The recent Peanuts animation released, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, seems to have met with general (albeit not universal) approval. And I know there were thoughts about doing more of these releases. But there is something that happened between the time that Happiness was started and when it hit the market that I have to figure (with zero inside information, let me be clear) will have some impact on the decision whether to go ahead: the market for prerecorded home video shrunk, a lot. Total DVD and Blu-ray sales for the first quarter of this year were down a fifth from the same period the year before, and this is after over five years of sales decreasing year-by-year. Digital download sales made up for some of those losses, but not most of them. People have been switching more to streaming, getting a bunch of movies out of their cheap Netflix subscription rather than buying boxes of disks. That cannot bode well for the model where you try to get $15 or $20 for a new release, and those initial sales are expected to pay for production.
And yet, it may be that that sort of pricing system isn’t best in the long term. If A Charlie Brown Christmas had cost $19.95 in 1965 (or whatever that would be in 1965 money – a guinea and a farthing?) would it be the recognized (and very profitable) classic that it is today? Or would it have just been watched by a handful of folks, who would say nice things about it, but without it gaining cultural cachet? Might there be more money in having something which is cheap or free up front – making it immediately available on Netflix or Hulu or other such services, if it cannot get major network airtime – and builds a response?
Lately, Amazon has been having some great deals on downloadable music – not on some musty old back-of-the-catalog classics, but on the biggest new releases. A couple weeks ago, they had the brand new Lady Gaga album for just 99 cents for a day or two. I didn’t know L.G.’s ouvre that well, but heck, for 99 cents, I bought it, because it was little money to gamble on the possibility that I might like this very popular artist… and had I, this could’ve paid off for her ladyness on my buying many albums for years to come (and no, it turns out I won’t be, it’s listenable but the songs are too similar to my ears, can’t see needing more of it – but a million people bought the album that first week, mostly on cheap download deals, and it’s bound to have created some new fans.) Right now, they’re offering the new soundtrack for the Broadway smash The Book of Mormon for $1.99 – this makes me very happy, because I’d heard a couple songs already from it, which I’d liked, one which I’d loved, and I’d been trying to decide whether to get the album or to hold off until I could see the show first, so that hearing all the music didn’t ruin the show-watching experience. However, discounts trump many other considerations in my world, and now I’ve got all the files ready for me to hear (as soon as I get done listening to the audiobook I’m in the midst of.)
Does this cheap up-front strategy pay off? I don’t know. It would seem to increase the odds of creating a “classic” work that is in the public consciousness and will be selling for decade after decade… but the odds on doing that are so long that it may not be worth the money lost from those high-priced early sales. (And I suspect that these cheap downloads are actually somewhat underwritten by Amazon, to promote their new “cloud” system which stores your purchased and uploaded music for use on various systems.)
So, will there be more Peanuts animation done for DVD, for streaming, or for broadcast? Time will tell. Almost certainly something, sometime, I reckon. And I hope. Certainly, I’ve already got my own pick for what storyline I’d due, in the rotisserie Peanuts animation league in my mind…