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March 2, 2022

Telling Stories w/ Jason Wise, SOMM TV

Telling Stories w/ Jason Wise, SOMM TV

With an outsider's perspective, Jason Wise, director of the SOMM movies and founder of SOMM TV, has been able to find stories in the world of wine that interest a broad audience. In order to control more of the content pipeline and how the shows are distr


With an outsider's perspective, Jason Wise, director of the SOMM movies and founder of SOMM TV, has been able to find stories in the world of wine that interest a broad audience. In order to control more of the content pipeline and how the shows are distributed, Jason founded SOMM TV. Using "Somm" as more of a curator, SOMM TV has wine at its core and covers food, travel, and other alcohol, making it appealing to a broad (and younger) audience. Learn more about the business of wine films in this episode of XChateau! 

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Detailed Show Notes: 

  • Jason's background
    • Former bartender, went to film school, started as a filmmaker
    • He got into wine because he loves history, there were lots of stories that he could make films about, and his (now) wife's father loves wine, and he wanted to impress him
    • He did a travel show and learned about wine
  • SOMM movie (2012)
    • The genesis of the movie
      • Made when he was fresh out of film school (where he didn't focus on documentaries)
      • Met Brian McClintic, who asked him to watch their tasting practice
      • Found the practice similar to a sporting event
      • Met Ian Cauble and found his determination to become a Master Sommelier
    • The success of the film
      • The obsessive personalities made the film
      • Builds to an actual event (the MS exam)
      • The wine industry was ready for something like the movie
      • Not a "wine film," a different way of looking at wine
      • Introduced a new group of people who can tell you what to drink (vs. magazines)
      • Documentaries became popular with Netflix
      • Not made by wine people, the outsider perspective made it enjoyable to outsiders
  • Wine needs storytelling
  • Other wine films
    • SOMM 2 - a"  "wine fil"", SOMM 3 - the"  "bullshit facto"" of wine, SOMM 4 - more history driven
    • Auction 288 (to be released June 2022) - a movie about a bottle of 1874 Perrier-Jouët Champagne, more of a history, business story
  • Media business model
    • Movies usually have a distributor
    • Theaters are a big marketing arena for wine
    • iTunes - make a % of revenue
    • Netflix
      • pays distributor a fixed fee, if put on the 1st page can reach millions of people
      • Often pays based on what it costs to make
      • Can own rights outright or rent the film
    • Amazon - get paid 6+ months after it's up and receive a minimal cut of incremental revenue
    • YouTube - doesn't make any money on 
    • Created SommTV to control more steps in the business model - more control of content pipeline, partnerships, place to premiere new films (e.g., SOMM 4)
    • Before Covid - events were a big part of the business
  • Media platforms
    • Hulu - Jason's favorite, takes the most significant swings in content
    • Stars - has the best movies
    • Netflix - very careful, content is very similar to each other; often licenses something then makes their own version if it works (e.g., Uncorked is a similar series to Somm)
  • Cost of making films
    • Big range - SOMM 2 ~$100k vs. ~$850k for another wine film made by someone else
    • Documentaries - can be millions, when there's real music, at least $500k
      • Do not pay people usually to be in the film
  • SommTV business model
    • Employees on salary, which is unusual in film
    • 90% original content
    • It started with originals, now trying to license other content
    • Focused on wine, food, and alcohol; food is going to be a big part
    • Started the streaming service because it's an underserved audience and wanted to super-serve them
    • Content pipeline - would ideally love to have new content every day
    • Hundreds of thousands of subscribers (as of Jan 2022) - believes the potential audience is in the millions"  "Som" is defined by Jason as someone who curates - wine at the center, but food, travel, etc…surrounding it
    • Pricing - $6/month, $50/year
      • Did a series of testing to determine pricing
      • Current entertainment content wars - other services are losing money to add subscribers (except for HBO Max)
      • Lower cost doesn't necessarily mean more subscribers
    • Technology - a mix of own developed and 3rd party apps, goal is to bring technology in-house
  • SommTV subscribers
    • Younger, usually 24-37 years old (~70%), middle class
    • Screenings/events - more varied audience
    • 52% male, 48% female - women growing fast
    • Key markets - US largest by far, UK, Brazil, Nordic countries (not allowed in Iran or China)
  • Sparklers - new cooking and wine pairing show
    • It covers various sparkling wine regions with cooking challenges
    • It has a "perfect bite" - a meal on one spoon
    • Contestants have to judge each other
    • No one would have predicted the ending - the final episode aired Feb 8, 2022
  • Podcasts part of SommTV didn't have a marketing budget, so made podcasts which drawback to SommTV
    • Guests feed into each other's shows
    • Not expensive to make
    • Free, don't have to subscribe

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