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A Muslim-Hindu Kiss Puts Netflix India in the Crosshairs

NEW DELHI — On television, Lata and Kabir are clandestine lovers thwarted by faith and history. She is Hindu and he a Muslim in India in the early 1950s, in the wake of bloody sectarian clashes that echo through the country to this day. At one point, in a secluded spot with a Hindu temple as the backdrop, the two young college students share a furtive but passionate kiss.

In the real world, that onscreen kiss has embroiled Netflix, the American streaming service, in the increasingly bitter and religiously charged world of Indian politics.

Members of the Hindu nationalist party that controls India’s central government have asked the authorities to investigate Netflix, calling the scene in the television series “A Suitable Boy” offensive to their beliefs. They have also called on Indians to boycott the streaming service.

Netflix is not likely to face serious legal trouble, experts say. But the campaign puts pressure on the streaming service at a time when the government is increasing censorship of what Indians watch online.

The campaign also comes as members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are pressing anti-Muslim initiatives, including one in the state of Madhya Pradesh that would increase penalties against anyone found guilty of using marriage to force someone to change religion. The party has won over a wide swath of Hindu voters with its nationalist pitch, but it has also divided the country and presided over an increase in religious tensions and sometimes violence, particularly against Muslims.

The campaign “could perversely incite Netflix and other content producers to think twice before commissioning work that depicts interfaith relations in a positive light in the future,” said Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science at Ashoka University.

Thomas Cherian, a spokesman for Netflix, said the company had no comment on the police complaint. Netflix, which launched in India only in 2016, has a small but growing audience in the country.

“A Suitable Boy” is based on a 1993 novel by Vikram Seth and revolves around a young Hindu woman struggling with her mother’s edict that she must soon be wed. The six-part series, originally produced by the BBC, takes place in the years after the partition of India, when millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs scrambled to get on the correct side of the border after what is now Pakistan was carved out of the country to be a mostly Muslim nation. An untold number of people perished in the resulting violence.

The series was directed by Mira Nair, who was born in India and has had a long career as a filmmaker in India and Hollywood, directing movies including “Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala” and “Vanity Fair.”

Narottam Mishra, a member of the B.J.P. and home minister in Madhya Pradesh state, said on Monday that a party youth leader had filed the complaint about “A Suitable Boy” because of scenes that depict the protagonists kissing at a Hindu temple.

“To me there is nothing suitable in that. In our temple, if you are filming a kissing scene, Rama music is on in the background, I do not consider it good,” Mr. Mishra said at a news conference on Monday, referring to Hindu devotional music. “For that there are other places.”

Rakesh Kumar Singh, the police chief in the district where the complaint was filed, said an investigation was underway.

The complaint named Monika Shergill, vice president for content for Netflix India, and Ambika Khurana, the company’s director of public policy in India.

If convicted, Ms. Shergill and Ms. Khurana would face a jail term of up to three years, a fine, or both.

In India, intentionally hurting religious sentiments is a criminal offense, and this isn’t the first time Bollywood actors, comedians or others in the entertainment industry have been charged.

But courts, including India’s Supreme Court, have generally taken a narrow view of the law, saying that content deemed offensive by some isn’t necessarily intentionally malicious, and that invoking the section on religious sentiment too liberally threatens freedom of speech.

In this case, legal experts said it was unlikely that a police investigation would advance very far.

However, the possibility of a chilling effect on Netflix is real, as rhetoric against interreligious romance in India heats up and as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi takes greater control over digital content.

Credit…Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Gaurav Tiwari, the B.J.P. youth leader who filed the complaint, had issued a call to action on Twitter even before that, urging his followers to delete Netflix from their phones. He also accused the video-streaming service of promoting “love jihad,” a term used by Hindu nationalists who accuse minority Muslims of luring Hindu women to marry them and forcing them to convert to Islam to change India’s demographic balance.

The complaint was filed in Madhya Pradesh, the state where lawmakers are planning to consider a bill early next year that would make forced religious conversion by marriage a nonbailable offense subject to a five-year sentence. Mr. Mishra has said the bill is meant to check the rising incidence of forced conversions in the state.

State legislatures in Uttar Pradesh, whose top official is a Hindu monk, and two other B.J.P.-controlled states are likely to take up similar bills. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu nationalist organization affiliated with the B.J.P., is lobbying state governments across India for laws regulating interfaith marriages.

Conservative norms in India ensure that interreligious unions remain relatively rare, though past Indian governments have encouraged secular views on the matter. India’s Special Marriage Act, passed in 1954, was intended to bolster the secular ideals in the country’s Constitution by overturning a British colonial-era law that required the bride or groom to renounce his or her faith.

Amid the rising tide of Hindu nationalism, interfaith relationships have come under sharp criticism from anti-Muslim forces.

Last month, a unit of India’s Tata conglomerate withdrew a jewelry advertisement featuring a Hindu-Muslim family celebrating a baby shower, following threats to one of its stores and wide criticism on social media.

Beyond issues of religion, Netflix and other streaming services were already getting increased scrutiny from the Indian government.

Earlier this month, the Indian government announced rules to regulate content on video streaming platforms, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney’s Hotstar. The Indian government already plays a similar role in movies and broadcast television, but many users of streaming services enjoy the scant restrictions on programming they watch online.

Free speech advocates worry that Indian viewers could be subjected to the censorship of language, sex, violence and even cigarette smoking they already experience in Bollywood and Hollywood films shown in Indian movie theaters.

Bollywood and show business have sometimes made for easy targets for India’s politicians and activists. But they also can serve as a handy rallying center for whipping up public sentiment. While “A Suitable Boy” isn’t likely to get pulled from India’s smartphones and computer screens, it could remain a political talking point for some time.

The Netflix series “constitutes for these conservative organizations both a threat as well as an opportunity to mobilize their base around a symbolic target, and spread false notions that vilify Muslims at large,” said Mr. Verniers, of Ashoka University.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

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Hollywood’s ‘We’re Not in Kansas Anymore’ Moment

LOS ANGELES — In explaining why WarnerMedia had decided to release the much-anticipated big-budget “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service HBO Max on Christmas Day, the company’s chief executive, Jason Kilar, invoked the classic Hollywood film “The Wizard of Oz.”

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” Mr. Kilar said in a statement.

No longer, he said, would a film’s success be judged solely by the box office revenue it generates in theaters. Instead, it would be measured partly by the number of HBO Max subscribers it is able to attract. And just like Dorothy entering the Technicolor world of Oz, Hollywood feels as if it is stepping into a new era — one with streaming at the center.

The end-of-the-year holiday season usually means that theaters are packed with blockbuster crowd pleasers, award hopefuls — and moviegoers. Not this year. With many theaters shut because of the coronavirus and the ones that are open struggling to attract audiences, many studios have either pushed the release dates of major films into 2021 or created a hybrid model in which the theaters still in operation can show new releases while they are also made available through streaming or on-demand services.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is the most prominent example so far to be released using the hybrid model. But when it appears on HBO Max on Christmas Day, it will join Pixar’s animated “Soul,” and DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods: A New Age” as marquee, holiday-season films that were expected to be box office favorites but are now likely to be primarily seen in people’s living rooms.

Credit…Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment, via Associated Press

For companies that have their own streaming platforms, like WarnerMedia and Disney, releasing movies this way is now seen as an opportunity to drive subscriptions. Both companies have said that the moves will only last through the pandemic, but they also both recently shuffled their executive responsibilities to make it clear that streaming is the new priority. (Disney, for example, now has a central division that decides how its content is distributed, a change in strategy that puts Disney+ at the top of the studio’s priorities.) And audiences may not want studios to go back to the old way of releasing films that gave theaters 90 days of exclusive rights.

“There will be a new normal,” said Jason Squire, editor of “The Movie Business Book” and a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. “Over the years, there has been a lot of tension between theatrical exhibition and studio distribution but not a lot of change. The pandemic has jump-started the change.”

It wasn’t long ago that Hollywood viewed streaming as an unwelcome insurgency. Several years ago, when Netflix began to seriously compete for Oscars, traditionalists scoffed at the thought of bestowing prestigious awards on films that were only nominally released theatrically. (This year, bowing to pandemic reality, the motion picture academy announced that films could skip a theatrical release and be eligible for Oscar consideration.)

Still, studios have long wanted to shorten the exclusive window given to theaters. Theater chains aggressively lobbied against that, worried that people would be reluctant to buy tickets to a movie they could soon see at home.

The sanctity of the theatrical release was being zealously guarded even after the pandemic lockdowns began. In April, Universal Pictures had a successful video-on-demand release for “Trolls World Tour” and said it would make more movies available that way without an exclusive theatrical run. Adam Aron, the chief executive of AMC, the largest theater operator in the world, called the move “categorically unacceptable” and said his company would no longer book any Universal films.

By July, however, the two companies signed a multiyear deal whereby Universal movies would play in AMC theaters for a minimum of 17 days before becoming available in homes through premium video-on-demand, or P.V.O.D. in industry parlance. This past week, Universal signed similar deals with Cinemark, the third-largest theater chain in North America, and Cineplex, Canada’s top exhibitor, adding the provision that for movies opening to $50 million in ticket sales, the exclusive theatrical window will stretch to 31 days.

The shortened window means the studio can theoretically spend less on marketing than is typically required when theatrical and home video debuts are three months apart. And studios typically keep 80 percent of premium on-demand revenue, while ticket sales from theatrical releases are split roughly 50-50 between studios and theater companies.



“Our hope is that by putting P.V.O.D. into the marketplace, we are improving the economics for the studio and as a result of that there will be more films that will get released theatrically,” said Peter Levinsohn, vice chairman and chief distribution officer for Universal. “The whole goal here is to have more efficiencies in our marketing, keep the films more profitable and stop the films from being sold off” to subscription services like Netflix or Amazon.

Warner Bros. chose to defend the tried-and-true theatrical model, hoping that Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” would draw people back to theaters this summer after the first wave of the virus passed and 68 percent of American theaters were able to reopen. But with theaters still closed in the two largest markets, New York and Los Angeles, the film only grossed $56 million in its entire U.S. run. That was a far cry from Mr. Nolan’s previous theatrical achievements, like “Interstellar,” which earned $188 million domestically, and a stark warning to other distributors that the traditional way of releasing films was not going to work in 2020.

Today, the theatrical climate is more grim. Half of the theaters in the United States are closed and virus cases are rising around the country. Regal Cinemas, the second-largest chain in the U.S., has closed all of its theaters, citing a lack of films and audience. If there is not a federal grant program available to theaters soon, John Fithian, chief executive of the theaters’ national trade association, said he expects 70 percent of them will either close permanently or file for bankruptcy by early next year.

Big-budget spectacles have kept audiences flocking to movie theaters even through waves of home entertainment competition, from VCRs to streaming. That’s benefited both theater chains and studios, and it’s why few expect movies of the size of “Wonder Woman 1984” to be going directly to streaming post-pandemic.

A move away from theaters would affect what kinds of films are made. In short, if there is less box office money to be collected — because of a reduction in the number of movie theaters or a permanent shift in consumer behavior — studios would be forced to make fewer big-budget films. For those who believe Hollywood has become too reliant on lumbering superhero movies, that may actually be welcome news. The thousands of people each of those films employ would undoubtedly have a different perspective.

But others are not sure the change will be so drastic, pointing to the power of the theatrical experience.

Charles Roven, a producer for “Wonder Woman 1984,” said in an interview that he was confident that its release was not a sign of a new long-term strategy. “There is no question they want to make HBO Max successful and they should,” he said of Warner Bros. “But to say that this particular thing is what’s going to happen in the future, that would be taking a leap.”

Disney chose to bypass U.S. theaters altogether and release the $200 million “Mulan” on Disney+ in September, charging subscribers $30 on top of their monthly fee to watch the live-action adaptation of the animated film. Sales were hurt by an outcry over a filming location in China, but Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, told analysts earlier this month that he saw “enough very positive results before that controversy started to know that we’ve got something here in terms of the premier access strategy.” Disney is planning to send several more big-budget movies to Disney+.


Credit…Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros Entertainment, via Associated Press

For studios without their own streaming services, the calculus is a bit different. While many opted to postpone their theatrical releases until 2021, others sold off films as a way to recoup some cash. Paramount offloaded “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to Netflix and “Coming to America 2” to Amazon, for example. In a twist, Netflix is currently one of the few studios still sending product to the struggling chains. From now to the end of the year, Netflix will give eight of its films limited theatrical runs before they appear on the service, including potential Oscar contenders like “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and David Fincher’s “Mank.”

Universal is the other big studio still supplying films to theaters, buoyed by its new P.V.O.D. deals with theaters that allow it to distribute both larger movies like the “Croods” sequel and smaller films from its indie subsidiary, Focus Features.

That’s good news for Bobbie Bagby Ford, an executive vice president at the family-owned B&B Theaters, the nation’s sixth-largest theater chain based in Liberty, Mo.

Ms. Bagby Ford said that before the pandemic her company would not have accepted Warner’s plan to release “Wonder Woman 1984″ in theaters and on HBO Max at the same time. Now though, any opportunity to show a film that could do some actual business would be a relief for a company that is staving off bankruptcy.

“Our moviegoers in the Midwest are very excited to come back, and they have been asking about ‘Wonder Woman’ for months and months and months,” Ms. Bagby Ford said.


Credit…Jasin Boland/Disney, via Associated Press

Mr. Kilar, WarnerMedia’s chief, said in his statement that the pandemic was the main reason to release “Wonder Woman 1984” in theaters and through streaming. But he also noted how the move put the control of how to watch the film firmly in the hands of the audience.

“A little over four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first ‘Wonder Woman’ movie on its opening day in 2017,” Mr. Kilar wrote. “Is it possible for that to happen again this Christmas with ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ between theaters and HBO Max? We are so excited to find out, doing everything in our power to provide the power of choice to fans.”

Should that work, it’s unlikely things will ever be the same.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Sign Megawatt Netflix Deal

LOS ANGELES — Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, having resettled in California, on Wednesday unveiled new Hollywood careers.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have founded a yet-to-be-named production company and signed a multiyear deal with Netflix, which will pay them to make documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming — giving the couple a global platform six months after their dramatic decampment from the House of Windsor.

Harry and Meghan may appear on camera in documentary programming. But she has repeatedly made it clear that she has no plans to return to acting, having last appeared in the cable drama “Suits,” which concluded its run in 2019. Their content will be exclusive to Netflix.

“Our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” the couple said in a statement. “As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us.” They added that Netflix’s “unprecedented reach will help us share impactful content that unlocks action.” Netflix has 193 million subscribers worldwide.

It is unclear how much Harry and Meghan will be paid, given their lack of producing experience. A Netflix spokeswoman declined to comment.

The streaming service, however, is known for backing up Brink’s trucks when it wants to be in business with high-profile people, particularly when other entertainment companies also want their services. In recent months, Harry and Meghan have quietly talked with Disney and Apple. Variety reported earlier this month that they had met with NBCUniversal.

The couple has been living in the Los Angeles area since March, staying for a time at a Beverly Hills mansion owned by Tyler Perry. They soon filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against tabloid photographers, saying that paparazzi had flown drones overhead in an extreme effort to capture images of their son, Archie, who turned one in May. Harry, 35, and Meghan, 39, have since bought a $14.7 million home in Montecito, an affluent town located about an hour north of Malibu that is also home to Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

“We’re incredibly proud they have chosen Netflix as their creative home and are excited about telling stories with them that can help build resilience and increase understanding for audiences everywhere,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive and chief content officer, said in a statement.

Netflix is under pressure to keep its content pipelines flowing as it competes for viewers with Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock and the traditional broadcast networks. Family programming is particularly important to Netflix, and Harry and Meghan already have an animated series in development which is focused on inspiring women. Last week, Netflix released “Rising Phoenix,” a documentary about the Paralympic Games; Harry, who founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, appears in the film.

Content centered on social messages — racial justice, gender equity, mental well-being, environmental stewardship has been hot in Hollywood for some time, and Netflix and Participant Media, founded by the eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, have been at the center. Participant and Netflix backed Ava DuVernay’s acclaimed 2019 mini-series “When They See Us,” which depicted the excruciating toll that persecution and incarceration had on the teenage boys known as the Central Park Five. In 2018, Netflix struck a deal with Barack and Michelle Obama to produce shows and films. That partnership in March yielded “Crip Camp,” a feel-good documentary about the origins of the disability rights movement that is an early favorite to win the 2021 Oscar for best nonfiction film.

Meghan and Harry, the second son of Prince Charles, abruptly announced in January that they planned to step back from their royal duties, seek financial independence and spend part of the year living in North America. It triggered the most serious crisis for the British royal family since the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in a car crash in 1997. The news media labeled the fracas Megxit.

Credit…Neil Munns/EPA, via Shutterstock

After emotionally charged negotiations, Queen Elizabeth II granted the couple’s wishes in return for their agreeing not to use their most exalted titles, His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness. The couple also agreed to give up public funding — setting off a tabloid guessing game about how they would finance their lifestyle, including paying for security.

Harry and Meghan used to draw some income from the Duchy of Cornwall, a hereditary estate owned by Prince Charles, but that ended with their departure from Britain. Harry also inherited several million dollars from his late mother. Before their 2018 marriage, Meghan, then Meghan Markle, worked as an actress in “Suits.”

The couple’s production company will operate independently from their charitable foundation, which is called Archewell. The couple shut down their previous philanthropic endeavor, SussexRoyal, in March after they agreed to stop using the term “royal” for commercial or charitable activities.

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Netflix Appoints Ted Sarandos as Co-Chief Executive

Netflix announced a significant leadership change Thursday, appointing Ted Sarandos, the content chief, as its co-chief executive alongside Reed Hastings.

“I am excited to announce that we have appointed Ted Sarandos to be Netflix co-C.E.O. with me, and also elected him to our board of directors,” Mr. Hastings said in a statement. Mr. Sarandos, 55, will continue as head of content.

The change in many ways formalizes Mr. Sarandos’s role in the company. His compensation for the last few years has been equal to that of Mr. Hastings — each received about $30 million in compensation in 2019 — and he has often been the face of Netflix at public events.

Mr. Sarandos said he was originally skeptical of Netflix when he was approached to join the company 20 years ago, but agreed to come aboard because of the “persistence” of Mr. Hastings. “I’m excited and honored to have been appointed co-C.E.O. of Netflix,” he said in a statement.

The announcement of the promotion came on a day when the streaming service reported a surge of 10.1 million new customers in its second-quarter results, extending the gains it made the first three months of the year, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted lockdowns across the globe.

The company had forecast the addition of 7.5 million subscribers, and Goldman Sachs predicted 12.5 million in a note last week. It’s likely the rapid growth is a result of more people choosing to subscribe because of stay-at-home restrictions.

Indeed, Netflix expects a much weaker performance in the current quarter and forecast the addition of 2.5 million new subscribers. Investors sold off the stock on that prediction, sending the company’s shares down more than 10 percent in after-hours trading.

Netflix reported that it now had 192.95 million customers worldwide and about 66 million in the United States. That puts the service that closer to the magical 300 million figure, a loose measure of where investors think Netflix could top out.

Netflix found its early success by mailing DVDs to subscribers in red envelopes as it took on the once-mighty Blockbuster. In its next phase, it transformed itself into a streaming giant mainly by licensing old movies and shows.

In recent years, it has become one of the industry’s most prolific sources of film and TV production. Mr. Sarandos now moves easily within Hollywood’s circles of power, brokering big-budget projects with Martin Scorsese, Will Smith, Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Sandra Bullock and Adam Sandler. In short, the company has become more dependent on Mr. Sarandos’s domain: original content.

Netflix on Thursday also announced that it had promoted Greg Peters, the head of the company’s product group, to chief operating officer, a move that could help Mr. Sarandos devote more time to content production.

Mr. Hastings will remain chairman. “In terms of the day-to-day running of Netflix, I do not expect much to change,” he said. He added that the leadership moves “are part of a long process of succession planning.”

In a call with investors on Thursday, Mr. Hastings said he was not going anywhere. “To be totally clear, I’m in for a decade,” he said. He repeated himself for emphasis: “So let me be very clear on that. I’m in for a decade.”

Netflix also reported that its slate of new productions was on track last quarter, adding that its planned releases of new shows and films for the rest of the year were “largely intact.”

Blockbusters like “Extraction,” a thriller starring Chris Hemsworth that was released in April, drew 99 million views in its first four weeks, the company said. Last week, Netflix debuted “The Old Guard,” a smart, humane action epic starring Charlize Theron. Fresh programming is crucial to Netflix’s growth because new shows tend to drive new subscriptions.

The company said it would release several new series and films later this quarter, including Season 2 of “The Umbrella Academy,” and “Enola Holmes” a period mystery film with Millie Bobbie Brown, a star of the Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” playing the sister of Sherlock Holmes.

Netflix had to close most of its productions because of the coronavirus, but some shoots are underway. South Korea never shut down, and productions have restarted in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland and Spain. For 2021, the company expects more of its lineup to be released in the second half of the year.

The shutdowns have temporarily helped Netflix’s cash position, because the company spent less than anticipated on productions. It reported nearly $900 million in positive free cash flow this quarter, making it the second-consecutive period in which it had more cash come in the door than go out. Netflix now expects to keep its money for the year and could end up with positive free cash flow for 2020, meaning it will finally be profitable on a balance-sheet basis.

But that will be short lived once a full slate of productions is underway. The company said it expected to burn more cash in 2021 as it spends more on content.

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Netflix C.E.O. Reed Hastings Gives $120 Million to Historically Black Colleges

Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin, donated $120 million to the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College and Morehouse College, the largest-ever individual gift to support scholarships at historically black colleges and universities.

The record donation comes amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd, and the national conversation about how to end systemic racism. That conversation has included discussions about how to provide more education and job opportunities for African Americans.

Unlike the Ivy League universities that have endowments in the tens of billions of dollars — Harvard University’s endowment tops $40 billion — the top historically black colleges and universities, or H.B.C.U.s, have endowments that are the hundreds of millions of dollars. Spelman College’s endowment, for example, is around $390 million.

Mr. Hastings said he and Ms. Quillin want to help change that.

They have made education a primary focus of their philanthropy, and have given smaller amounts in the past several years to the same institutions. “I think white people in our nation need to accept that it’s a collective responsibility,” Mr. Hastings said. Mr. Floyd’s killing and the emotional outpouring that followed were “the straw that broke the camel’s back, I think, for the size of the donation,” he added.

Mr. Hastings said that he hoped that the donation would lead other wealthy individuals to give to H.B.C.U.s. “Generally, white capital flows to predominantly white institutions, perpetuating capital isolation,” he and Ms. Quillin said in a statement announcing the donation. Mr. Hastings is worth $5.3 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Indeed, many of the largest donations in education have been made by alumni to their alma maters. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins University in 2018; his collective gifts to that school top $3 billion.

Last year, the billionaire financier Robert F. Smith donated $34 million to pay off the debts of Morehouse’s graduating class, one of the biggest individual H.B.C.U. donations at the time.

Dr. David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College, said that raising money at the scale usually given to the top, historically white schools has been near impossible. “The reality is that our alumni have done quite well. But I don’t think we have any billionaires,” he said.

Before he came to Morehouse, Dr. Thomas taught at Harvard Business School and was the dean at Georgetown University’s business school. “There you had much more wealth within the alumni base. So you don’t have to go out as much,” he said. “And it’s easy to raise money from people who aren’t in the alumni base because your alumni can take you to them. Here, it’s really about developing and cultivating relationships, oftentimes with people who don’t know what an H.B.C.U. — what that even means.”

The need for funds is particularly acute given the economic challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic is creating both for students and schools, said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, the chief executive of the United Negro College Fund, who introduced Mr. Hastings and Ms. Quillan to Spelman and Morehouse. He is hoping to raise $1 billion to address the effects. “That’s the scale of the need,” he said. “So we’re at about $60 million today. $40 million of that is from Patti and Reed. We need not 10 times that amount. We need almost 20 times that amount.”

Mr. Hastings and Ms. Quillan have been active in education philanthropy and reform for many years. Mr. Hastings has promoted charter schools and briefly sat on the board of education in California. He is on the board of Pahara Institute, a nonprofit that helps train teachers and supports the education reform movement. Recode reported on Tuesday that Mr. Hastings is building a retreat in Colorado for teacher training. He and Ms. Quillan have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Mr. Hastings has also sought to diversify Netflix’s work force. Netflix reported that seven percent of its employees in the United States are African-American, as are eight percent of its company leaders, which is among the highest in the technology industry (but still only about half the share of African-Americans in the overall population). Netflix was an early supporter of high-profile black directors like Ava DuVernay. Yet the company has also been accused of promoting content by race, which it disputes as impossible because it says it doesn’t collect information about the ethnicity of its customers.

The large donation to the H.B.C.U.s, which will receive $40 million each, came as a surprise to their leaders.

“When they first talked to us they said to us they were making a $20 million gift. And we thought that was unbelievable. I mean, truly I was speechless. I actually cried,” said Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Spelman College’s president. The next day, she received an email from Ms. Quillin: “They were upping it to $40 million.”

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Lockdown TV: Netflix Dominates, News Surges and Bea Arthur Is Still Golden

To get through the stuck-at-home days of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans have spent significantly more time than usual in front of the TV, gorging on streaming shows, news programs, old sitcoms and video games. But new data shows that, little by little, they have started to wean themselves from their favorite lockdown diversion.

The peak came toward the end of March. The average viewer logged 40 hours of TV time during the week of March 16, according to Nielsen. The next week, that number crept up to 41, well above the 33 hours during the same week in 2019.

Throughout April, Americans have grown less reliant on Netflix, cable news and Animal Crossing: The amount of TV time has declined slightly in each of the last four weeks. For the week of April 20, the average viewer spent 38 hours in front of the TV, three hours below the peak.

“The week of March 16 was that inflection point when live sports was canceled and more stay-at-home orders were put in place,” said Peter Katsingris, a senior vice president at Nielsen. “Everything all hit at once, and boom.”

Nielsen statistics show that the April decline occurred among nearly every age group and applied to areas like live television, streaming and gaming.

“There’s only so much content people can consume,” Mr. Katsingris said.

While television use has spiked during an anomalous time, several entertainment executives said the last seven weeks might represent a turning point.

With movie theaters shuttered, and Hollywood studios making some films immediately available for streaming, people have changed how they get their entertainment — and there may be no going back to their old viewing habits.

HarrisX, a research firm, noted that 74 percent of American homes now subscribed to a streaming service — a figure that went up by roughly 2.5 million in the first three months of the year.

“Sheltering in place has been a boon for the entertainment streaming industry,” said Dritan Nesho, an analyst and the chief executive of HarrisX.

Others are less sure of what will happen when daily life returns to something more like normal. Netflix, coming off the biggest month in its history, cautioned in an investor note last week that shareholders could expect viewership numbers to shrink and subscriptions to level off.

The service could take a hit in the coming months, Netflix warned, “depending on many factors including when people can go back to their social lives in various countries and how much people take a break from television after the lockdown.”

Richard Rushfield, the writer of Ankler, a Hollywood newsletter, has argued that, post-pandemic, people will not want to do anything that reminds them of this time. “I don’t think ‘movies are dead’ or that the corona period is going to kick off a brand-new love affair between America with their couches,” he wrote in his newsletter. “I think the ‘Get me out of this place’ backlash has even greater potential to hurt the services after all this ends than anyone is factoring in.”

In an interview, Mr. Rushfield expanded on the thought. “The supply of great shows is bigger than it’s ever been, but it’s not infinite,” he said. “I think people are beginning to exhaust the shows they are really dying to watch. After finishing the fourth season of ‘Call the Midwife,’ they might be wondering what it’s like to see a squirrel run up a tree.”

During the stay-at-home weeks, viewers have craved both news programs and escapist fare, splitting their TV time between the likes of Anderson Cooper and Bea Arthur, with one balancing the other.

Cable news networks have had ratings records. In April, Fox News and MSNBC had among their highest viewership totals of their 24 years on the air. CNN’s viewership totals have also skyrocketed. The evening news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, which not long ago seemed like relics of an earlier media age, have continued to draw audiences much larger than the norm.

But viewers have lately been watching the news a bit less. News programming amounted to 19 percent of total TV time during the week of March 16. By April 6, that number was 17.5 percent, according to Nielsen.

A Hulu spokeswoman noted that “comfort viewing” has been more popular than usual. In April, Hulu viewers watched nearly 11 million hours of the vintage sitcom “The Golden Girls,” the spokeswoman said. That show and the long-running “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” have both ranked in Hulu’s top 10 in recent weeks.

According to Magid, a research company, American viewers have been seeking out “fun” shows at a time when the Covid-19 death toll in the United States has climbed to more than 60,000 and some 30 million people have lost their jobs. There has been less desire for “intelligent” or “original” programming, Magid said.

So the timing may not have been ideal for a pair of lushly produced period dramas that made their debuts in recent weeks: Hulu’s “Mrs. America,” a limited series starring Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne that chronicles the fight over the Equal Rights Amendment; and HBO’s “The Plot Against America,” a six-part adaptation of Philip Roth’s alternate-history novel created by David Simon and Ed Burns. Both were well received, but they may not find bigger audiences until Emmys time.

With college and pro athletes on the bench, sports-starved viewers have glommed onto whatever they can get. The first night of the National Football League Draft — a remote program, with homey production values and key scenes set in left tackles’ living rooms — averaged 15.6 million viewers, a 37 percent increase over last year’s slickly produced broadcast.

ESPN has scored with “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls. Its premiere episodes were the most watched documentary programs in the network’s history and have now been viewed by 11 million people, according to Nielsen. (ESPN said roughly 1.5 million more watched on streaming and on demand.)

Hollywood stars have been trying to keep busy, with film and TV sets shut down. An Instagram video of celebrities interpreting John Lennon’s “Imagine” came in for harsh criticism last month, but nearly 21 million people watched “One World: Together at Home,” a remote concert featuring Lizzo, Lady Gaga and Elton John that was broadcast April 18 across 26 American television networks.

The late-night crew has adapted. The CBS host Stephen Colbert has adjusted his at-home wardrobe from formal (suits) to casual (collared shirt, rolled-up sleeves). NBC’s Jimmy Fallon has replaced his usual sidekick, Steve Higgins, with his two daughters. On ABC, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” has morphed into “Jimmy Kimmel Live at His House.” It is now a half-hour program, to make way for an earlier “Nightline.” Trevor Noah has been working overtime on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” lately called “The Daily Social Distancing Show,” with 45-minute episodes, instead of the usual 30.

Through it all, Netflix has been dominant, taking nearly every slot in Nielsen’s weekly lists of the top 10 most-viewed streaming shows this month and last.

Its breakout documentary series “Tiger King” was huge early in the lockdown. A Netflix original movie, “Spenser Confidential,” starring Mark Wahlberg, was less discussed on social media but attracted an even larger audience, according to the company.

A new Netflix reality show, “Too Hot to Handle,” plays almost like fantasy in the current environment. It gathers a group of young people and puts them in close physical proximity on a Mexican beach. “Nobody can keep it in their pants these days!” intones the voice-over as the show starts. At a time when strangers must keep six feet apart, it leapt straight into the Netflix top 10.

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The Virus Revealed Our Essential Tech (and Weeded Out the Excess)

It has been weeks since the coronavirus brought our lives to a halt, shutting down our schools, offices and gyms. Stuck at home, we have had nothing but time to reflect on the things that matter.

Consumer technology — most of it, anyway — is low on the list.

That’s right. I’m admitting that many of the high-tech innovations that I regularly cover in this column — from foldable smartphones to doorbell cameras — are excessive, even if they are kind of neat. For years, tech companies have pushed ultrafast 5G networks, artificially intelligent speakers that talk to us, and other whiz-bang gadgets and features, but most of us aren’t using those bells and whistles now.

In a crisis, our most important tech — what we have turned to again and again — has boiled down to just a few basic items and services:

  • Computing devices with access to work tools and a browser.

  • Communication tools to stay connected with our loved ones and colleagues.

  • Entertainment to keep us from losing our minds.

  • An internet connection to let us do all of the above.

When you think about it, that’s all the tech we truly need even when there is no pandemic. That’s actually a nice revelation.

This short list can guide our priorities in tech consumption even after we come out of this uncertain period. It also means that we don’t have to spend much money to maximize our happiness with tech.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor texted me with questions about internet speeds. We use the same internet provider, Monkeybrains, but his connection was much slower than mine.

So I asked him what router he owned. It turned out to be a seven-year-old model that used outdated wireless technology. I encouraged him to replace it, and after some hesitation he bought a new one. His internet connection became blazing fast.

This experience underscored what I had always suspected: Everyone wants a fast, stable internet connection, but many people hate investing in the infrastructure to get it. Networking gear is among the most important hardware to keep up to date; an outdated router could be a bottleneck to all your internet-connected devices.

The lesson: Put time and money into maintaining your internet infrastructure. Ask your internet provider about sluggish speeds, and if that doesn’t help, check your router and consider upgrading.

I generally recommend so-called mesh Wi-Fi systems, such as Google Wifi and Amazon’s Eero, which let you connect multiple wireless access points together to blanket your home with a strong internet connection.

Zoom, the easy-to-use videoconferencing service, surged in popularity in the pandemic for an obvious reason: We are all desperate to see and talk to one another while stuck at home.

But our sudden adoption of Zoom led to discoveries of the product’s weak security, which could have allowed attackers to hijack our web cameras, among other privacy snafus. It also revealed that many of us were unprepared and hadn’t picked a set of robust communication tools.

The lesson: Now is a good time to work with our families, friends and colleagues to decide what communication tools fulfill our needs while respecting our privacy. Try to choose messaging and video-chat apps from respected brands.

For me, they’re Signal and FaceTime for messaging and video chats with my friends and family, and Slack and Google Hangouts for collaboration with my colleagues. Some of these apps take extra security measures to encrypt our communications, while others have strong track records of protecting our data from hackers.

So many people are streaming video in the pandemic that in Europe, Netflix and YouTube were pushed to temporarily stream videos in lower-quality formats to prevent breaking the internet. Nintendo’s Switch games console is also practically impossible to find, because the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a Nintendo exclusive, has offered us a sweet escape from reality.

We all obviously care about entertainment: We are spending hundreds of dollars a year on digital subscriptions, including video and music streaming services.

The lesson: This is a good excuse to treat ourselves. Buy a device that is good at delivering your entertainment, like a $350 to $1,000 TV from TCL or Sony, or a $92 Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears.

This item is last on the list because it’s the most obvious. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the devices we use for work: our smartphones and computers.

The lesson: Because these are the tools that make us productive, we should invest in high-quality devices. The good news is that there is such a vast selection of smartphones and computers that you can buy great devices without spending extraordinary amounts of money. Roughly $400 will buy you a good Android device or iPhone, and a decent computer costs as little as $500.

I’m a fan of Google’s $400 Pixel 3A smartphone and Apple’s $330 entry-level iPad, which can be turned into a great budget laptop by attaching a keyboard.

This list of basic tech needs also serves as a guide to the innovations we don’t really need.

That smart speaker from Amazon or Google? It sure does a good job turning off the bedroom lights. That phone with the foldable screen? It sure looks cool. But if they don’t help you do work, stay connected and feel entertained, you might find other ways to spend your money.

Whatever setup you choose, keep it minimal. The more tech you own, the more devices you will have to troubleshoot.

And keep in mind that the tech you choose can be simple. This pandemic has brought a resurgence of the humble phone call, which is as good a communication tool as ever.

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Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever

OAKLAND, Calif. — While the rest of the economy is tanking from the crippling impact of the coronavirus, business at the biggest technology companies is holding steady — even thriving.Amazon said it was hiring 100,000 warehouse workers to meet surging demand. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said traffic for video calling …

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Netflix Spent Big on Oscar-Worthy Films. That May Not Be Enough.

LOS ANGELES — Ballots for the coming Academy Awards are still being tabulated. But it already seems clear: This will not be Netflix’s year.

The streaming giant will arrive at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony leading the field, with 24 nominations. That’s up from 15 last year and eight the year before, a trajectory that highlights the success that Netflix has had in building a prestige film operation with a minimal presence in actual movie theaters. But the company could end the evening with only two wins, according to Gold Derby, which compiles the predictions of 28 awards handicappers, despite dumping truckloads of cash into awards-oriented marketing campaigns. Competitors estimate that Netflix has spent at least $70 million, a startling sum even by Hollywood’s profligate standards. Netflix declined to comment.

“The Irishman,” Martin Scorsese’s gangster character study, nominated for 10 Oscars and relentlessly hyped by Netflix as “one of the best films of the decade,” is expected by awards forecasters to be shut out completely. Prognosticators like Mark Harris of Vanity Fair and Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter base their opinions on how films have performed at predictive awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars.

At the same time, Oscar voters are poised to shower statuettes on films from old-line studios that received traditional runs in theaters, including the late-arriving World War I drama “1917” (Universal), which is the front-runner to win best picture.

It raises unpleasant questions for Netflix. Spending freely on awards campaigning is one of the ways it has been able to woo marquee filmmakers like Mr. Scorsese. But with some analysts starting to question the return — Netflix already had a poor outcome at the recent Golden Globe Awards — will the streaming giant change its ways?

While there are those who would argue that competing films like “1917” and “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” (Sony) are simply better, the film establishment has been wary of Netflix. Could the lack of statuettes be a backlash to a tech giant that is upending entertainment-industry business practices and threatening Hollywood power hierarchies?

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, said losses at awards shows leading to the Oscars in no way represented an uprising against the company.

“A pushback? Nobody can say that with a straight face,” he said last week at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual nominee luncheon. “We got 24 nominations, the most of any studio. Our films have been honored across the board.”

The academy’s old guard has resisted a dogged push by Netflix to join the best picture club, arguing that, since the streaming service does not release its films in a traditional theatrical manner, its offerings should be better considered by Emmy voters. (Helen Mirren, onstage at the most recent National Association of Theater Owners convention, used an expletive to refer to the company.) Some longtime academy members say that Netflix’s campaigning has turned them off, in part because it reminds them of the days when Harvey Weinstein solicited Oscar votes with no-stone-unturned vigor.

“Obviously, there is one company that is spending more than the others, but that’s not going to affect how I will vote — nor do I think it will affect other members,” said Hawk Koch, a producer and former president of the academy, who recently wrote a memoir about his long career in Hollywood. “There is an awful lot of wasteful money being spent that could be used for making movies rather than trying to win an award.”

Netflix made its Oscar ambitions clear in 2018 when it hired one of Hollywood’s top awards campaign strategists: Lisa Taback, who cut her teeth at Miramax with Mr. Weinstein in the 1990s and whose résumé includes best-picture winners like “The King’s Speech” and “Spotlight.” She orchestrated a costly Oscar push for Netflix’s black-and-white “Roma” for last year’s Academy Awards. That film received 10 nominations, including one for best picture (Netflix’s first), and won three: director (Alfonso Cuarón), cinematography (Mr. Cuarón) and foreign film. It was a very solid outcome, one that seemed to signal the academy’s warming to Netflix.

This time, Netflix seemed to be holding an even stronger hand. It had a living legend in Mr. Scorsese. His ambitious “Irishman,” which cost at least $160 million to make, brought Joe Pesci out of retirement and paired him with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Netflix also had “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s unnerving portrait of divorce; “Dolemite Is My Name,” a flamboyant comeback vehicle for Eddie Murphy; and “The Two Popes,” a well-reviewed drama about Vatican politics starring Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins.

“Marriage Story,” with six Oscar nominations, is expected to win for Laura Dern’s supporting performance as a formidable divorce lawyer. “Dolemite” did not receive any Oscar nominations. “The Two Popes” received three nods, but is not expected to win any on Sunday.

Another win for Netflix is expected to come from “American Factory,” a documentary backed by Michelle and Barack Obama that looks at a clash between a Chinese entrepreneur and blue-collar Ohioans.

“That’s a lot of campaigning for not a lot of hardware,” said Sue Fleishman, the head of September Media, a corporate communications consultancy, and a former communications chief at Warner Bros. and Amblin Partners.

In truth, no film wins the top Oscar without spending. All nine of this year’s best-picture nominees have been draped in for-your-consideration campaigns for months. Sony has certainly not been stingy with its “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” get-out-the-vote effort, which included a 28-minute special about its themes (“a love letter to making movies”) that ran on two Los Angeles television stations. Neon, the scrappy indie with the potential best-picture disrupter “Parasite,” has been spending money like a major, hopeful that the love for the genre-defying South Korean film will help it make Oscar history.

But Netflix has taken campaigning to a new level. Most studios put their firepower behind a couple of contenders. Netflix pitched eight films to awards voters this year, including two that received nominations for best animated film: “Klaus,” a hand-drawn holiday story that triumphed at the BAFTAs, Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars, and “I Lost My Body,” about an amputated hand. About 60 people work in Ms. Taback’s department, which also includes talent relations.

“Think of all of our awards work as a really smart way to make us the best home for talent in the world,” Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, said during a quarterly earnings call last month. “The business benefit is that we will win deals that we wouldn’t have otherwise.” Netflix may be spending a lot on awards campaigns. But the sum is a rounding error when you consider the company is poised to spend $17.3 billion on content this year.

Like all studios, Netflix flies stars to ceremonies that are seen as campaign stops, advertises in trade publications and sends swag to reporters (a pair of red slippers to support “The Two Popes,” for instance). But Netflix has also gone a great deal further, promoting films in ways that have raised eyebrows.

Rather than rely on trade news outlets, Netflix has opted to create its own, including a thick, expensive-looking magazine called Queue, filled with glossy photos and essays from high-profile contributors like Roxane Gay, and two separate podcasts from the former entertainment journalists Kris Tapley and Krista Smith (now consultants for Netflix).

The company rented out the famed Belasco Theater on Broadway to screen “The Irishman” and reopened the defunct Manhattan single-screen theater the Paris with a long-term rental deal. The company is still conducting talks to buy the historic Egyptian theater in Hollywood.

In December, The Washington Post revealed that Netflix had courted members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which puts on the Critics’ Choice Awards, with free trips to Los Angeles and New York for private access to filmmakers and stars. Members of the association who accepted stayed in luxury hotels like the Four Seasons. The group awarded Netflix films and television shows with nine trophies, including best acting ensemble for “The Irishman.”

In a statement this week, Netflix responded to the Post article, saying, in part: “Promotional tactics like junkets, screenings and festivals are standard industry practice and not just for awards.”

“Netflix is not violating any rules. They just have lots of resources,” said Joe Pichirallo, a producer and a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “They do it to gain credibility and legitimacy and to let skittish auteur directors know that if you make a movie for Netflix, they will go all out to get you an Oscar, just like the studios.”

Even without winning big on Sunday, the company has already won. Netflix’s many nominations mean that an average 30 million people in the United States will watch a celebration of a lot of movies that they have not seen in theaters. Netflix will have succeeded in creating an emotional and intellectual shift — high-caliber original films associated with television sets and computer screens.

The streaming giant’s bruising night at the Globes certainly didn’t cast a pall over its after-party. Many of the night’s biggest stars made the soiree their first — and perhaps only — stop on the evening’s celebration circuit.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio huddled alongside the “Irishman” cast in a cordoned-off corner of a tented structure in Beverly Hills as waiters offered fried-chicken sandwiches, mini corn dogs and specialty Casamigos cocktails. Scarlett Johansson, Ms. Dern and Jennifer Aniston all showed up to pay their respects to the town’s deepest pockets, and that was before Tiffany Haddish grabbed the D.J.’s mic and started rapping.

“We ready,” Ms. Haddish shouted into the microphone, while holding a glass of white wine in her other hand. “Netflix putting food on people’s tables.”

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We’re Living in a Subscriptions World. Here’s How to Navigate It.

Nowadays we don’t really buy things. We just subscribe to online services.

And how can we resist? The streaming revolution has brought us vast amounts of video and music entertainment at the click of a button. In an era of cloud storage, where we store our data on remote computer servers, tech companies like Google and Apple take care of the headache of managing our information so that we no longer lose important files or progress on our work.

For many of us, giving up control and ownership to these services is the point. But for others, there is a downside to losing some flexibility and freedom. While Spotify may not have all the music we want to listen to, if we cancel our subscription, we lose access to its large catalog of music. With cloud storage services, putting our documents and other files online is simple, but pulling them out can be a pain.

This can make some people feel trapped. We could always resort to the obvious old-school methods, like buying discs of music and carrying around thumb drives of our files and documents, but who wants to do that?

Fortunately, there are some approaches to taking control of our media while enjoying the benefits of subscription services. Those steps range from the obvious, like creating local copies of your data, to more advanced methods, like making a personal cloud using an internet-connected storage device that acts like a miniature server.

All it takes is some forethought and technological know-how. Here’s what you need to know.

Cloud storage services like Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud — which let you store small amounts of data online free and which charge a few dollars a month to hoard larger amounts — offer major benefits. Namely, we can get access to our data from any device with an internet connection, and because our files are copied onto a company’s servers, we can’t lose them.

But beware of becoming over-reliant on the cloud. What if one day you decide to cancel your subscription? For anything that is stored exclusively online, you would then have to download each piece of data to your own drive, which can be frustrating and time-consuming.

That’s why, as a rule of thumb, people should continue creating local copies of their data for their computers and smartphones and store only important files on the cloud.

Here are the tools you will need:

  • An external hard drive. Portable hard drives can store vast amounts of data, and they are generally cheap. Seagate’s Backup Plus Slim 2, a Wirecutter recommendation, costs about $60 and holds two terabytes of data, which is probably enough to store backups of your computer, tablet and smartphone.

  • A software program for creating computer backups. Mac computers include Apple’s Time Machine backup tool. Microsoft’s Windows 10 includes a free tool called File History. Both apps can be set up to automatically back up your computer data.

  • An app for backing up your smartphone data. Apple users can back up their iPhones to their computers via the Finder or iTunes apps. Android users with Windows computers can access their data via “My Computer,” and on a Mac, Android users can use the app Android File Transfer.

From there, the steps vary slightly depending on which device and apps you use, but the processes are generally the same. To back up your computer data, you plug your external hard drive into your computer and run the backup program. To back up your smartphone data to your computer, you plug the smartphone into the computer and run your backup app. (If you need more steps, Wirecutter published a comprehensive guide on creating data backups.)

This way, if we become dissatisfied with a cloud service, we can cancel the subscription and have the ease and flexibility to take our files elsewhere.

Streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV Plus and Hulu offer a buffet of TV shows and movies to binge on. Similarly, Spotify and Apple Music give you instant access to millions of songs. But streaming services don’t have access to everything out there, like obscure art house films or live performances by music artists.

So here’s how you can take control of the content you stream to your devices. There’s a clever approach that involves creating your own media cloud, which acts like an online locker for your own content.

Michael Calore, an editor for Wired and a part-time D.J., said that when Spotify lacks his favorite music, he extracts the songs from a disc and uploads them to Google Play Music, Google’s online music service. Then he plays the music on the Google Play Music app from his smartphone.

“It’s basically like my own private streaming music service,” he said. In general, people can apply this approach to any songs they can’t get on streaming services.

For movies, I’ll share my setup, which is not for the faint of heart.

As a film studies student, I owned a collection of hundreds of DVDs, many of them obscure indie titles that are nowhere to be found on any streaming service. So I converted the titles into digital video formats, which I stored on a network-attached storage device, essentially a miniature server.

From there, I installed the Plex video-streaming app on my Apple TV, and on my smartphone, I installed Infuse 6, another video-streaming app. I set up both apps to pull movies from my mini server. This way, I can still enjoy the ability to stream my special collection of art house movies via my own equipment.

Of course, for many of a certain (younger) age, physical discs are unheard-of, and newer obscure titles will more likely be released on a streaming service. Still, for those wanting to tailor the content they stream, physical media is worth exploring.

So here’s what you will need to create personal clouds for your movies and music:

  • Tech to extract content from discs. First, you will need an optical drive, which is still included with some desktop computers, to read discs.

    Second, you will need apps to “rip” the content and turn the movies into digital files. For videos, special computer programs like Handbrake can extract movies from discs and convert them into video files. For audio, programs like iTunes and Windows Media Player can rip digital music files from CDs.

  • Tech to create a video server. Basically, you need an internet-connected device with some storage for movies, which essentially acts as a miniature server. There are plenty of options, like the $150 Nvidia Shield TV, or the Synology DiskStation DS218+, which costs about $300.

  • Tech to play media over the internet. For music, Google Play Music lets you upload your own songs to a cloud library and stream them through the app. For movies, streaming apps like Plex or Infuse 6 let you play movies from a TV app or smartphone.

If that all sounds complicated, that’s because setting up your content to be easily accessible over the internet is no easy feat. But these options exist for people who want more freedom.

Mr. Calore said that despite having a nice setup for streaming media via a personal cloud, he still consumed the vast majority of music and movies from paid streaming services.

“We’ve lost the excitement and the specialness of a physical idea,” he said. “But what we’ve gained in exchange is abundance at a scale that we could never have imagined. That is very much worth the trade-off.”


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