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Why Data Science Will Be the Future of Entertainment

Since its inception, Netflix has paved the way for streaming to become the new way to watch content and it’s no surprise either. If we look back upon the history of content distribution in the entertainment industry, technology has always been at the forefront. Look no further back than when radio helped bring entertainment across frequencies, or when television brought movies and sitcoms into the homes of suburban America. And now thanks to mobile technology, we have a radio, television, and computer all combined into a device that can fit into our pocket. Technology has always been the limit to what the entertainment industry can accomplish, but with the digital age increasing the interconnectedness of consumer to merchant, it appears that the limit may be no more thanks to data science.

Before discussing how streaming takes advantage of data science, we have to talk about how it got there. With almost everybody relying on mobile technology, especially their smartphones, it’s now far more easier to obtain information and data on people. The digital age has introduced corporations and business to the digital footprint: a collection of data that summarizes a consumer’s purchasing habits and, most importantly, their online activity. That online activity is what draws the attention of businesses and advertisers. By using data analytics, businesses and advertisers can create a profile of their target audience that gives them the best opportunity to sell their products and/or services. In the case of something like Netflix, data science can not only help sell its services, but develop products based on their users activity.

Netflix has always been a data science driven company. On their own website, they state:

“Partnering closely with business teams in product, content, studio, marketing, and business operations, we perform context-rich analysis to provide insight into every aspect of our business, our partners, and of course our members’ experience with Netflix.”

Netflix is one of the first online content platforms to take advantage of data science and algorithms. Their software engineers are able to detect the viewing habits of their users and create personalized recommendations for them in order to generate more web traffic on their site. Netflix’s reliance on data and algorithms is so strong that they even developed algorithms that change the thumbnail image of a movie or TV show. For example, they’ll change the thumbnail if the image contains the likeness of an actor or genre that you prevalently watched on Netflix. Their system is so efficient and effective that Netflix knows all of their users’ viewing habits 80% of the time. And with their content library being one of the largest, they can cover a large market of consumers with personalized algorithms for each of them.

Netflix doesn’t have to rely on a system like the Nielsen Ratings to determine what shows they need to produce. They have access to data that detects even the tiniest detail. Netflix’s data reaches so far that they can even detect a user’s browsing and scrolling behavior on their interface. The main point being is that Netflix deeply knows its user base and market. And the thing that makes Netflix such a smart company is that they utilize their data to not only manage licensed content, but to create their own.

In a New York Times article titled “Giving Viewers What They Want,” David Carr writes, “Netflix is commissioning original content because it knows what people want before they do.” The subject of Carr’s article was about how Netflix’s new show at the time, House of Cards, was unlike any other show. It has nothing to do with its content but rather with its inception. House of Cards was one of the first streamed shows, and according to Forbes, its first season was ordered in full. Netflix did not order a single pilot so that they can show test audiences. They already knew that their user base would want to watch House of Cards due to their data analysis supporting it.

Netflix churned out more hits like their collection of superhero shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, and The Queen’s Gambit. Netflix’s success was what led to what’s been deemed the “Streaming Wars.” All of a sudden services like Hulu started rivaling Netflix, and then movie studios started introducing streaming services like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and Disney+ that add content libraries to their respective properties. And with these streaming services, original content was made for streaming.

With streaming becoming so big and popular, the biggest question is how does this affect the entertainment industry, or more importantly, how it affects the type of content we’ll watch in the future?

Netflix’s data science driven production process somewhat clashes with how a movie or TV show is regularly produced for conventional platforms. For the traditional method, it relies on what worked in the past and gut instinct. Film studios rely on the success of past films in order to help them decide what to greenligiht. For Netflix, they only need to see what their data analysts report. For Netflix, a success of a show is already determined before it gets greenlit due to their data analytics. What this suggests is that Netflix isn’t looking for a creative filmmaker or writer that could pitch them a new show. Rather, it suggest that Netflix is only looking for a competent filmmaker that can make the type of show that they already know what they want. In other words, it seems like they’re looking for a simple role player rather than a creative artist.

It’s to no one’s surprise that movies and TV is equally as a business as it is an art form. Netflix commissioning artists and filmmakers to produce content for their platform isn’t something we haven’t seen before, but what is different is the lack of artistic risk that studio executives have a sixth sense for. A lot of the great films and TV shows we’ve cherished in our popular culture were deemed too risky or a guaranteed failure. Cultural icons like Star Wars or even Seinfeld wouldn’t have happened if not for studio executives taking that leap of faith and relying on their intuition.

This seesaw of what’s successful and what’s not is what led to the popular William Goldman quote “Nobody knows nothing.” For a streaming service like Netflix, they’re trying to erase that need for a leap of faith. From a business perspective, it makes sense that Netflix is trying to erase that risk that could lose the company millions of dollars, but Netflix isn’t selling a product that can be bought off the shelf in a last minute Black Friday shopping deal. They’re providing movies and TV shows, products that don’t have an expiration date or a need to be replaced for the newest model. They live in the hearts and souls of people’s memories, and are ways for people to connect. Bringing that cold, calculative approach that Netflix is using to commission their original content can take away the artistic imprint that’s essential to what makes a good movie or TV show.

With other streaming services trying to replicate Netflix’s success, relying on data science rather than artistic risk could be the future of producing movies and television. If I were writing this before March 2020, my concerns would stop at the future of just streaming content, but since I’m assessing the future of producing content after experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of data science may go beyond the internet.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. decided to release their 2021 slate of films in both theaters and on HBO Max. What appears to be an attempt to gain as much profit as possible during the pandemic could be the future of theatrical releases. From a business perspective, the use of data science and analytics could help assess the success of theatrically-released films a lot better than box office earnings. That being said, though, moving to streaming can mean the further decline of movie theaters. Considering the situation that they were in, Warner Bros. made a smart business decision in testing out what releasing theatrical films on streaming could potentially look like. The first two flagship films that they released on HBO Max was Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of Justice League and Godzilla vs. Kong. Both films have reportedly increased the number of subscribers during their releases (myself included). While not a ground-breaking success that made Warner Bros. automatically think that streaming is the new movie theater, it still offers a glimpse of what’s possible to come.

The films that Warner Bros. released weren’t just any ordinary films; they’re tentpole films that can help sustain a franchise and thus produce more films. If this move by Warner Bros. further encourages studios to rely on streaming services, some movie theaters could end up closing their buildings. Some smaller theater chains like Arclight are shutting down operations due to the pandemic. It’s not a question of whether the theatrical experience is essential to the viewing of cinema, but evaluating the artistic value of how we consume our content is often replaced with the goal of convenience, especially with movie ticket prices preventing people from willing to come to the theater. For theaters, a lot of contributions are affecting its sustainability, and the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic just made the the situation a whole lot worse.

With all the potential foreshadowing and warning that industry analysts have said about how streaming can affect the entertainment industry, they’re all still predictions. Analysts have said the same about television, so it’s no surprise that history is repeating itself with streaming. If we were to look through a lens of how streaming can make the entertainment industry different rather than in trouble, there are some potential upsides.

With streaming taking advantage of the mobile technology that is essential in everybody’s lives, it’s especially essential to the younger audiences. The profile of the current younger audiences is that they’re more diverse and accepting of new ideas, and they’re the most reliant on technology. The data science of streaming is eliminating that risk of producing content that may seem too risky, which is also a practice that prevents different stories from being told. In other words, movies and TV with diverse points of view are limited in the traditional form of producing content, which leads to accusations of prejudice and discrimination of the studio heads. With that said, we know that these studio heads only care about money, and the data science of streaming giving them a more secure way to obtain that money. With the young, diverse audiences showing that they’re into diverse storytelling in that content, it’ll be reflected in the data, which is where the money is.

To sum it all up, the power and influence of data science on executives can lead to more diverse storytelling and possibly better representation. An example can be seen in the handling of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In the theatrical release, the character of Cyborg, a Black superhero, has a very limited role. In the director’s cut released on HBO Max, his role was so essential to the story that it drew massive praise from fans and HBO Max’s users.

Movie theaters can also change in a positive way depending on how you look at it. The economic incentive of data science in streaming could push studios to put their blockbuster content onto streaming. Since the masses rely on convenience, and streaming offers that convenience, studios can have a better understanding of how to somewhat beat the market. With movie theaters losing all big ticket items, they would have to adapt. They could do that by bringing in smaller, independent films onto their screens and target their audiences through there. Independent films were losing theater space due to the popularity of blockbuster films, but if studios were to move those blockbuster films to streaming, there would be room left for the indie films. Now the question is if this switch were to happen, would everything feel the same with the exception of streaming taking the blockbusters? Probably not. Movie theater chains might have to limit the number of theaters so that they can invest in markets that are into indie films while studios may need to put a cap limit on blockbuster budgets. But it would be a situation where everyone comes out on top.

The main point of all this isn’t to point out that streaming is good or bad for the entertainment industry. If I were to use the history of the entertainment industry as my evidence, then it’ll prove that streaming is just a different platform for watching content. And with that different platform, everybody will adapt despite Hollywood being plagued with chaos, it thrives on the chaos. I predict that in the next ten years, industry analysts will look back on this moment and just say that streaming is another hump that Hollywood had to get over like they did with television.

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Tarnished Silver: The Big Screen in the Age of Streaming

Last week, I returned to a world I could never have imagined I’d be forced to depart: a world of wonder, thrill, and awe, held very dear to me. Past a temperature check and the scan of a barcode, I was ushered through a quiet, regally secluded courtyard temporarily cordoned off from the grime and traffic of the bustling Hollywood Boulevard, walking in the literal footsteps of the greatest stars that our industry has seen immortalized in concrete. The aroma of freshly popped popcorn wafted out the open doors of a dimly lit lobby propagated with iconic memorabilia from classic films. Buzzing with a restrained euphoria, I took a seat towards the back of a cavernous auditorium adorned from floor to ceiling in ornate chinoiserie. The lights dimmed and for the first time in many months, I enjoyed a brand new film in a glorious IMAX cinema.

To me, the silver screen is far more than just another option for a Friday night on-the-town. In the words of Wired’s Jordan Crucchiola, “it’s not just a way people kill two hours in air conditioning on a hot day. It’s the concert experience of cinema. It’s an exercise in shared empathy. It’s the chance to be immersed in a world of fantasy, to laugh and scream with strangers, to learn more about what it is to be human—all without the distractions of the outside world” (Crucchiola, 2020). The theater is a portal to other times, stories, and worlds: a sanctum of art, entertainment, and community.

For the first three years of my time at Emerson College, I worked as part of the film crew at AMC Boston Common, connecting me more intimately with the experience of theatrical distribution than I had ever been before, even if it meant trudging up and down auditorium stairs sweeping M&Ms and stale popcorn kernels from underneath seats for hours on end. The experience was well worth it. Throughout the year 2018 I was able to see approximately 75 different films in the theater, the most memorable of which exemplify why I hold the pastime so close to my heart.

As a lifelong consumer and current student of media, I understand the power of storytelling and how important it can be for quality content to reach audiences and actively engage them. At AMC, as I’m sure is the case for many of us cinephiles, I’ve witnessed the power of what great filmmaking can do to an audience, as well as the chaos that erupts when a rebooting computer system or a broken popper threaten that sacred experience! The energy of a theater eagerly anticipating a new release, or the joy of simply seeing people leave satisfied and enriched by their experience showcase what makes the entertainment industry so unique.

When the pandemic hit full force in March of 2020, it quickly became apparent that movie theaters would unfortunately have to shut down, which, in conjunction with the closure of the College, led to my leaving AMC. In the succeeding months, studios with a backlog of content were forced to seek out alternative methods of distribution, as they could not stand idly by as their massive investments sat stagnant, accruing interest. Incidentally, the industry has been steadily adopting a streaming model of content distribution of the last few years, which in the face of the pandemic was fast tracked as a dominant strategy. Now, the time has come for the theaters across the country to once again welcome audiences through their doors after over a year. However, in a post-pandemic age of streaming, the future of movie theaters has been called into question. As a passionate, ardent lover of theatrical moviegoing, I ponder with a blend of optimism and nerves: what does the future hold for the cinematic experience?

To put it bluntly and simply, writer William Goldman says it best with his famed Hollywood mantra: “nobody knows anything” (Brueggemann et al., 2021). Nobody can be certain where exactly the industry will go. IndieWire goes as far as to assert that “anyone who claims to know the future of movie theaters is wrong” (Brueggemann et al., 2021). Because the answers to these looming concerns remain to be seen, the best way to predict the future is to understand the past.

To a degree, this has actually happened before. In a poetic rhyme of history, the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu, or the 1918 influenza, ravaged the world just over a century ago. The flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people (a whopping one-third of the world’s population at the time) and killed around 50 million, spread with deadly vigor, particularly in Europe during the final months of the first World War (CDC, 2018). With mask mandates, quarantines, and lockdowns taking place globally, the impacts of COVID-19 echo the devastation of the 1918 pandemic, including the shackling of cinemas and live theaters. From an economic standpoint, the theater business in the late 1910s was at its lowest point perhaps since its inception, positioning moguls to swoop in and take advantage of the floundering market.

Producer Adolph Zukor, who would eventually go on to head Paramount Pictures, bought out multiple defunct or failing theaters in the wake of the pandemic. Thus, the stage was set for success in the era of vertical integration, during which studios had financial control of the entire production process, from development through to exhibition (Crucchiola, 2020). The opulence of the 1920s germinated in the aftermath of the pandemic, as theaters and other social and leisure businesses “had to give people a reason to leave their homes” (Stewart, 2020). Maggie Valentine, a theater historian, reflects on the rise of theaters after the 1918 pandemic in a statement of hope, assuring that “theaters have always come back, and when they do, they’ve been better” (Stewart, 2020). This grandiose migration back into the theaters, in combination with the vertically integrated studio pipeline made way for Hollywood to prosper from the late 1930s through the 1950s in an era known as its Golden Age. Smooth sailing would not, however, carry on much longer.

In 1948, Hollywood’s systems of production were majorly disrupted by the Paramount Consent Decrees, a decision motivated by a national antitrust sentiment in the wake of World War II forcing studios to divest their interest in exhibition (Gardner, 2020). On top of the restructuring caused by the Paramount decision, the entire film industry faced a serious threat in the advent of television. The post-war era saw mass migrations outside of city centers to the developing suburbs, as well as a renewed interest in family life and domesticity. In such a cultural climate, the television was widely adopted as a luxurious home appliance offering families a wealth of entertainment in the comfort of their own home, not entirely dissimilar to the popularization of streaming services over the last few years.

In the face of a threat to the viability of not only cinemas but the medium of film as a whole, studios were forced to diversify and work in conjunction with exhibitors to revitalize the theatrical experience, differentiating it from the in-home appeals of the TV. Out of this necessity came the grand epics of the late 1950s and 1960s featuring innovations like Cinerama, VistaVision, and Cinemascope, which took advantage of wide theatrical aspect ratios to create a sense of magnificence and scale, as well as improved audio and visual technologies. Films like Ben-Hur (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr. Zhivago (1965), and The Sound of Music (1965), showcased glorious technicolor, lengthy runtimes, and impressive production design to impress upon audiences what a television set never could (Sklar, et al., 2021). Many gimmicks like Sensurround and Stereoscopic 3D came out of this urge to draw people back into the theater, the remnants of which still remain today with most major multiplexes featuring Dolby and IMAX theaters and of course the occasional 3D flick, inescapably dominant in the early 2010s. To combat the popularity of television, the infrastructure of theaters evolved to better fit the needs and expectations of the consumer, with the revelation of air conditioning adding an extra level of comfort. The concept of the multiplex largely sprung up in following the development of middle class suburban communities as opposed to tight individual auditoriums in city centers (Stewart, 2020).

With the 1918 pandemic spawning the Golden Age of Hollywood and the threat of television forcing the boundaries of cinema to be pushed far wider and eventually into the blockbuster era, the cinematic experience has always been resilient. Fascinatingly, one of the key operating parameters under which the industry developed for decades has recently been dissolved, drastically altering the future of potential distribution and exhibition. In August of 2020, under the vague deregulatory fervor of the Trump administration, U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres repealed the Paramount Consent Decrees of 1948. Torres defends her decision by stating that in considering the nature of the marketplace and the value of a wide theatrical release, “the Court finds that it is unlikely that the remaining Defendants would collude to once again limit their film distribution to a select group of theaters in the absence of the Decrees and, finds, therefore, that termination is in the public interest”. Additionally, the Court assumes that the nature of streaming as a supplementary model of distribution eliminates any likelihood of block booking, another practice protected against in the Paramount decision (Gardner, 2020). This game changing move opens up the possibility for studios and distributors to own and operate theaters themselves, beyond the few individual prestige theaters already owned by Netflix largely for the purposes of Academy Awards qualification: The Egyptian in Hollywood and The Paris in New York City, as well as Disney’s El Capitan.

A few months ago, the debate over the future of theaters seemed focused on concerns of health – how safe it would be to actually go to a theater before a vaccine – and business – the logistics of opening a movie without major markets like New York and Los Angeles. Now that we have a vaccine and society seems to be on the mend, these particular concerns have subsided a bit. Perhaps the most significant lasting question now becomes how theaters will adapt in an era where the predominant method of distribution is now streaming?

Just as was the case in response to the 1918 pandemic and the threat of television, the industry must revitalize itself and once again prove to audiences why the cinema is so special. In the words of Variety’s Owen Gleiberman, “the issue is that between the streaming revolution, the rise of COVID, and the fact that so many viewers have been grousing about the theater experience for years (the ads, the cell phones, the sticky floors — we all know the mythic litany of complaints), the notion that going out to a movie simply isn’t worth the trouble has taken root” (Lang, et al., 2020). As an avid lover of theatrical moviegoing and former employee of an enormous multiplex, the validity of Gleiberman’s thoughts concern me. Throughout the industry and across the general public, similar worries have taken hold, from Tom Hanks, who concedes that a sea-change has been a long time coming (Hanks, et al., 2020) to President of ArcLight Cinemas, Ted Mundorff, who derided the industry’s “awful release patterns” even before the pandemic (Kohn, 2019).

In conversation with Kevin Reilly, I was lucky enough to hear the prolific TV executive and former Chief Content Officer of HBO Max’s take on the future of theaters: “{Theater chains} were a terrible monopoly with a terrible consumer experience. You can only see it now either in old reels of people watching movies or in films where they show people going to the theater – the early talkies, the first time people heard sound. That was an amazing experience, decades later you’re sitting in a shitty movie seat that hurts your back with a sticky floor and a $30 popcorn and it’s not a good consumer experience. Now they’re going to have to think about how they work in tandem with the streaming business. It’ll ultimately be: release a product, market it once in different experiences” (Reilly, 2021). Besides the lack of care given towards consumer experience from the highest levels of corporate oversight to the often sub-par service of film crew to which I can unfortunately attest, the way theaters functioned pre-COVID also exacerbated unfortunate industry trends. Tight theatrical windows and evolving attendance patterns shifted the evaluation of a theatrical run from a longer term experiment like the legendary performance of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) to a make or break sprint focused disproportionately on opening weekend totals (Crucchiola, 2020). Thus, little opportunity remained for the midrange movie to succeed, or the sleeper hit to find its footing.

As was the case in the years after the 1918 pandemic, some, like Forbes’ Rob Salkowitz, view movie theaters as the “bargain basement deal of the decade” for those willing to take on the risk (Salkowitz, 2021). According to the magazine’s cardinal rule of investing – “buy low/sell high” – theaters are in the optimal position to be bought up by large corporations like Amazon, Netflix, and Disney. These major players have the capital and leverage to potentially acquire theaters either on an individual or chain level and “invest heavily in enhancements to the viewing experience along with other perks to get butts back in seats”. This eventuality is even more apparent given the recent repeal of the Paramount Decrees (Salkowitz, 2021). Among the more unusual results of the scramble for revenue during the pandemic came about via separate models of distribution and exhibition employed by each of the major studios, integrating streaming and theatrical to varying degrees. The majority of these models build off an initial theatrical release combined with a significantly shortened (traditionally ~75 day) window before having the option to move to paid video-on-demand (PVOD): 45 days in the case of Paramount, 30 or so for Lionsgate, and a mere 17 days for Universal, with Sony expected to follow suit (Clark, 2021). Disney has been releasing films on streaming both at no extra cost (Soul (2020), Luca (2021)), catching some flack from those at Pixar who feel they’ve been gypped (Sharf, 2021), and for an additional $30, dubbed “Premiere Access” (Mulan (2020), Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)), the latter of which also played in theaters (Clark, 2021). They’ve claimed, however, that they plan to return to a purely theatrical model by the summer, though this is not set in stone. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, has perhaps the most controversial strategy. The studio’s announcement that all of it’s 2021 releases would simultaneously debut in theaters and on HBO Max shocked the industry, but according to a Morning Consult survey, general audiences seem to be on board with the strategy (Clark, 2021). Though, I personally find it tragic that Dune (2021) will be relegated to a streaming venture with an adjacent theatrical component, potentially diminishing its potential to be recognized as a cultural juggernaut among the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Though we cannot yet attribute much in terms of success or failure to any of these individual strategies, though it will certainly be interesting to follow how these different models influence the studio’s respective revenue streams, and consequently their continued viability in the marketplace. There are some concerns in regards to how streaming revenues will compare to direct box office revenue given the opacity of streaming data compared to the relative transparency of box office reports: a byproduct of the multiple parties involved in the pipeline of theatrical distribution. Tom and Jerry (2021), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), and now Mortal Kombat (2021) prove that there is at least some appetite for theatrical moviegoing, even when PVOD and streaming options are available (Brueggemann et al., 2021). It seems unlikely that corporations would risk letting go of such a powerful potential for revenue; “nothing to sneeze at” boasts Disney CEO Bob Chapek on his company’s $13 Billion in 2019 box office receipts (Whitten, 2021).

In examining and predicting the future of movie theaters, it’s impossible not to reconcile with the fact that streaming has revolutionized the industry from both the consumer facing and business facing perspectives. Streaming platforms undoubtedly provide many benefits, from socialization via adjunct services like Netflix Party (now Teleparty) to the breadth of content and personalization of the user interface. The weekly release strategy of Disney+ has particularly revitalized a sense of communal engagement with content with shows like The Mandalorian and WandaVision. Despite these positives, streaming is not the end-all-be-all. It’s been said that streaming reduces every piece of content down to essentially an item on a list, a row on a balance sheet with minimal differentiation or individual identity.

Collider’s Matt Goldberg professes that “it’s hard to make anyone care about one thing over another” when everything is reduced to a mere piece of content (Goldberg, 2020). Kevin Reilly echoed these sentiments, positing that we might not “even get to appreciate the greats, does it all just come and go? If it drops, then you stream it, then it’s gone – is that cinema?” (Reilly, 2021). Reilly elaborated a concern that streaming sanitizes and commoditizes content to an extent not experienced through theatrical distribution, stripping it of potential value and acclaim (Reilly, 2021). Gleiberman of Variety optimistically pleads for the return of the cinematic experience, rhetorically asking if we are willing to enable the dissolution of the cinema “so we can spend the next 100 years sitting on our couches watching a never-ending stream of product? Moviegoing in theaters will survive if we as a culture — theaters, studios, politicians, audiences — decide that we want it to survive” (Lang, et al., 2020).

On a final note, I clearly find the theatrical experience to be invaluable: a social indulgence that deserves to persevere, though it rightfully must adapt to survive. Examining the issue from a social, as well as an economic standpoint, theatrical distribution as a business model may likely end up serving more of a niche market than it has in the past as a result of both the decline in the quality and consumer experience of exhibition venues and the post-pandemic dominance of streaming. However, theaters have always made it through rough times and came out of it stronger than before. Goldman rings true once again in that “nobody knows anything”, but what we do know, and what might ultimately propel the future prosperity of theatrical moviegoing is that “humans are social creatures, and we want the communal experiences, especially after a year where they’ve been denied to us” (Goldberg, 2020).

Works Cited

Brueggemann, Tom, et al. “Why Anyone Who Claims to Know the Future of Movie Theaters Is Wrong.” IndieWire, 12 Mar. 2021

Clark, Travis. “Warner Bros.’ Strategy of Releasing Movies to Theaters and HBO Max on the Same Day Is Very Popular with Consumers, According to a New Survey.” Business Insider, 10 Mar. 2021.

Crucchiola, Jordan. “On the Future of (Going to the) Movies.” Wired, Conde Nast, 1 Oct. 2020

Gardner, Eriq. “Judge Agrees to End Paramount Consent Decrees.” The Hollywood Reporter, 7 Aug. 2020

Goldberg, Matt. “Streaming Is the Future for 2021, But I’m Not Convinced It’s the Future of Movies.” Collider, 4 Dec. 2020.

Kohn, Eric. “Here’s How Movie Theaters Will Survive the Next 10 Years: Exhibitors Speak Out.” IndieWire, 29 June 2019.

Lang, Brent, et al. “The Future of Movie Theaters In the Age of Coronavirus: A Dialogue.” Variety, 9 Oct. 2020.

Salkowitz, Rob. “Here’s Why The Future Of Movie Theaters May Be Brighter Than It Looks.” Forbes, 8 Jan. 2021

Sharf, Zack. “Pixar Staff Speaks Out Against Disney Moving Its Films to Streaming Only: ‘It’s Hard to Grasp’.” IndieWire, 28 Apr. 2021.

Sklar, Robert, et al. “The Threat of Television”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Feb. 2021.

Stewart, James B. “Movie Theaters Are on the Brink. Can Wine and Cheese Save Them?The New York Times, 15 May 2020

Taylor, Drew, and Tom Hanks. “Tom Hanks on the Future of Movie Theaters: ‘A Sea Change Was Due.’” Collider, 17 Dec. 2020,

Tight, Andrew, and Kevin Reilly. Katch Media, 14 Apr. 2021. 

Whitten, Sarah. “Movie Theater Owners Are Frustrated about Streaming, but Their Survival Depends on Studios.” CNBC, NBCUniversal, 2 Jan. 2021

History of 1918 Flu Pandemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Mar. 2018.

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Independent Filmmaking in the Age of Streaming

As the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic passes and most remnants of “regular life” slowly start to be reintroduced, one element remains behind the rest. The theater industry has been in an existential crisis since Netflix unveiled its video on demand platform back in 2007. This is a distribution shift that has created clone after clone and now every major studio has made an effort to recreate that magic. ViacomCBS is the latest entity to join the streaming world with their Paramount+, making seven major streaming platforms available.

To the benefit of the streamers and viewers, the saying of “quality, not quantity” doesn’t exist in this world. These streaming platforms can and do have it both ways. Yet therein lies a problem for these new streaming platforms. Because of the growing number of platforms, each streaming service needs more and more novel content to remain competitive. 

Historically, streaming platforms would license films and television shows and produce individual content to round out their library. This worked at the inception of this distribution method, but now some streaming services are forced to take the inverse approach to compete with those that have “vaults” to dip into, specifically Disney+ and HBO Max. Due to the high cost of licensing and the lack of licensable intellectual property, self-produced content is key. Instant fan-favorite shows like Netflix’s Stranger Things (2016) or Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) wouldn’t exist without this paradigm shift in the streaming marketplace. 

Though not every show can be a Stranger Things or Handmaid’s Tale. For one, these shows are extraordinarily expensive to produce. According to CinemaBlend, each season of The Crown (2016), another widely popular show on Netflix, costs the company 130 million dollars to produce. Netflix’s content acquisition budget went from 2.4 billion dollars in 2013 to 17.3 billion dollars in 2020, with a sharp rise of 3.14 billion dollars between 2017 and 2018( In 2018 Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the launch of their proprietary streaming service Disney+, a move that not only added further competition and further saturated the market but also removed Marvel films and television shows from Netflix’s dashboard. If these big-budget line items take the place of the licensed content, what will be the new typical items that round out the catalog? The answer: independent films.

Independent films as a genre, if you will, is an untapped market normally relegated to the fringes of filmmaking. Films designated as “indies” are inherently seen as highbrow, only to be appreciated by the small number of cinephiles that enjoy such a niche. In other terms, they don’t make money, but this may no longer be the case. In my opinion, independent films are the pinnacle of filmmaking; they require a high level of creativity and ingenuity to mitigate their microscopic budgets. Or at least microscopic relative to their studio counterparts, and yet the genre continues to grow year after year. In the article “Indie Films: A Genre to Take Over the Industry,” writer Spokkz stated, “According to Kickstarter, the largest online crowdfunding platform, film, and video projects are the fourth largest section where creators are seeking funding, and when the success of these projects are evaluated, film and video is the second most successful category lagging only behind the music. So far, almost 70,000 filmmakers raised more than $413 million.” The vast majority of these projects don’t reach the level of funding they need to finish their projects, but it is evident that there is a massive community of future showrunners and producers telling unique stories.

Independent films that do get enough funding to finish normally go through a gauntlet of festivals to gain some sort of notoriety for their films. The disruption streaming could have in this normally small market could have everlasting effects and completely change the landscape of independent filmmaking. Would it be a net positive or negative?  

Being totally transparent, I am currently employed as an editor on an independent documentary so my perspective of this topic could be considered biased, although I don’t see it as such. Rather, my personal connection to this shift in the independent film genre is invaluable to this ongoing discussion, as are all other independent filmmakers. In the case of the film that I am working on, it is primarily funded by grants from the Sundance Institute and a modicum of small personal donations similar to that of the crowdfunding I stated earlier.

During an editing meeting in February, my director Javid Soriano shared with me that his biggest anxiety of working as an independent filmmaker is his film not being distributed. He is contractually obligated to release at Sundance but given how large the festival is, there isn’t any promise a representative from a distribution company would want to purchase the rights to his film. “It would all be beyond me to schmooze the right people and try to get the highest lowball price to pay myself back.”  The vast amount of money streaming platforms have to buy new content will be the best place for independent filmmakers to go to get that return of investment. 

Streaming platforms have a much larger incentive to find the content at festivals like Sundance to fill their catalogs because of a recent change to Oscar eligibility after the 93rd Oscars broadcast this past April. In one part due to the pandemic but also the shifting landscape of film releases in the digital age, this eligibility shift is a symbiotic benefit to both filmmaker and streamer. Although independent filmmakers are more known for their success in smaller film festivals, streaming platforms can use the infrastructure of their digital advertising and marketing departments to get prospective independent films considered for Hollywood’s highest honor. 

There is some pushback to this new development, mostly from established industry professionals accustomed to the old, and to them, the “better” way, of being considered for the award. As we read in an article published in The Hollywood Reporter, “writer-director Paul Schrader wrote, ‘Dear Academy: Send me DVDs and I will watch them. Send me links [to online screeners] and they disappear into the vast catalog of streaming links that may or may not be seen.’” Films widely accepted as being Oscar-worthy now can be considered for the award because an archaic limiter has been lifted.

Even if there is a deal lined up, some independent filmmakers would rather continue the arduousness of the festival run than sell out and lose creative control. At the time of the event, relatively independent filmmaker Bong Joon-Ho battled with the now disgraced Harvey Weinstein over the control of a scene in his film Snowpiercer (2012). Because of a rider in Bong’s contract, he had the final say over the edit of the theatrical release. In retaliation, Weinstein limited the film’s release to regional theaters rather than a national one. Bong spoke on this exchange, “Maybe for [Weinstein], it was some kind of punishment to a filmmaker who doesn’t do what he wants. But for me, we were all very happy. Yeah! Director’s cut!” 

This is less evident with streaming platforms but is still very possible. Streaming platforms have curated images of themselves and their content, an array of set standards that independent filmmakers might have to comply with to get the financial benefits of being on those platforms. Independent documentary filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer spoke to this point in a discussion during a “Sociology of Show Business” class at Emerson Los Angeles. He said, “Independent filmmaking as it’s formally known is becoming an endangered genre. With the rise in streaming platforms perpetually needing new content, two of the largest uncertainties that surround independent filmmaking, financing and distribution, dissolve away. Yet it’s at the expense of the creative control Indies used to secure for and define themselves as.” While a pessimistic perspective, Tyrnauer’s tenure as a successful filmmaker gives his statement legitimacy. 

To Tyrnauer’s point I would say don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, to invoke Voltaire. Independent filmmakers’ largest hurdle is financing so for streaming ability to shave some height from that hurdle is a positive even if they have to relinquish some amount of creative control. The ability to put one’s name on the map of filmmaking and the larger content creation world gives independent filmmakers the ability to create the perfect project on their second go-around. If anything, the disrupting factor of streaming on independent filmmakers is but a stepping stone towards that ideal of a totally independent, auteur level of creative control.

And even then if there are filmmakers who still want to remain entirely independent, there are still have avenues to do so within the streaming world, albeit smaller in market share relative to the larger streaming platforms. A rise in niche streaming platforms gives filmmakers the chance to have their films shown to a wider audience than they would doing the conventional route. Platforms like Mubi, Shudder, and IFC Online all cater to the cinephile demographic some independent filmmakers want to remain in.

The possibilities of larger investment for independent filmmakers are overwhelmingly positive. This shift is also not specific to long-form content like film and television. The Netflix animated series, Love Death + Robots are made of short-form animated vignettes and have grown a cult following. Short films could soon be included in the lexicon of mass marketable digital content. As streaming becomes more accessible, so will the genre of independent filmmaking of which I am excited and proud to consider myself a part. 

cancelculture diversity film MeToo streaming warnermedia

Call-out vs. Cancel Culture: How Streaming Services Handle Problematic Content

In light of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, many people in positions of power in the entertainment industry have begun to modify the content shown on a multitude of streaming platforms. With ongoing protests demanding justice for Black individuals who have suffered from systemic racism and who have lost their lives because of the color of their skin, some networks are beginning to cleanse their libraries of their racist past. Movements like the #MeToo movement called out high-profile actors and directors in Hollywood such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Bill Cosby who were accused and convicted of sexual misconduct. This movement has also caused many networks to modify and question their partnership with known actors and directors. With cancel culture being so new, prevalent, and influential in our society today, these streaming networks are reconstructing their libraries and calling out old problematic shows, people, and films that were once deemed appreciable and loved by society.

In an article from The Hollywood Reporter titled “ Racist, Sexist … Classic? How Hollywood Is Dealing With Its Problematic Content,” Rebecca Keegan introduces numerous ways that Hollywood is modifying, addressing, and taking accountability for its complex history and content. She writes, “For traditional studios launching new streaming services and trying to attract 2021 audiences, their libraries are precious resources, assets to draw viewers saturated with entertainment options via the powerful forces of nostalgia and brand recognition. But these decades-old archives also are minefields of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bias that were publicly acceptable in the eras in which the content originally was produced.” As we get older, we tend to want to regress to earlier memories of our childhood and often enjoy the feeling of nostalgia for its comforting, warm, familiar memories. These memories frequently revolve around movies and TV shows that we may have grown up watching. It is not until we get older where the innocence fades. We are confronted with our problematic society’s harsh realities and how these depictions of minorities, cartoons, and all other characters we’ve grown up watching are offensive in nature.

Selected episodes on classic shows such as Community, 30 Rock, The Golden Girls and even the Disney classic Dumbo were all removed from their platform because of their portrayal of blackface and stereotypes. Sweeping the issue under the rug and permanently removing the episode on all platforms does not change the fact that the network ever made the episode in the first place, nor does it alter the fact that these episodes were once deemed publicly “acceptable” in our society.

Filtering these episodes and keeping them “offline” denies people the ability to look back at the time and contextualize a moment in history. Although many streaming networks are unquestionably pulling out episodes and trying to erase them from existence, many other networks have adopted a more accountable approach towards dealing with these specific episodes.

Keegan quotes screenwriter John Ridley, who wrote in the Los Angeles Times calling for WarnerMedia to remove Gone With the Wind from its two-week old streaming service for the sentimentalization towards slavery as well as its stereotypes towards African Americans. Ridley says, “At a moment when we are all considering what more we can do to fight bigotry and intolerance, I would ask that all content providers look at their libraries and make a good-faith effort to separate programming that might be lacking in its representation from that which is blatant in its demonization.” Shortly after the article was published,  HBO Max decided to remove the film from their streaming service.

What was very influential of his op-ed in the  Los Angeles Times was that he was not  “canceling” anyone or anything. The article kindly asked these platforms to check their shows, movies, services and take a moment to consider what it means to be showcasing problematic content without addressing the issues. Instead of automatically canceling, it was more a “call out” for these networks. This op-ed was not blaming or shaming anyone or anything; rather, it asked these networks to hold themselves accountable for the content being produced and published.

Unlike other platforms that have removed their problematic content entirely, HBO Max eventually reposted Gone With The Wind without addressing the issue at face valueJacqueline Stewart, a host on TCM, was hired to briefly introduce the film for its problematic nature, sentimentalization of slavery, and racial inequality that the film depicts right before the movie begins. Christy Haubegger, WarnerMedia’s chief enterprise inclusion officer and head of marketing and communications, says, “Our approach is to confront and contextualize our history.”

The great thing about cancel culture is that it has been highly influential in calling out racism, sexism, and many other types of wrongdoings. People are often quick to disregard anything that may be problematic, even if produced when it was “acceptable.” WarnerMedia has assembled a group composed of historians and advisers from outside the company and representatives from various Warner divisions to examine its archives and continue to edit and acknowledge its problematic history and content to hold themselves accountable without erasing or sweeping anything under the rug.

Although we as a society cannot change the fact that at one point, these films were deemed acceptable and unproblematic to many people, it does not change the fact that they are wrong and that they happened. Keegan quotes Ben Mankiewicz, a TCM host, “Nobody’s canceling these movies, our job is not to get up and say, ‘Here’s a movie that you should feel guilty about for liking.’ But to pretend that the racism in it is not painful and acute? No. I do not want to shy away from that. This was inevitable. And welcomed. And overdue.” There are many things that simply cannot just be “disregarded,” instead of cleaning out and burning down these libraries and pretending it never existed or happened, meaningful conversations can come and teach future generations to come and learn what was there before them.

disney law streaming television

Bill Nye Makes Disney Sigh: Residuals in the Streaming Era

A recent piece by Gene Maddaus published in Variety takes a look at a decision made by Judge David Cowan this February in regards to a lawsuit between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and the Walt Disney Company. The beloved entertainer took Disney to court in 2017 over their practice of keeping 80% of streaming revenue from older content under the pretense that the relatively new method of distribution can be considered “home video,” leaving a mere 20% for talent like Nye and other profiting parties. Apparently, Disney has historically taken such a high margin due to the costs associated with distribution of home video. However, Nye has called out this practice, noting that in the modern era of streaming, distribution is far cheaper than when the Science Guy negotiated his contract in 1993. Nye’s representation, Raymond Hamrick, intends to appeal after Cowan’s siding with Disney on the grounds that streaming does qualify as home video. On the contrary, Nye’s attorneys argue that “Disney is simply grabbing whatever it can based on a tortured reading of contracts that predate the streaming era.”

This case strikes up a compelling debate over the implications of evolving technology within entertainment law. Nye’s initial negotiations were conducted under the assumption that home video implied the production of a physical product or “video device” such as a DVD or VHS tape. Nye and his attorneys argue that streaming equates far more to pay TV than home video, as much of the presumed costs associated with home video distribution do not apply to streaming. Disney, on the other hand, claims that from the audience’s perspective, “streaming is similar to home video and represents an evolution from the earlier technology.” These contrasting views are well grounded in both logic and legality, forcing the reader to think critically as to the ethical implications of such a conflict. Accelerated by COVID-19, the streaming era will only continue to grow and dominate distribution influencing development, production, and all other facets of the industry for the foreseeable future. As such, it is essential to discuss and ponder these squabbles, for their outcomes will likely determine how similar conflicts are to be resolved going forward.

The core of this issue boils down to the fact that Disney, and presumably other such media conglomerates, continue to rake in profits under outdated legal justification. Given how rapidly and overwhelmingly the entertainment industry has evolved over the last decade or so, concerns of ethics and legality as they relate to business practices need to be continually recontextualized. Because of the increasing unanimity of streaming services as a dominant platform of distribution, the key to addressing this situation arises in the law rather than in the particular case of Bill Nye vs. Disney. When it comes down to it, Nye has the stronger argument. I feel a bit biased to side with creators as opposed to enormous corporations when the situation calls for it (despite my admitted love of all things Disney), so I give credence to the qualms of Bill Nye and his representation. Judge Cowan went as far as to say that Nye was “credible”, but that he found his arguments legally unconvincing, “because it would mean that Disney would not be able to collect any distribution fee at all.” Disney’s argument that streaming is an evolution of home video comes across as porous and theoretical in comparison to Nye’s more grounded claim that the same profit structures should not apply to an entirely digital medium of distribution which does not entail the production of a physical product.

Personally, I don’t find either party to necessarily be in the wrong here. Nye understandably feels entitled to a higher share of profit, given the outdated nature of his contract. Whereas, Disney is entitled to the profits they currently take as the judge has ruled under the protection of the law. Thus, it seems to me like the issue is found within the law itself more so than with either party. As is highlighted in the article, streaming operates far differently than the traditional methods of physical distribution, to which Nye’s contract originally pertained. “Unless the ruling is upheld on appeal, it does not establish a precedent that could be applied in other cases. But it still bothers attorneys who represent performers in profit participation lawsuits.” As such, the legality of the division of profits in cases like Nye’s needs to be reconsidered and potentially amended to more justly reflect the evolving industry. Otherwise, the various other streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount+, HBO Max, and so on, which also hold the rights to vast libraries of legacy properties and valuable IPs will likely take advantage of this same loophole assuming they are not already doing so.

The article quotes Douglas Johnson, managing partner of Johnson & Johnson LLP, throughout, ending on his comment that “streamers are paying those big first window license fees that are usually your largest gains on the title. This should be a wakeup call to the artists and the people who make movies. This is outrageous.” In this statement, Johnson hits the nail on the head in highlighting the implications of such a case, in that while Disney’s business practices may be technically legal, they are detrimental to creatives and artists and indirectly harmful to the industry as a whole. As is the nature of business, there is an imminent danger that competitors will adopt this seemingly obvious yet morally questionable strategy in order to boost profits in the streaming era at the expense of talent. In conclusion, I think the solution to this issue comes in a reconsideration of the legality of back-end contracts like Nye’s to more fairly represent all parties in the context of the era of streaming.

While I find the legal minutiae of this case to be quite fascinating, the true interest for me comes in how much it seems to have slipped through the cracks of public consciousness. Though the article states that a legal precedent has not necessarily been set unless the ruling is upheld after further appeals, it’s difficult to imagine such a loophole going unnoticed by competitors, given the prevalence of streaming as the potentially dominant method of distribution in a post-COVID world.

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Pandemic Solidifies Consumer Viewing Trends

Since Netflix started streaming television and movie content in 2007, the question of whether it might one day take the place of broadcast television has been in the back of people’s minds. As the years have gone on, that question has shifted from if to when, as streaming platforms grew in number and scope. Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, that time seems closer than ever.

Even before the world was suddenly locked inside their homes, broadcast was certainly feeling on the outs. With the generations who grew up with the internet now being of age to consider buying their first cable package, many are turning to streaming services instead.

This could be due to multiple reasons. One reason is that a subscription to a streaming service costs exponentially less than a cable package, which might include hundreds of channels that you have no interest in watching. With nearly 300 streaming services currently available in the United States ranging from broad collections, like Netflix, to Network/Studio run, like Disney+, to niche categories, like CrunchyRoll. Audiences can easily pick and choose what they would like to be actively watching and ignore the rest. While some argue that with a large amount of those services having exclusive titles forcing you to sign up for multiple, you end up paying the same amount if not more than you would for a television package you would have to accumulate at least five concurrent services to even begin approaching that number, more often closer to ten. Forbes reports that, “On average, (in 2020) Americans subscribe to three paid streaming services, spending an average of $37 per month.” This is almost half the average cable television package starting at $60 per month. This also points to the increasing popularity and growth in the streaming industry. Compared to three years prior (2017), “the majority of Americans only paid for one streaming service, which was almost always Netflix,” according to that same Forbes article. To juxtapose that, the annual pace of subscriber decline for cable television hit 5.4%.

It can also be argued that streaming content is overall a better and more user-friendly experience. Obviously, cable television does not have a user interface the way that streaming platforms do, so it is hard to compare the two in that regard. But, that lack in many ways puts streaming leagues ahead in the way it displays and recommends content. Gone are the days of channel surfing and hoping that a show will catch your interest in the few seconds you are willing to dedicate to it before flipping to the next channel. Streaming services, far more often than not, have algorithms built into them that can 1) track what you are watching, 2) are able to recommend things that you may also like, thereby quickly easing the process of finding a new show (not to mention that you have access to their entire library at once, but we will dive further into that later), and 3) if you know you are in the mood for a specific genre, you can easily sort content to find what you are looking for.  So not only are you not paying for channels that you will never watch but you are having content that is curated to your preferences fed directly to you, a practice that many viewers are getting used to. One could imagine that once you get used to being fed content chosen specifically for you, it would be hard to go back to flipping channels.

Beyond just having a better experience accessing content, it might just be better content. Many of these services have started creating their own shows and movies so they can have more control over their library and worry less about managing contracts with outside studios to keep some of our favorite shows on their site. This content is not subjected to the same game of catering to advertisers or the regulations of broadcast television so they are able to create content that is much more niche and has more minority representation than broadcast television. More than ever the content is dictated by what the audiences want to watch. And, it seems to be working. At the Golden Globes this year (2021) streaming platforms were on their way to winning almost double the awards of cable, taking home 34 (20 of which were Netflix’s) compared to cable’s 20. The SAG Awards were similar with 28 to cable’s 16.

Even news, which many have latched on to as one of the remaining pillars of cable television that will keep it alive, has gotten a polish in the streaming sphere. Since news executives do not need to worry about getting stories in before the next commercial break or pulling in viewers for the moment that it a story is airing, they are more worried about how many viewers watch every month and how many hours have been streamed overall. This allows segments to be much longer, some stories nearing 15-20 minutes each, allowing them to be much more in-depth. This allows news to go beyond quick segments and verge on mini-documentaries that can really highlight what they are talking about, better informing the public. So, the idea of streaming live broadcasts combined with these more in-depth stories replacing traditional news broadcasts does not seem too off base.

Ads are not only holding news reporters back. To be completely frank, the vast majority of viewers are not a fan of advertisements and paying for cable television feels like paying to be advertised to. As previously stated, streaming services cost less than your average television package but you no longer have to worry about  Popeyes interrupting your show at the most stressful moment. With the invention of DVR, most television viewers became accustomed to fast-forwarding through their commercials to get to the good stuff and with streaming platforms, you do not even have to watch them at 32x speed, they just are not there. For those aforementioned people who think that paying for multiple services at once is too much, there are occasionally free versions of the application available and those are the only places where you will see advertisements on streaming apps. So instead of traditional cable television where you pay and you have ads, you can either pay and have none or get the service for free and have to deal with being marketed at every now and then.

This can be quite advantageous to streaming company’s as well, especially those who started in broadcast and are making the transition. Companies like NBCUniversal who have their streaming service Peacock offer both a paid and non-paid version allowing them to sell ads just as they would for cable. WarnerMedia, on the other hand, is trying to find a way to convince more users to sign-up and actively use their service, and is considering rolling out a cheaper version that would include advertisements as an incentive for people who do not want to spend as much.

Even for advertisers streaming content may be a superior way to spend their money. The algorithms that streaming services use to recommend films and TV shows to you could also be used to recommend you products. The information that these services collect could be used by advertisers to hyper-target their products. Instead of spending money to target a demographic of one show, that may not be too specific, they can target individuals specifically, so a person watching the same show as you might get completely different advertisements while watching it. This allows companies to make their money go further and ensure they get in front of the exact eyes they want.

Advertisers have not quite caught onto that fact just yet. Scott Rosenberg, senior vice president of Roku, explained to Variety that, “About 30% of all TV viewership is now done…through streaming. But only 3%, 4%, 5% of TV [global advertising] budgets are spent there.” This means that the vast majority of advertising money is still being spent on broadcast television.  Sure, this could also be due to the lower number of platforms currently offering non-ad-free versions of their platform but certainly is still exponentially lower than it should be. Perhaps, this points to the industry’s uneasiness about the switch or maybe they are in denial that it is happening altogether.

The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has made it quite clear that the switch is real. With everyone locked in their homes in quarantine, streaming skyrocketed to the top as it became, in a way, the only option. As the world became a place of fear and uncertainty, many people turned to entertainment that they already knew instead of seeking out new content, and with all of these services’ extensive catalogs, one does not have to wait for a rerun of Friends to come on. Instead, they can simply look up their favorite episode on Netflix, or, in more proper Netflix style, binge the whole series. Before the pandemic started, binge culture was already a well known Netflix trope but with everyone having quite literally all the time in the world, being able to binge all of a show, and not have to wait for a new episode every week, became invaluable, an experience offered exclusively by streaming platforms.

Also, with the onslaught of the pandemic closing all businesses, including movie theaters, the big Hollywood studios had to find new ways to release their films. While many of the major blockbusters are being continually pushed back for a hopeful post-pandemic release where they are expected to make a larger profit, there have been a large number of streaming-exclusive movies to come out this year where a subscription was all you needed to watch (not to mention that subscription is often equal if not cheaper than an average trip to a movie theater pre-pandemic), and a large number of these films were met with great success and many new movie deals being made with platforms to get new releases quite quickly after their theatrical release (i.e., the Warner Bros. HBO Max deal). So while made-for-television movies are not exactly known to be the most Oscar-worthy of products, HBO Max is getting major motion pictures like Dune the same day it hits theaters. This lack of theater revenue to companies is also causing them to reallocate more money to streaming, the one sector that is doing well. This restructuring of major media companies will likely stick around after the pandemic as the increase in money now will likely increase its profitability post-pandemic as well.

The other major thing that the pandemic changed was sports.  Even more so than news, sports were seen as the main reason to keep your cable television subscription. With the pandemic, all live sports events stopped. With sports channels only able to play reruns it was the last straw for many people and cut their cable and we will see if they ever come back, especially with some major events already transitioning to being live-streamed over the internet.

With all this being said, what is actually being done at companies and where does it seem like they are headed? According to Scott Rosenberg, “Every major media company understands that the future of television is 100% streamed. It is a trend that started before the pandemic, and the pandemic has really acted to just accelerate and cement the trend.” Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, seemed to echo that statement saying, “One thing we can say with certainty is that streaming has to be a part of any responsible strategy. It’s increasingly the center of any responsible strategy.” These statements seem to be holding true. Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a press release stating that Disney’s priorities are streaming first. AT&T put two previous streaming heads in CEO positions which The Verge speculates that, “directives for WarnerMedia are clear: turn the company’s entertainment divisions, including cable TV and film, into a streaming-focused business. The Wall Street Journal reported that NBCUniversal was looking into reorganizing so it could focus more on streaming and less on cable TV. ViacomCBS is supposedly considering getting rid of entire networks. At this point, it is going to be necessary for media companies to take part in streaming services or they will either become irrelevant or become solely a producer of content for other streamers. As The Verge so perfectly put it, “The bottom line is that if these companies want to be in on streaming, it means they have to slim down and abandoned other parts of their business that have become dinosaurs. In many cases, that means shedding cable networks.” In a world where companies need to cut things to make it in the streaming space, television is the first to go.

Cable television has been on its way out for a while now. With the pandemic, its exit has been greatly expedited. The pandemic has caused drastic losses for everyone and when the studios were met with needing to reprioritize where they were putting their money, they took it away from the already dying cable television divisions and fed everything into streaming which was thriving in the pandemic. The pandemic took a slow fade out and put it out of its misery.