of that. Still, it shows the company believes that’s the game to play, original material, and will throw its substantial weight around.

I would think that if Apple were successful with Bond – or whenever it does finally enter the feature film landscape – it would change the distribution equation significantly. Apple is already one of the biggest forces angling for changes in theatrical windowing and this may the stick that sends it into open warfare with Hollywood. There’s a chance it could adopt the Amazon model of release schedules, but it doesn’t have Amazon’s vested interest in multiple formats, just the digital one.

Bond is a big card for any distributor to have in its hand. The franchise shows no sign of slowing down at all and the new face that will take on the role some time in the next five years after Daniel Craig stands down will only increase interest. It could be a big wedge for Apple to use to enter the film acquisition and production market, one that is as close to a sure thing as they come.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.