A year ago, no one could have envisioned Netflix with commercials. Well, that — and so much more — happened in 2022. And now it is time for the IndieWire business team to make 11 bold (and maybe bold-ish) predictions for the film and television industries in 2023.
With almost no adieu whatsoever…
The Golden Globes is prepping for its less than triumphant comeback after NBC booted the ceremony from broadcast last year, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association may need to find a new home quickly. A source from NBC told IndieWire that the channel will “very likely” not be bringing back the award show, often the second-most popular film award ceremony after the Oscars, in 2024. That same source believes another network will bid, so it’s possible that it’ll end up on Fox, ABC, CBS, or a cable channel, all of which will have to be willing to inherit the baggage of HFPA’s history of self-dealing, racism, and corruption.
Regardless of whether or not it ends up being the last NBC ceremony, the January 10 broadcast promises to be an awkward affair. On one hand, the HFPA chose a talented host in comedian Jerrod Carmichael, who will almost certainly do a great job. On the other hand, controversy still plagues the award ceremony, and not every publicist around town has been on board with the HFPA’s reforms — among them: taking the organization private, falling short of previously stated diversity goals in its members, and adding 100 international journalists who are not HFPA members to vote on the awards. At least one major frontrunner — Brendan Fraser, who accused former HFPA president and current member Philip Berk of assaulting him in 2003 — has already pledged not to attend. Whether or not other celebs will follow suit is still a big question, as it looks like Hollywood isn’t ready to welcome the Globes back with open arms just yet.
With all due respect to CNN+, Netflix took maybe the roughest tumble of 2022. But the O.G. streamer is ending the year with mixed emotions. On the plus side, Netflix returned to subscriber growth after two quarters of losses. And while its “Basic with Ads” plan hasn’t become a breakout hit, new shows like “Dahmer” and “Wednesday” sure have. Plus, Netflix’s advertising-supported tier should pay dividends down the road, as will its ongoing password-sharing crackdown. Recently, Wells Fargo saw enough good new content and new monetization strategies that it upgraded NFLX to a “Buy” with a $400 target price.
But the fledgling AVOD play alone may not be enough for continued global domination. Much of the world cannot afford Netflix’s relatively cheap “Basic with Ads” plan, which means FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) may be in its future — especially if Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos want to stop getting their butts kicked by Disney’s Hotstar in emerging (and gigantic, by population) broadband markets.
We know something has to happen with Hulu this year; Disney is obligated to buy out its stake from Comcast by January 2024 if nothing happens before then. But we do believe Bob Iger’s return as CEO will accelerate that decision making.
With a minimum equity value of $27.5 billion, that’s either a roughly $9 billion buy-out heading Comcast’s way or perhaps a hefty $18 billion coming in the doors at Disney. But Iger has been more inclined to acquire rather than sell, and keeping Hulu could mean absorbing it into Disney+ or expanding it by bolstering Hulu + Live TV just as the rest of the streaming industry is moving toward FAST offerings and ad-based streaming. But Disney needs an adult brand and can make the most of Hulu to that end if they can finally fully control it.
And of course, the real case to keep Hulu is that if Disney doesn’t want it, someone else will. Your move, Brian Roberts.
Speaking of Hulu, analysts have pointed out the reason to sell could be to help goose a spinoff of ESPN. We didn’t think this one was very likely a few months ago when Bob Chapek was still in charge, but with Iger back in the fold, that could be a different story.
The case to be made is, Disney wants to focus on the IP that it owns, enhance Disney+ and leverage that IP at its theme parks and for toys and video games. But it’s the sports leagues that hold all the leverage when it comes to ESPN.
The problem is, spinning off ESPN would require a big influx of cash that a sale of Hulu could provide, which is part of the reason it hasn’t happened sooner. Complicating things further is how ABC, which is largely intertwined in many of ESPN’s sports rights, could factor into any spin. It would make the most sense for Disney to retain ABC and for ESPN to become a standalone as it charts its way into a sports streaming future.
One of the biggest media stories of the year was the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, and the resulting chaos it caused among its many subsidiaries and divisions. WBD likely won’t be getting into any merger and acquisitions in 2023, due to tax laws that let the company take write-offs as long as they wait two years for more M&A activity. But corporations love some consolidation, and there are definitely others with the potential to shack up in the coming months.
For starters, Comcast, owner of NBCUniversal, might have an opportunity to purchase competitor Paramount Global, helping to beef up its streaming portfolio with Paramount+ joining the noncompetitive Peacock. Another possibility is Fox Corporation and News Corp rejoining with each other, which the two companies have already begun exploring — even though most experts think it’s a bad idea.
Finally, it’s getting old seeing Lionsgate pop up on these M&A prediction lists year after year, but there’s more smoke now surrounding Lionsgate than there was this time a year ago. That’s because Lionsgate announced it was exploring spinning off its studio and production assets as opposed to Starz and its streaming service, which could make it more attractive to a studio or streamer looking to beef up.
However you want to define a “full recovery” of the box office, it likely won’t come in 2023, if at all. Domestic box office for the year sits at a little over $7 billion compared to $11.3 billion pre-pandemic. Distribution execs were hopeful 2022 could get to somewhere in the mid-$8 billion range, and even an extra 25 percent boost on this year wouldn’t get it close to where Hollywood would like to be.
And sure, there are some highly anticipated movies coming in 2023, but how many of those will definitely gross over $400 million domestic? Only three films did that this year, “Top Gun: Maverick” and the “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange” sequels (though “Avatar 2” will get there). Hollywood’s better strategy will be trying to find unexpected genre hits, like how Paramount turned a streaming movie like “Smile” into a viral marketing hit, or how “Everything Everywhere All at Once” became the word-of-mouth movie of the year.
While longer windows aren’t coming back, “Elvis” and “The Batman” and others kept making money in theaters because it wasn’t obvious when they’d land on streaming. So will Hollywood look to the event cinema model as a way of building buzz, as Netflix did with “Glass Onion?” Will more streaming movies get a chance to play in theaters? Could IMAX make a bigger push or could 3-D even make a comeback as a means of getting people interested in theaters? They’ll have to figure out something.
The writers are arguably overdue for a strike, walk-out, work stoppage, what have you, of some kind when their contract with the studios expires in May. The WGA hasn’t gone on strike since 2007, but they showed with their fight with agencies over packaging fees that they still wield a lot of influence and power across town.
As always, residuals are the sticking point. Writers have been pushed hard as the demand for streaming content has skyrocketed in recent years, but fewer episodes in a season for streaming shows has meant less money for the same or more work. But Hollywood is learning in real time that many of these streamers are not making money, and the residuals writers would be fighting for might be a moot point in a matter of years.
And belt-tightening and consolidation at studios is inclined to hurt not just writers but also actors and directors, who are also coming to the negotiating table this summer, so even though AMPTP president Carol Lombardini hasn’t allowed a strike since she became president in 2009, the chatter about a strike around town is only growing. At the very least we’re predicting someone is going to be unhappy about something.
As of this writing, there are about eight major services in the streaming space, and six offer an ad-supported subscription tier. Of the two that don’t, Amazon Prime Video has an ad-based subsidiary in Amazon Freevee. That leaves Apple TV+ as the one and only streamer without any ads on its platform — but who’s to say that won’t change in the future?
Apple is already one of the cheaper services on the market — its one-and-only subscription is $6.99 per month, which is the exact amount that Netflix’s bare-bones service with ads costs. But there’s precedent for the service hiking up its subscription and offering a cheaper ad-based one — that’s exactly what Disney+ did this month when it launched its own ad-tier. As fears of a recession increase, ads are increasingly being embraced by streamers who shunned them a mere few years ago — just look at Netflix’s launch of their tier, after years of pledging no ads on their service.
Apple TV+ has largely been doing okay — it helps to have the backing of a tech giant like Apple — but it can’t hurt the company to have another revenue source to brave the economic windfalls ahead.
When HBO Max started its second big trimming of content on the streamer this December, it came with the news that David Zaslav and WBD brass are prepping a new FAST channel, or free service with ads, for the company. That FAST service will feature several shows that HBO Max have removed, including “Westworld,” “The Nevers,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “FBOY Island,” and “Raised By Wolves.”
In many ways, it makes sense that Zaslav — a veteran of cable TV companies like NBCUniversal and Discovery — would want to invest in FAST, which recreates the experience of linear TV. And there’s reason to believe that WBD’s FAST channel might find success — other channels with the same business models, like Roku Channel, Tubi, and Pluto, have been doing well, even if they’re lower profile than their flashier pay-to-stream counterparts.
Less guaranteed is the success of HBO Max’s eventual successor “Max,” a merger between the streamer and Discovery+. Without the HBO branding, and trust in WBD at a low point after the erasing of its programming, it’s a strong possibility that the upcoming streamer could fail to find subscribers when it launches at some point next year.
Let’s be real: there’s not much justification for a standalone Showtime service anymore. The migration of Showtime digital into Paramount+ has already begun with a bundle and a tile. The way the wind is blowing, it likely won’t be very long before the only way to get Showtime on a non-linear basis will be through Paramount Global’s core streaming service, Paramount+. That may prove to be only the beginning.
Arguably, Paramount’s most successful streaming service is neither Showtime OTT nor Paramount+. Pluto TV, acquired by Paramount (then Viacom) in 2018, is among the best in FAST, but it may still be undervalued — and underutilized — by its owner. You see, Pluto is totally free; Paramount+ has an ad-free plan and a cheaper ad-light option. But Paramount, the company, could instead be using Pluto TV as a free-and-easy entry point into the Paramount+ app. It’d be kind of like what Peacock does, only much better.
Don’t go searching for a new night for “Chicago P.D.” just yet. Though the network has held talks with affiliates about handing the 10 o’clock hour back to local stations — and despite the fact that those local stations want the hour — the Fall 2023 primetime schedule won’t be any briefer than Fall ’22, IndieWire is told.
There is a good return-on-investment argument (one you can find in full here) for giving up on the final 60 minutes of the (nationally programmed) evening, but it isn’t happening at NBC — not yet at least. Maybe check back with us this time next year for our 2024 predictions.