The media industry has taken a big hit across almost all sectors. While Canada has dealt with the “new normal” much better than the US and production resumes quicker, Hollywood especially has been impacted quite intensely.
Media conglomerates are shifting their focus to direct-to-consumer and subscription-based platforms designed to serve global audiences. This trend has opened up more options than ever for audiences to consume content and the manner in which they do. Recognizing the appetite for new or unconventional formats, media companies are diversifying their programming, marketing, distribution and sales expertise.
Now, coming up with predictions of the entertainment industry’s future in 2021 seems laughable given the pandemic we’re still in the middle of. However, certain behaviors developed in the past months are said to be irreversible as the changes we have all experienced.
RESUMPTION OF PRODUCTION
- Circumstances have forced the industry to formulating new content strategies in order to ensure stable revenue streams.
- Just like “You’re on mute” has become one of the most used business phrases this year, working from home is widely accepted as a new flexible modus operandi and most likely here to stay.
- The shifting era of personalization, where the consumer is at the center of business models and the numerous M&A in media has lead to massive staff downsizing hitting every level of employees. Consolidation will further continue.
- From April on, Hollywood content producers and unions have been working to develop new industry standards to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some might say, Tyler Perry had perfected his production flow by quarantining cast and crew before and during the shoot which allowed him to get a 22-episode season in the can within only 2 1/2 weeks!
- Live performances and beloved theater/musical productions won’t be offered any time soon which is why “on-stage entertainment” has reinvented itself and found new ways for audiences to experience theater productions, such as live zoom performances and other virtual readings.
MARKETING & DISTRIBUTION
- When Variety Streaming Room started its new series on ‘Rebooting The Entertainment Industry‘ back in June, Jeremy Legg, WarnerMedia CTO (back then), explained that Warner Bros. would make changes regarding its marketing and distribution plans. Frankly, the run for HBO Max’ monthly subscriptions is the underlying drive for this scheme.
- NBCUniversal has now two major groups, one for content creation and one for distribution to boost its ad-supported Peacock streaming service.
- After its merger, ViacomCBS has focused on CBS All Access and Paramount Plus services. The rebranding is supposed to set the next catalyst for ViacomCBS’ streaming services, especially by adding 10,000 hours of new and library content in the coming year.
- Disney, of course, continues being Disney.
- In an interview with Sharon Waxman from The Wrap, Ross Gerber from Gerber Kawasaki talked about how financial planning and liquidity for businesses is pivotal at this moment. He said the pandemic solidifies the position of the streaming model and prognosed that production will soar as soon as business gets back up and running. Incorporating technology into day to day business models, taking time for branding and updating social presence would be the key points to economic growth.
- Advertisers, fully aware of the massive push into the podcasting medium, have expanded their spending across more shows. In 2020, 160 new brands started to podcast advertising each week.
HOLLYWOOD TURNING INTO AUDIOWOOD – IP OF THE FUTURE
So, where do the thinner cost structures lead investors, sponsors, and content producers to? Is there a fast fix, a cheap success to be found?
- Audio-IP is one of the fastest growing content creating markets we are observing in 2020.
With the pandemic forcing film and television productions to shut down audio has become a fast growing creative outlet for celebrities, such as Matthew McConaughey, Kristen Wiig, Rami Malek and Laverne Cox (who just announced she will host a show produced by Shondaland Audio.
New audio devices are facilitating the audio-experience (at home, in the car, or on the go) for consumers. Numbers don’t lie: While podcast listening has yet to peak, 2020 was the year it hit 100 million monthly listeners, a more than 40% increase in a two-year period, per the Infinite Dial 2020. Global listening, content creation, monetization from all parts of the world is key to the rapid and sustained growth of the medium.
It’s almost needless to point out that audio-content provides for a hugely advantageous economic revenue stream at extremely low costs:
Spotify’s value jumped from $27 billion to more than $60 billions this past year alone, based largely on its investment in podcasting. Meanwhile, Netflix is already making its move into the audio world.
While use of Apple Podcasts is still growing, because the whole podcast ecosystem is growing, Apple’s market share is declining. From recent hires, for instance RadioPublic’s Jake Shapiro, it can be inferred that Apple is aiming to amp up its game with the world’s most successful app store.
With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Wondery, the fourth-biggest podcast publisher and producer with a monthly audience of 9 million in the US and nearly 59 million streams and downloads of its shows during November 2020, the company already marks its largest investment (with an estimated price tag of approximately $300 million) in the medium to date.
- Podcasts will continue to provide for a strong source of IP for TV and film, especially coming out of a quarantine year when many A-lister actors and producers have familiarized themselves with the audio-only medium. For example, Shonda Rimes is already executive producing entire slates. This side of the business blew up after the success of Homecoming and Dirty John.
Television and film option fees have provided many podcast companies with bonus revenues on top of their more traditional ad sales and distribution partnerships.
- It is fair to predict that politics and news will see losses in ratings. As listeners work their way out of the COVID Pandemic and the Trump years, they will want more distraction and less news and politics.
- Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 48% of US consumers have participated in some form of video gaming activity. In addition, 29% of US consumers say they are more likely to use their free time to play a video game than to watch a video. That trend might continue.
- The Beverly Hills Bar Association provided an insightful and incredibly informative panel on “Legal Issues Likely to Arise in Post-COVID-19 Return to Production”. The Mediators/Arbitrators from Alternative Resolution Centers (ARC) Peter J. Marx, Jeffrey S. Kravitz and Max Factor, III has provided an in-depth analysis on the key issues that have been coming up recently with regard to restarting the entertainment and tech industry. Unlike many industries and office arrangements, remote working is not possible for production, close contact is often necessary, the entire production is usually dependent on specific people, and there are many unions and government authorities issuing mandates and guidelines that have an impact on production activities.
Some of the most pressing challenges will revolve labor law matters, including the following questions:
- Will signed waivers suffice to being allowed back at work? Waivers present various issues regarding their legality, for instance, do you void workers compensation if you get hurt on set? What if a loan out company signs the waiver, does it have any effect on the very actor who got on the production via the loan-out? So, waivers may not be the answer to reopening productions.
- Hiring practices and must be consistent with the guidelines of the CDC, OSHA, etc. Frankly, the devil is in the detail, that is as to say that each fact situation is different and there is not one correct answer to hiring matters. A job offer may be withdrawn if contracted the virus, or an employer may require the employee to stay at home or not come to the work place; an employer may take employee’s body temperature (which constitutes a medical examination) for the limited purpose to ensure the security of the workplace environment. However, it might require proper notice, ADA guidelines should be checked before implementing this sort of measure.
- Rules on and implementation of using avatars in replacement of the very actor in order to avoid people coming to set in person.
- Business interruption insurance industry will fight against those claims by negating coverage on the basis that there must be a physical manifestation of the interruption.
- One of the challenges for lawyers during the era of COVID-19 has been – and will continue to be – negotiating force majeure clauses which, in normal circumstances, relieves parties from liability in the event of an occurrence beyond anyone’s control — war, crime, Category 5 hurricane. This pandemic, however, has had entertainment attorneys reconfigure their understanding of what such clauses entail.