The Fall Preview Issue Spectacular

“When I look out my window,
many sights to see.
And when I look in my window,
so many different people to be.
That it’s strange.
So strange.

“You got to pick up every stitch. Must be the season of the witch,
must be the season of the witch.",

- Donovan

And now it starts for real.

We wrote a couple weeks ago that we’re stepping into what will likely turn out to be the most consequential era in Hollywood history. The two or three possibilities should produce such a realignment of powers that we may wake up in 2022’ish to find an industry utterly transformed; where today’s titans are valet parking cars and the current assumptions are but punch lines in our collective memories.

But every commotion starts with a kick-off and this fall, the tectonic plates are scheduled to start colliding – or whatever tectonic plates do.  Things are going to get crazy and weird very fast.  So what should we be looking out for from our favorite studios and paradigms?  Here’s a guide with The Ankler’s First Annual Gala Fall Preview Issue, suitable for framing.

The Crash

Should the stock  market’s slump become a rout, the ensuing flight to safety would decidedly not be what the doctor ordered for a certain app sitting on a debt to equity ratio of 2.06 and a PE Ratio of 115.

For most of Hollywood’s history, it has been famously recession-proof, but also in its lumbering/half-baked financial models, happily immune from most of the bust side of boom and bust cycles.

Which is what would make a sudden stampede of capital away from Netflix something really novel in the annals of entertainmentdom. Were Netflix suddenly deprived of its river of cheap capital, and forced to keep up with its prodigious debt on the back of its subscriber fees, it wouldn’t necessarily have to shut its doors that afternoon (although it might turn the hunt for a buyer up three, or a hundred and fifty, notches).

If a cash crunch hit Netflix, it would have to take a look at some, shall we say, discretionary items around the place—like 80-something largely unwatched movies in production a year. Or giant checks to lure vanity producers. Or however many dozens of millions get sunk into the Oscar race. And while we’re at it: that goal of producing everyone on Earth’s favorite TV show? Is there any way to maybe focus that just a tad?

The result, wherever the knife falls, could be the biggest cutbacks and longest line at the unemployment office Hollywood has ever seen. If the whole ecosystem has been inflated by The App’s Drunken Sailor era, what will happen when the sailor is sent to a six-month stay at Promises?

Just to pick some wild—but maybe in the ballpark—numbers: say The App now accounts for half of all production. And say, following a crash, they had to cut that in half.

That’s a quarter of total production disappearing in more or less a heartbeat, . What’s that going to do to the job market, salaries, LA real estate, you name it.  Just one scenario but no longer an impossible one.

Star Wars Comes in for a Landing

The force either will or won’t be with them as Lucasfilm attempts to stick the landing on this series. 

On the one hand: When you look at where the Star Wars Brand is now compared to when Kathleen Kennedy took charge, taking the reins in the dregs of the post-prequel hangover, it’s a miracle what an active, vital goliath it's become in such a short amount of time.

On the other hand, the multiple dramas of this era’s productions, the disappointments, the retrenchments . . . . While nothing has been anywhere in the realm of Phantom Menace-level historic embarrassment, at the end of trilogy three, there’s still a feeling that this thing hasn’t quite grown wings and soared. 

That is now a job for the next set of films, and given the people they’ve got working on them, there’s cause for non-panic. But still. If they can deliver a conclusion here that semi-satisfies most of the people, most of the time, there will be a lot more wind in this project’s sails as that zany Skywalker gang rides into the sunset. 

Following the slump of the last outing, this film will be a test to see whether the widely noted Force Fatigue (also see: Disney parks; attendance, down) was a passing phenomenon or a harbinger of the future. Which is a not unimportant question when one looks ahead to The Rise of the Disney Plus.

Luck of the Irishman

This fall, The App that ate Hollywood will release what in any other company could be either its greatest triumph or the catastrophe that pushes them off the edge. In the storied history of the Netflix’s Drunken Sailor Era (NDSE), the company hasn't stepped to the table with a bet like this before, the most expensive production in its history. For all we know, it could be the most expensive production in Hollywood history. 

After the near-miss of the Roma Oscar campaign, the Scorsese bet represents a go-for-broke, everything-for-the-gold, desperate lunge for the trophy hunters—perhaps its last chance in the NDSE.

So you would think with that on the line, it would be some sort of major cliffhanger to see how this turns out?

But, in fact, we know exactly how this will go.

The movie will be released on its handful of screens in two cities, where the crowds will flock and sitting through three-plus hours will become a momentary happening for a certain subset of a subset. We’ll have no clue of box office or what that adds up to. The critics will give Marty his de riguer 98% RT score. Two weeks later, it will play on The App and the following Monday, the App will duly announce it has smashed every record in existence. Every single Netflix viewer on all 20 continents watched it in full eight times! (And by “watched it in full” we mean was aware of some portion of it for some number of seconds that we’re not at liberty to specify, information you’ll find in paragraph 78 of the trade story headlined: “IRISHMAN SMASHES ALL NETFLIX RECORDS DEAD”)

The parade will march on down to nightly Q&A’s at the Egyptian, while neither shareholders nor the Academy, nor the entertainment community will have any clue whether this is a “success” by anything recognizable in the catalog of earthbound benchmarks.

The Oscarman Cometh

Hard to believe that in just six months, we’ll be handing out the trophy for Best Picture! The only certain prediction about this year’s campaign is that by fall’s end, no sane human who is not a paid apparatchik of the Awards Industrial Complex will be able to hear the words “Oscar Race” again without becoming physically ill.

The controversies will have played themselves out. Some contenders will have been branded not appropriate for decent Academy members considerations. We'll have dissected how the latest turn in current events changes what AMPAS will look for in a year; the Green Book Effect, the Green Book reaction will have been factored in and un-factored a thousand times. The parade of the precursors will be plodding its way down the Beverly Hilton carport.

And then there will still be three months left to go.

Amazing that an industry based on the notion of “leave them wanting more” could craft as its biggest publicity event a slog longer than a U.S. General Election Presidential Campaign, which is in itself the longest contest in the democratic world.

If the advent of streaming money has already transformed this once stately, semi-ridiculous ritual into a fully ridiculous, fairly disreputable circus, then get ready for another player to step fully into the game. This year, Disney will be joining the party as full-fledged award contenders. Will it feel obliged to match—or be in the neighborhood of—the NDSE spending frenzy? Will the Igerverse, the last remaining (for the moment) vigorous defenders of the theatrical experience, want to point out that its loudest opponent, who has been holding the bar hostage with its wild talk and loose sidearms while they’ve been off tending to the cattle, is not actually making movies? As in the Academy of “Motion Pictures”?

Everybody on the Plus! 

The hour has come round at last for Disney to make the leap into its great streaming future this season. At the price, it’s hard to imagine many families won’t get on board. But a lot of question marks remain about what they’ll find when they get there.Particularly from the marquee brands that are the draw for the whole thing. 

Having signed on, will subscribers find anything more to the Marvel corner than a sign reading “Future Streaming Home of Marvel Inc” while the actual collection continues to live on Netflix and elsewhere? For families, the big part of the draw will be having the animated library at their fingertips, but will they? 

A lot of big splashy series announced at D23 the other week, but we’re pretty much up to our eyeballs in big splashy series these days. Are She Hulk and an Obi Wan series so much more exciting than a thousand other things available right now? 

The brand will get people in the door, but in the end, it’s going to be the people that make the shows people are dying to watch that will get the credit-card imprints. And we won’t know who that is until we get there.

What sort of dent will a Disney Plus boom put in Netflix? The solid majority of Netflix viewing occurs in the family sector. How big a bite will this take out of The App—facing real competition, and underselling competition, no less—for the first time in its history.

Sony: The Saga Continues

If any studio sits on the precipice of destiny right now, it’s our friends in Culver City. The range of possibilities that could strike this lot at any moment is just about limitless. New owners? New management? Production ramped up? Production whittled down? It’s all potentially in the cards.

The fact that there is an expanded menu of possible outcomes is a testament to the successes of recent months. Minus the Spider films and Jumanji, the list of choices would pretty much be down to death by fire or death by water at this point.

A year or so ago, Sony ownership gave the studio its warning to get its profits into shape or else; a warning that was also a temporary reprieve granting itself three years to hack its way to the company’s requisite 10% profit margin, or the studio would be put on the block.

With reassurance like that, who can feel anything but cozy and secure? The concern was given some immediacy and suggestion that this fall might be SPE’s hour of destiny after revived rumors in the past couple weeks that Apple is sniffing around in a big way. With constant talk about Apple’s troubles ramping up production, buying Sony would give Apple a turnkey streaming pipeline, greased extra by the Zack and Jamie crossover. The duo could presumably take back the keys to Sony TV knowing where the executive washroom and everything is, and get to work right away. 

If Apple were to put a check on the table, would Tokyo really say, awww, we’d love to take your money but we promised them three years! If Apple really were to buy Sony, it’s worth wondering once they’ve swallowed the catalog and integrated TV unit, what would the most pristine, impeccable consumer brand in history really want with the historically disaster-prone film unit? Does Apple really want or need to be in the business of releasing Angry Birds 3 under their precious logo? One could imagine them saying something like: Let's do the Spider men and the Jumanjis, but why don’t we give everything else a rest?

Meanwhile, acquisition or not, rumors continue to swirl about who is positioning themselves for a run at the big chair should Tom vacate it, by choice or otherwise. The latest rumor has erstwhile deputy Sanford Panitch and Marketing Hefe Josh Greenstein in a pact to share the duties. We should all live that long, but this fall all scenarios will be on the table.

Triumph of the Telephoneys!

Just today, as we go to press, the word breaks that after a year or so of intense consideration, AT&T’s newly promoted President and Entertainment Tsar has decreed that the company’s entrant into the streaming battledome, HBO Max, will be priced, the same same as HBO non-Max.

So at this point, the Warner plan is: shove everything into HBO.  Call it Max. Which is like naming a neighborhood vegan tofu hut TG McBacon’s.   And then charge for it the same as people were paying before. “Now with added JJ” presumably.

As we say, until we see what they come up with, who the hell knows. And the value of the HBO taste machine + the Warners library ain’t nothing, even if its all a weird fit.  But my fall bet would be more announcements that look like someone took Slide 37 straight out of the Powerpoint.

Comcast

So guys . . . the Great Entertainment Semi-finals are here. Anything more you want to say? Anything?

Via Com Dios!

According to reports today, Bob Bakish assured investors they could look forward to a season of…nothing. No acquisitions and to all appearances, no major plans. Just letting it all sink in.  Realizing shareholder value as they say.

Gotta start somewhere I suppose, but as the cash-poor studio struggles onward, while CBS still ages, and while the cable brands sink deeper into big bundle irrelevancy, hope they’ll remember while they're catching their breath that time is not on their side here.

Window Stressing

The fuse burns down towards the moment when the powder keg finally, at long last, after a decade plus of talk, ignites.  As the fall begins, Comcast, AT&T, CBS Viacom seem to be standing back praying for Disney to rewrite the system by fiat.

But at some point if it doesn’t, at some point maybe as soon as these next few months, one of these companies who very much do not see their futures in the great theatrical adventure is going to pull the key on the grenade and break the window, presuming the rest will follow (with no collusion of course.)

Could the theaters really block out any studio at this point? 

And if this works, make no mistake that the studios are walking away from the financial model that has kept them alive for a century to cast their future with a brave new world, where nobody really knows if the numbers add up yet.  Certainly no one has demonstrated this is anything like profitable business at this point. 

But such is the logic of the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals that no one dares do other than bring everything they’ve got onto the field.

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