Last week I wrote a JBR blogpost theorizing about the possibility (however unlikely) of No Time To Die being released via PVOD. I dove into a hypothetical scenario whereby a multimedia conglomerate such as Apple (although there are others) would end up acquiring MGM resulting in their takeover of MGM’s ownership stake in the Bond franchise. This week the Wall Street Journal published a story about hedge fund manager Kevin Ulrich who heads up Anchorage Capitol, MGM’s largest shareholder. The article revealed that in recent months Ulrich is said to be working on a deal that would result in the acquisition of MGM by one of several potential companies including Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Comcast. None of these companies issued any comments on the story so it’s anyone’s guess how far any of these negotiations have gone. The article further reveals that prior to his ousting former MGM CEO Gary Barber held unsanctioned talks with Apple that might have potentially resulted in Apple’s acquisition of MGM for the price of $6 billion. Ulrich himself was close to an acquisition deal with Chinese investors for $8 billion before the deal fell through. Comcast owns Universal, which happens to be the international distributor for No Time To Die. If Comcast were to acquire MGM, it is mostly likely that No Time To Die would stick to the theatrical model for its release. This would mean that No Time To Die could inevitably see its release date further pushed back until the studio gained some kind of confidence in the box office numbers if and when cinemas return. Where things get interesting, however, is if Apple were to acquire MGM. For the purposes of my own speculation, let’s explore that possibility.
Before I go further, let me just emphasized that I am just engaging in a bit of fan speculation. I’m certainly not an insider or a film industry professional writer. I am only engaging with this news story from the perspective of a Bond fan who is naturally curious. Take my conjecture and my exploration of this topic for whatever you think it’s worth. It’s been my experience that Bond fans tend to get a bit testy whenever they encounter a perspective that doesn’t conform to their long held opinions about the franchise. If you’re one of those people, let me reassure you that I’m merely a fan with no more access to the inner workings of Eon, MGM, or Apple than any other fan. This is just a topic that I enjoy exploring whether or not it resonates with anyone else. While I am not a writer for Variety or The Hollywood Reporter or any of those renown outlets, I believe my perspective as a fan has value and that I have as much right to write about this topic as any fan who is so inclined.
Okay, back to the topic at hand. Apple certainly has the cash reserves to move on an acquisition of MGM. Their 3rd quarter results statement indicates that they have roughly $33 billion in cash and cash equivalents (special thanks to Bill Koenig of The Spy Command for pointing me to this information). This is down from $48 billion from 2019. Judging from the information in the Wall Street Journal article, I believe the sale of MGM and all of it’s IP holdings could very well happen for a price between $8-$9 billion. If Apple were to pull the trigger on such an acquisition, they would not only essentially takeover MGM’s ownership of the Bond franchise but also acquire the rights to No Time To Die to distribute however they please. The article also indicates that if a company other than Comcast acquires MGM that Universal would have to be compensated as the current international distributor. Apple could very easily supply said compensation.
Why would Apple pay so much? Very simple. While its Apple+ streaming service has garnered some success with original programing such as the award-winning series The Morning Show, it doesn’t currently offer much of a film and television library. The acquisition of MGM would immediately offer them not only the catalog of Bond films and No Time To Die but also the entire MGM Library including the acclaimed Rocky / Creed franchise, all of the United Artists films, Orion Pictures films, and much more. They could immediately increase their film and television offerings to their subscribers, many of which were given free full-year subscriptions to Apple+ upon their purchases of new Apple products. The idea is that increasing the content library would at least encourage subscribers to keep the service once the free subscription period expires. Plus, they could harness their new ownership of several intellectual properties to see if there is any potential to create new content around them including sequels, remakes, reboots, or whatever they choose.
So let’s go further. Let’s assume this all happens as I have suggested. What happens next with Bond? That answer may be difficult to predict because it depends on several factors. Bond would easily become Apple’s best and most profitable intellectual property in the event of an MGM acquisition. According to the Wall Street Journal article, “A person close to Anchorage said Mr. Ulrich believes MGM is a more-attractive asset because it hasn’t released No Time to Die, giving a buyer control over its launch and distribution.” This would indicate that the acquiring company could potentially release No Time To Die via an untraditional platform defying the theatrical release model. If Apple were that company, they may not decide to eschew theaters entirely. They could pursue some kind of dual release so that the markets where theaters are open would have the exclusive theatrical exhibition rights to the film and the markets where theaters are not open could have the PVOD option available to them after a brief window of time. This would depend a great deal upon what the business landscape of cinemas will be next year, which sadly looks quite dire due to the pandemic.
Apple could also create a PVOD tier within their Apple+ streaming platform that would allow subscribers access to No Time To Die for a premium price. Traditionally, PVOD films are available for 48-hour rentals only during their initial offering. In my last article, I suggested an inflated price of $50 because this a new Bond film we’re talking about but $29.99 tends to be the going rate. Apple would have to decide on the price point of course. Later on after a number of weeks or months, the film would then be made available for digital purchase and physical media so Bond fans would have to buy the film again. From a spending standpoint, this isn’t that much different from what we already do. I usually spend a certain amount to see a new Bond film in cinemas a few times, then I would buy the Blu-ray or DVD.
There’s also the future of the franchise to consider. With its deep pockets, Apple could finance and produce more Bond content at a much steadier pace than what we’re used to. Obviously, there’s the prospect of Bond 26 with a new Bond actor, but there’s also potential to expand the franchise if Eon and Apple were so inclined. I’ve also previously written about that prospect. Apple could very well spearhead an effort to make Bond an innovative force in the landscape of popular culture making the franchise more attractive and appealing to younger audiences who aren’t currently into Bond. I know . . . I know I’m getting way ahead of myself and many older Bond fans are repulsed by this idea. The thing is that as a Bond fan, I want the franchise to grow and appeal to younger audiences however much this might upset certain “purists.” I suppose that’s a topic for a different blogpost altogether.
Of course, watching No Time To Die at home for the first time rather than sitting in a cinema would have its drawbacks. Home viewing doesn’t offer the same sense of community of seeing a new Bond film with fellow Bond fans not to mention the inferior audio and video quality of the experience. As I’ve said before, however, most of my exposure to Bond has been through home viewing. That’s how I came to watch all of the pre-Brosnan classics for the first time. There’s something that can be said about how viewing Bond films on the TV actually indoctrinated many fellow Bond fans. I agree with those who treasure the experience of cinematic viewing, and it saddens me to see theaters suffering during this time. I truly hope movie theaters return stronger than ever at some point. The question of how long a completed pre-COVID film can remain on the shelf is a valid one though. If theaters are incapable of returning by the April 2021 release date of No Time To Die, it’s more likely that the film will be pushed further back and fans would just have to be patient. I’m okay with that. If I had invested $300 million in a film, I would want to release it in a way that would be safe for those attending and make good business sense at the same time. That’s quite understandable. Whatever the outcome and whenever the release date for No Time To Die ultimately lands, I’m excited about this Bond film even if I must wait to watch it at home for the first time. Until then there’s plenty of Bond content to keep me occupied including re-reading the novels, the comics, nonfiction books written by authors much more knowledgeable than I, music from the soundtracks as well as the marvelous Q The Music Show Lockdown Sessions, and my engagement in many of the pleasant conversations I continue to have with fellow Bond fans and content creators. We’re all one big happy Bond fandom family, and I’m confident we’re all get through this unprecedented time.
blogpost by Jack Lugo