Someone peering in from the outside might assume that the Director of Content Operations at a luxury movie-download service like Kaleidescape is a kind of high-end traffic cop, tasked primarily with taking the 4K HDR files sent along by the various studios and ensuring they’re posted on the company’s movie store without any serious technical glitches—in other words, a job defined more by technical diligence than anything else.
But Luke O’Brien (like Kaleidescape’s Principal Engineer of User Experience Michael Kobb, who we profiled in “Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater”) is a deep-dyed movie fan. And his passion for film permeates the entire Kaleidescape experience, from the selection of movies to the creation of the transfers to the crafting of the descriptions on the interface and store.
With most big movies on hold with no clear sense of when—or how—they’ll make their way to the home market, which is causing a lot of people to turn to older films for entertainment, this seemed like a good time to pick Luke’s brain about the virtues of exploring Kaleidescape’s [11,000]-title catalog of films, series, concerts, and other content.
It seems like it might have been wiser for the studios to have released more of their big summer movies straight to the home market than to sit on them for an indefinite amount of time. But I guess they’re willing to gamble that they’ll get a big enough bump out of them when and if they’re able to get them into theaters.
I think the studios are going to do everything they can not to give up on that window. But as time continues to move forward, they do have a lot of stuff that is already finished. It becomes hard to make those choices about when do they actually get those titles into the world to monetize them. Even if they do choose to release some of them now, if we’re still in a period where they’re not getting back to things being filmed and finished, we’re just delaying another very hard dry spell we might
have to experience months down the road. Because if you show everything you currently have in your backlog now, there will be a point later on when the well is dry and you have to figure out how you can live through that experience.
Premium video on demand (PVOD) seemed to come out of nowhere to at least get some mid-tier titles into the home market.
We’ve seen things that, if not tent poles. would have at least been prominent theatrical releases transitioned straight into the premium EST [electronic sell-through] and premium VOD markets. It’s the first time that’s happened. So we are in an unprecedented time right now.
How has this played out for Kaleidescape in particular?
It’s been a really interesting period for us. We are continuing to see very good traffic coming through our store. There are two things people are really diving into, both of which are encompassed by what we generally talk about as “catalog” —that is, movies that have been out for over a year.
One, there are a lot of films that maybe people missed the first time around but now they’re getting a chance to
dive into. And then there’s also—I heard the phrase the other day—“comfort viewing” that’s taking place. This is where you have movies you love or stars you connect with and you’re diving into their content and kind of snuggling up with it to really make the end of your evening a more pleasant experience.
When this first all started to play out, did you see people gravitating naturally or sort of organically towards catalog in the sense that there was an unusual uptick of people going in and checking out those titles?
When the pandemic first started, we saw what a lot of platforms did, that movies like Contagion jumped into people’s minds right away. So there are some famous films like that that come to the top of your mind when you’re at a time like this. But as
time went on, it became, “What are the things I’ve missed? What can I go and revisit in the catalog that’s going to help me be happy?” We just did a promotion where we featured some films of Stanley Kubrick as an extraordinarily masterful director. That’s an opportunity where people will say, “Oh man, I’ve seen The Shining. What are the other ones?”
As time has gone on, what do you see people gravitating toward? Are they getting more adventurous with their choices?
That’s more a per-customer sort of thing, but we are seeing some of them who are going in and doing more deep dives. They’re electing to go through and pick up a bunch of titles in the furthest reaches of the catalog, like some of the extraordinary noir films from the 1940s that they hadn’t gotten around to before. But for a lot of people, it’s the stuff they missed maybe two years ago—stuff that feels not that far away.
upgraded to 4K HDR. Do you see that trend accelerating, given the increased demand for catalog titles?
If that plan ends up coming into effect, we’ll likely begin seeing the results the very end of this year and into early next year. It takes a lot of resources for the licensers to go out there and do those 4K remasters. They really want to do them well and right. They don’t want to slap together a cheap “scan it up and ship it out”-type product to people. So when they make a
deliberate effort to go back and get those films redone, it takes a little more time.
While the market might not be able to make that happen as quickly as we’d like, I think we have to be pretty excited about what they’ve been able to get out of the new titles that have come through. To pick an example, The Shining, which I just mentioned—that 4K remaster is gorgeous. It’s an absolutely beautiful film, which only increases that wonderful Kaleidescape cinematic experience of being at home and getting to enjoy that movie in the best way it can be experienced.
For people who’ve never really gotten into older films, your AFI Top 100 collection would seem like a good place to start. I know you’ve been able to round that collection out since you obtained the rights to the MGM catalog, but is there anything else you’ve been able to do recently to spruce it up?
Acquiring the MGM catalog did allow us to add films like Silence of the Lambs. And we’ve been able to enhance the collection with some recent upgrades to things like Duck Soup and Swing Time. We’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting the Top 100, which we know is one people gravitate to, as best we can.
If you could point people toward some other areas, what would they be?
To echo the recent winner of the Best Director Oscar, we want to continue to introduce people to the movies that
take a little more investment in terms of having to read subtitles. There’s so much good international content on our store, and we’ve got a Best of Foreign-Language Cinema collection. A great recent foreign title is François Ozon’s Frantz, which we added a couple of years ago and which did very, very well. It’s so morally challenging and visually stunning and just a great film to kind of get people engaged with.
It’s not clear to me why, but I know musicals can be a hard sell for some people.
We’re fortunate to have had animation keep the musical alive when live-action let it go away. But even new movies that aren’t musicals can still have that same intonation. One of the biggest hits last year was the remake of A Star Is Born. That has as much song as story taking place in it, so it’s got some of the qualities of a musical running through it. We just had the Trolls World Tour drop, which is an animated film that was one of the premium early releases. I’ve got a friend who says his niece
won’t stop listening to it. So that tells you it’s got a quality that is certainly attractive to the market as a musical.
Interesting people in silent films can also be a challenge.
100%. We have some real masterpieces that live there on the store, and if you can just get somebody interested in something like Buster Keaton’s The General, you can often lead them to other silent classics. The great thing about the foreign silent films is that there is no language barrier to watching something like Battleship Potemkin or Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can see really some of the most interesting and visually stunning movies you’re ever going to watch.
We’ve been focusing on films, but things like concerts and your recent acquisition of the PBS titles also give people room to roam.
For somebody who has invested in their home theater experience, being able to enjoy a concert film in lossless audio—there’s nothing like it. It blows the doors
off. One of my dealers reached out to tell me how excited he was to sit down and watch the INXS concert, which looks and sounds great because it was provided to us in HDR with Atmos audio. Bruce Springsteen’s recent significant movie was his Western Stars concert in a barn. It’s also sort of a personal journey film that I think is gorgeous and totally engaging.
You mentioned us recently adding PBS to the store. We have so much extraordinary television content, and the great thing about that is that it you can have a much longer-term engagement with it that’s not just a two-hour experience. If you watch one of those extraordinary Ken Burns documentaries, that’s several hours of your life having a deeply enveloping educational experience. I love a lot of the mysteries, like The Bletchley Circle. I watched The Manhunt for the first time, the Martin Clunes detective thriller from RLJ Entertainment, which is actually the length of a movie but it’s got that serial episodic hold to it that I find totally engaging.
Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtable, marketing, product design, some theater designs,
a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.