There are two types of people.
There are the people who are skating after the puck, and there are the people who are skating to where the puck is going.
Here at SNTS, we prefer to skate to where the puck is going. So rather than waste time lamenting about today’s challenges in the industry that is Hollywood, we thought it would be far more interesting to tell you what the tomorrow of Hollywood is going to be, today.
It’s a complicated space with all the disruption going on these days. Theatrical revenues are on the decline, streaming services are on the rise, the Grim Reaper’s death knoll is rapping away at Indie Film’s door. Stars no longer open films (except for an elite few), and social media continues to be a black box to many in traditional media. What will find success, outside of the latest Marvel movie, is anyone’s guess, and figuring that out is the Holy Grail of all things. Tech companies are becoming entertainment companies, and entertainment companies are becoming tech companies, and fast food companies are making entertainment and entertainment companies are now, in some circles, nothing more than fast food.
Kinda makes your head spin.
But five years from now? Just sixty months from now, that entire paragraph of complicated scenarios will be far simpler. And while they’ll be far simpler, they’ll also reflect the same Groundhog Day feeling that we’re all having now. What came before, will come again, but just feel slightly, barely different.
First things first. Network TV is dead.
That’s right. Whether you look to the tea leaves of no major networks getting nominations during the last Golden Globes, or you simply glance at the money the non-networks are spending on their content slate, everyone who knows anything in Hollywood will tell you off-the-record that Network Television is gasping for that last breath of legitimacy as we sit here and watch it happen. There’s a reason all the studios who own networks are working quickly to setup their streaming services. It’s because Network Television is dead. So is Cable TV for that matter. Anything over the airwaves, as a part of a cable subscription package, or airing during something civilized people used to call “Prime Time” is going away. Five years from now it’s gone.
So where will all that content go?
The streamers. The subscription apps. When we are sitting here five years from now we will no longer be paying for DirecTV or Comcast network and live TV packages — we will be paying for packages of apps that we can access across our Roku, Apple TV and Fire devices. Every single channel you watch today will have their own streaming application or service. They will still produce content, but that content will land in their app. And while there may be some live broadcast somewhere, no one will take the time to tune-in at any specified time. The behemoths will still be Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu, with the Peacocks, ViacomCBS, HBO Max and YouTube. The ad-supported free services like Pluto will also be there. We will package applications and services that will all be standalone, operated by the content creators and available on demand whenever or wherever we want to watch them.
What about movies? Movies are all about the ride.
Theatrical event-based theatrical releases will still be the norm, if not more of the norm. The Marvels, the DC’s, the I.P. based projects with build in audiences that can be translated into more book sales, bigger amusement park experiences, more animated kids shows and/or toys will rule the roost. There will still be the oft-celebrated Parasite level success on the indie side, but as we’re already seeing today — the big guys will swallow up the titles that make the most sense for their streaming Universes and then the remaining scraps of food will find their way onto the floor where the Indies will pick them up. At the same time, Indies with money will develop and produce more content than ever before, like the A24s and the Neons, seeking to get ahead of the bidding wars that we witnessed this year at Sundance, and which none of them can adequately compete with.
Quibi will change their business model.
We’re just a month or two away from the launch of the “under 10 minute film or TV show” from Quibi, and we’re here to tell you that five years down the line, they’re not going to be doing what they’re doing in April. Short form content in tiny bite-sized bits isn’t a business model. It’s not some ingenious idea that has never before seen the light of day. It’s a length. People are already quibing everything they watch already. It’s called “getting up to use the bathroom, check e-mail, or get a snack.” People quibied the hell out of The Irishman, watching it in bite-sized portions they could stomach. Shorter length isn’t some great new feature, and it doesn’t force people to spend more or less time on a service. People who watch YouTube dedicate the same amount of time watching small pieces of content on that platform as they do on Netflix or iTunes. Everyone has a limited amount of free time. Providing shorter clips isn’t going to change the game in any way.
Quibi will realize this. They will realize that the average time of engagement that their consumers spend on the platform is no different than any other platforms. They will realize their projections of increased engagement just because the content is shorter, won’t be real. And they’ll have to eventually decide to shoot longer shows for the same relative budget, in an attempt to keep people engaged and on the platform longer.
Yes, Quibi will be just like the rest of the platforms.
People will still be using plastic straws. Sorry, but as an aside, they will.
In the world of 2025, when Avatar 4 is supposed to come out, we will find that Disney/Fox/Cameron will combine Avatar 4 with Avatar 5 and release one movie on the heels of Avatar 3 not delivering anywhere near to the revenue of this year’s The Last Jedi. That’s because, no one will care about Avatar 3, and for good reason. It is a remnant of a time gone by, one that no longer is relevant or interesting to anyone.
Disney Plus will reach their world domination subscriber goals. Apple TV Plus won’t. Disney Plus will leverage even more of their IP library and begin releasing feature films on the platform day-and-date with the theatrical releases as a part of the ever-evolving theatrical window debate. Apple TV will, by that point, own or have acquired an indie division like A24 (if not A24 specifically) as a direct way to produce movies for a global audience in the way they want.
And so what about those theatrical windows?
Five years from now, we will be living in a different place when it comes to theatrical windows. By then, all the studios will have engaged audiences on their platforms where they can monetize all that engagement and charge an extra tier fee for first run movies day and date with theatrical releases. Testing a Star Wars film straight to digital these days is leaving money on the table, but when Disney can release Solo 2: Electric Boogaloo in theaters and on Disney Plus for an added “in theaters $19.99 tier” you bet they’re gonna do it. Studios across the board will have three kinds of releases in theaters. There will be the “new” traditional theatrical release that is in theaters for 6 weeks, then will be made available or rent and purchase across all platforms. Those will be the big tentpole event films. There will be the hybrid releases: in theaters and same day on their owned subscription streaming services. If you’ve paid the extra tax and are a subscriber you can watch those movies in theaters or at home for a larger price. Then there will be the third category — theatrical films that are now streaming-only films, made and produced with the explicit goal of having it available everywhere and on every platform at once. The “make all the money you can in a very short window” film releases.
The oft-discussed and long-gone studio system of early Hollywood will be back! Back, I tell you. It’s coming back.
It was a time when studios would secure stars to long term deals, putting them in as many movies as possible over the course of a certain time period. Stars were locked into studios, and studios worked the crap outta them. And while today we’re seeing deals being made with stars and Producers to bring their creativity in house at various studios, tech companies and streaming platforms…in five years it will be fully evolved to the point where this will also be the case for stars. What was old is new again they say, and the studio system‘s return will find stars, producers, writers and the like — all with long term deals at the various companies. While not optimal, talent will be locked in for one lucrative deal price point, and be pushed to produce or star in as much as they can during that term. In a world where profitability for these companies will become paramount, the a la carte project fee will no longer be palatable or reasonable.
There will be many other changes five years from now. Some will include things like: The Oscars becoming a streaming event, AMPAS rules forcing films and documentaries to have to “choose” what one award they’re going for when it comes to Emmys vs. Oscars. There will be a new entrant into the MCU and DCU world; a new comic book company who will launch their own entertainment division and build their own cinematic Universe that will rival the both. Entertainment will push into the Augmented Reality space, pushing Virtual Reality off to the side. And CGI will create more performances from actors than their own physical bodies can. We will see so much aging-down, aging-back and fully-virtual actors that it will spark a SAG battle the likes of which no one has seen since Crispin Glover had his famous Back to the Future II court case.
But one thing will stay constant. Content will still be king.
No one will know where content airs, broadcasts, streams or originates from. But they will know what they like. And they will watch it, whenever they want to, on whatever device is their device of choice, and if they can watch it for free, that will be their preference.
Because aside from wanting content to be free (and wanting the kind of plastic straws that don’t deteriorate in your mouth after 30 seconds of normal usage), content will always be the driving force until the end of time.