It’s that time of year again, where we gather ‘round the corporate dining room table to give thanks for all the blessings visited upon the streaming industry, or not, depending on what kind of year it’s been.
Below is a list of the industry’s biggest media companies, streaming operations and executives who might want to consider giving thanks, and for what, in a year that so far has seen the streaming business move somewhere beyond Just Get The Damned Thing Launched to an indeterminate place well short of Finally We Have A Business.
Still, gratitude is a wonderful thing, and if anyone needs to practice it, it’s the streaming video industry, handed a once-in-a-millennium chance amid the pandemic to launch an entirely new and far more lucrative business than the one it’s been doing for decades. So, without further ado, the 2021 Give Thanks List.
Disney, thanks for a good first half of the year, and no thanks for a crummy second half, as the sharp programming limitations of Disney Plus, so compelling to locked-down families in early pandemic, proved less compelling in drawing the next 100 million subscribers. Investors have responded accordingly, sending Disney shares down 18% since mid-August amid a new-sub swoon. Is it too soon to wish for a big Star-filled 2022 worldwide, and some kind of viable strategy for Hulu here at home?
ESPN/ESPN+, thanks for the Bob Chapek regime’s seeming acceptance that most people who care about the pristine Disney brand don’t see ESPN as part of it. It’ll be okay if the sports operations embrace the Sodom that is gambling. Could the embrace of sports gambling help ensure ESPN (and possibly ABC) soon will actually depart the Disney family altogether? Thanksgiving is often about awkward family gatherings, and nothing’s more awkward these days than the one at the Mouse House. This year’s stunning realignment in college football (which ESPN likely helped foment) has nothing on this possible family breakup.
WarnerMedia, thanks to Discovery and David Zaslav for providing the unlikely prospect of an escape from the debtor’s prison/clueless telecom giant that is AT&T. It’s far from clear that becoming a (very large) pure-play media company, run by a cable guy with little background in scripted television, is going to be salvation, but hey, what could go wrong?
Discovery, thanks to golf buddy John Stankey for picking up the phone on that crazy spinoff/merger idea that Zaslav had. It gives dominant shareholder John Malone one more swing at media meaningfulness, and rescues Discovery Plus from having to explain next year why it exists as a standalone operation.
Jason Kilar, thanks for your service. Oh, and for pulling the trigger on that day-and-date release strategy with all the 2021 Warner Bros. movies. You enraged approximately 93% of Hollywood. But at least those movies got seen by tens of millions of people, drove subscriptions and engagement for HBO Max, helped fill screens in thousands of theaters, and made sure a bunch of actors and directors got paid sooner than later, thanks to $300 million in kiss-and-make-up bonuses. Someone had to re-set Hollywood for the post-pandemic era, and Kilar did it, admittedly the hard way. And though it’s unknown where Kilar goes next (VC? Hedge fund? SPACs?), there’s little reason to worry about his next Thanksgiving meal, though it probably won’t be at a Hollywood commissary.
Netflix, thanks for the new video games, because there’s nothing more fun than playing pinball and cards on your phone, except maybe watching that Arcane animated series from Riot Games’ League of Legends while you do it. Also, thanks for that long-ago decision to expand into, and buy programming from, nearly every country that matters across the globe. That bold decision paid off this year with international monster hits such as Squid Game, Lupin, and the latest seasons of Narcos and Money Heist.
Amazon Prime Video, thanks for finally getting one of your mega-super-giga-big series on screen. The Wheel of Time cost a reported $10 million per episode for its first eight shows, unspooling now to moderate reviews. With its translator to the stream screen envisioning eight seasons of this, also thank goodness a big holiday selling season is already in place to pay for it all. Now if they can just get the Department of Justice to ease up on those antitrust investigations and let Amazon open that big, fat MGM package of library programming for Christmas…
MGM, thanks to Amazon for, provisionally, buying the ancient Hollywood brand and its big ol’ pile of old stuff. Given that the studio’s latest Bond movie, No Time to Die, is on track to be both the year’s highest-grossing movie and a money loser, MGM will appreciate Daddy Warbucks’, er, Jeff Bezos’ billions of backing dollars. And who cares if new Amazon CEO Andy Jassy is more likely to want to buy a bunch of NFL and other sports rights with some of the company’s spare change? Safe harbors in stormy seas provide much to be thankful for.
Lionsgate, thanks to the investment bankers for the idea to calve off its premium channel/niche streaming service Starz, just to see how much money a capital-drenched M&A market might dump in the till. Short of an MGM-style manna drop, some sort of semi-spinoff of Starz, which Lionsgate bought just three years ago for $4.4 billion, is probably the best way to maximize value, and create something really worth giving thanks about come next year.
Paramount Plus, thanks for finally debuting in March, months after most of the major players had launched something into the market. The months since have been filled trying to get into more markets around the globe, especially in Europe, where deals with Comcast’s Sky operation provide a nifty alternative to the dominant strategy of buy/get bought agglomeration.
ViacomCBS, thanks for that Pluto acquisition, which continues to pay dividends as it passes $1 billion in ad revenue, and powers FAST operations for more TV platforms. It’s also expanding into dozens of countries, helping ease the rollouts of Paramount Plus in many of them. Who knew free could be so valuable? ■
David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
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