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Netflix: Purveyor of Orchestral Talent

September 18, 2007

As I was researching a preview article about The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio, an Italian ensemble that's coming to San Francisco in a few weeks' time for SF Weekly, I was reminded of a lyric in local librettist and composer L Jay Kuo's musical, Insignificant Others: "Buy your groceries at Starbucks! Get an oil change at Starbucks!" In the musical, Kuo makes fun of mega-corporations' inability to resist branching of into all manner of absurd, unrelated businesses. Starbucks' forays into the book, music and art worlds were the inspiration for Kuo's wit, but the sentiment applies to many massive companies in the U.S. today.

The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio fits right into this model. The Orchestra's first ever west coast tour is being presented by Red Envelope Entertainment -- the newly created original content division of Netflix. Not only is the online movie rental company (sorry -- "full-service entertainment and distribution entity") presenting a series of live concerts in San Francisco, New York, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles by the Rome, Italy-based Orchestra, but people will also be able to instantly upload a feature film about the ensemble from the Netflix website starting on October 23.

I don't object in principle to this many-pronged approach to presenting art. But is Netflix really the right entity to chaperone and promote a group like this on this important U.S. tour? There's something so bland about lumping a group like this into the "multi-media entertainment" category.

Having a big brand like Netflix supporting a tour helps flex publicity muscle for the group. But in a way it confuses audiences. We're just not used to orchestras being presented by Internet movie rental outfits. And I always thought of "Red Envelope" as the name of an online gift company.

And does Netflix really have the expertise to handle an unusual music/film project such as this? I think an independent producer with a long track record in bringing multi-disciplinary music groups and working with indie film festivals would be a much better match. There's a danger that these large multi-platform companies will take business away from smaller producers. Eventually, they might push them out altogether.

The Netflixes and Starbucks' of this world moving into other, only tangentially related fields to their primary businesses will probably have a mixed effect on the delicate arts ecosystem. They have the marketing clout and money to create a big splash for the artists they promote, but whether their involvement has an overall positive or negative effect on the arts and audiences remains to be seen.


  • I guess my question would be: is an imperfect presenter worse than no presenter?

    By Blogger Tony Adams, At September 18, 2007 at 11:29 AM  

  • It's better in most cases to have an imperfect presenter than no presenter at all, but there are always occasions when the presenter mishandles the artist and/or their work so appallingly that it does neither the artist's nor the presenter's reputations any good.

    By Blogger Chloe Veltman, At September 18, 2007 at 7:51 PM  

  • There is no answer. Only the question:

    At what cost?

    If the queen wants to produce my new work I might be flattered and consider her influence and ability to spread my grandeur all over the land a wonderful opportunity. More people will hear me, see me, touch me. This couldn't be bad could it?

    Yes, it could.

    The queen might not like something particular to my work that she found a teensy bit too much, too harsh, too close to home. And she might ask me to change it. What if I don't want to? And if I did, she is indeed supporting my rise to possible knighthood, am I compromising my life's work, my integrity, my artistic soul?

    You know what I mean?

    If a beer company wants to support a rock group that rock group better know that sucking the devil's dick can be a tricky business. That, of course, is true only if one finds the advertising industry not unlike the devil.

    If this ensemble Italian ensemble wants to attach its name to a large corporation, and let it fling them all over the world, they better know what they are getting themselves into. Their name may be inextricably associated with the company that sends movies to our house. That might not be bad. Who really owns this company? What is their relationship to our world? I guess it could be worse. I'm sure Exxon-Mobil is looking for a new trick.

    And maybe Netflix will leave them alone. Let them do exactly what they do as they wish. Maybe not.

    Ask Mozart, ask Shakespeare, ask The Rolling Stones. Is it worth it?

    Ask Daniel Webster.

    mr. stick

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 18, 2007 at 9:32 PM  

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