Ankler Preview: Ready Mayer One

Stop Making Sense

The standard of "Does this make real world sense or not?" is a tough one to apply to Hollywood. Because nothing we do here makes sense by the standards of any normal business. And anything that seems to make too much sense, to fit too perfectly into any model, is probably a bomb waiting to be detonated.

Spending half a billion dollars to make a movie based on a comic book, with maybe a director whose last film was at one-twentieth the budget, and a star who has never opened a movie, with no "research" to prove this is a film that anyone is waiting for in any way . . . by normal business standards that would be called bonkers.

Something like that is one of our safest bets.

It goes downhill from there. But amazingly, many times a year, it actually works.

So if the plague were really going to wash away everything that didn't make sense, there wouldn't be much left of Hollywood to play with.

But sense or no, there are real-life trends of things in decline that don't lie, especially when they've been playing themselves out for a long time now and now they’re moving faster than our ability to BS our way around them.

Mega-agencies. Network television. Theatrical windows. Gala festivals. The awards beat. You could have said these things were doomed—10, 20, 30 years ago! There has been more than enough time between now and doomed for people to have very good careers, to make fortunes even.

So what we're seeing may not be so much a revelation of the inherent illogic of the business, because as long as there is a show business, madness will have an honored place at the table. Rather what we’re witnessing is a failure to adapt in the face of knowing how long so many things in Hollywood have been in decline.

A little hustle could've kept those balls in the air for ages until . . . something else happened to save them, or to give the denizens therein a new scam to grab onto. 

Then along came COVID and a sudden acceleration of the obsolescence timeline, which has transformed "We've got years before we have to worry about that" into "We've got weeks before we have to worry about that."

Take, to name one disaster unfolding at our feet, the TV upfronts. 

The legacy networks have been unraveling in all sorts of ways since the 90's, and cord cutting has lately sped up that process quite a bit. Still, anyone in the legacy network business, provided they are of a certain age, could make a reasonable bet that there'd be enough legacy left to see them through to retirement. 

Now this:

Under those “upfront” deals, starting May 1, advertisers had the first real opportunity since the pandemic struck to cut back future spending commitments. Companies now have the option to cancel up to 50% of their third-quarter ad spending.

Many marketers are seeking to take advantage of that option to varying degrees, including General Motors, PepsiCo, General Mills, Domino’s Pizza, the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi SA, and even the chain restaurant group Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Ad buyers estimate that roughly $1 billion to $1.5 billion in commitments for third-quarter ad spending could be canceled. “The cuts are going to be pretty deep,” said Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer at media buyer Horizon Media.

Exercising the option to cut up to 50%, you say?  When the Cracker Barrell cuts back on their TV spend…you haven’t got too many places left to turn.

Assuming all that came true, just how does a legacy TV network respond and cut back 50% of its expenses to match the lost revenue? Again, 50%. Then consider that's just where this game starts.

So how do we separate the functionally irrational from the operationally doomed? The challenge of our times . . . .

An Ankler call for reader thoughts! What are some of the things that make no sense and now will go away quickly? What are the things that make no sense but will be here forever? What actually makes sense and is either here to say, or doomed despite making sense? Send me your thoughts at richard@theankler.com.

Some examples from various ends of the spectrum in this week's glance around the landscape:

If The Van’s Tik Tokking, Don’t Come Knocking

Apparently no one let Kevin Mayer in on the conspiracy theory that Bob Chapek was a temporary placeholder to preside over the terrible times and then resign in exhaustion and pass the torch to an unsullied Kevin Mayer.

Maybe it can still be true and we can swap in Peter Rice, and also add in Bob Iger re-stepping aside and giving the throne back to Chapek, before he gives it to Rice.

Alternatively, in these wild times we should not understate what a big deal this is.

I know, he got passed over, wanted the job, for all we know still hates Bob Chapek for stealing his lunch money when they were both Mouseketeers or something. But still. 

Disney is the dominant Hollywood studio right now on a scale of hegemony that no other studio has ever known. Streaming TV is the most important (or so they say) division in that company, the key to the entire future—and that was Mayer’s perch.

And he walks away from that to run some app where kids film themselves playing ding dong ditch?!

In the Times of COVID, it certainly seems like a decent move. It raises an interesting comparison though: Disney vs. TikTok as the battle of Big IP vs. Micro IP.

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