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10 Predictions for the Entertainment and Media Business in 2017

Variety logo Variety 12/15/2016 Variety Staff

It has been a turbulent year of uber-mergers, shocking deaths (particularly in the world of music), and executive shakeups. But overshadowing everything was a political overhaul of epic proportion. 2016 will go down in history as the year of Donald Trump, and even master prognosticators can’t predict what he’ll get up to once he steps into office. We’ll go out on a limb in one area involving the president-elect, though: The most high-profile of the year’s ousted executives, Roger Ailes, won’t be kept down for long — he’ll return as a key media adviser to Trump, gleefully bashing the liberal elites who have been his target since he helped sell Richard Nixon to a skeptical American public in 1968.

Also in 2017, it’s likely we’ll see continued M&A activity. Though the remarriage of CBS and Viacom appears to have gone up in smoke, we’ll learn the fate of AT&T-Time Warner, Fox-Sky, and others. What will be the other major media and entertainment stories of the new year? We have a few ideas.  

One last gasp?

Disney CEO Robert Iger made his name with gutsy, big-ticket acquisitions — most notably, Pixar, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm. He’s set to retire in mid-2018, but first, with Disney’s cable TV revenues faltering, he’s intent on finding a solid and sustainable online platform for the company’s world-beating assets. Look for him to make one last big deal — perhaps a $60 billion-plus buyout of Netflix? — to put the Mouse into a brand new digital house, and to secure his legacy as one of entertainment’s most transformative CEOs.

On that note …

After being left at the altar by Disney, Google, and Salesforce.com, Twitter will reprise the M&A dance. CEO Jack Dorsey is trying to sand off the rough edges to make the com- pany a more attractive catch, including taking steps to block abusive users and curb hate speech — chronic problems for Twitter  that were reportedly a factor in Disney bailing. Twitter is also cutting 9% of its workforce to streamline the balance sheet and shutting down Vine, the six-second video app that, despite its popularity, never produced tangible revenue.

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No big deal

China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda Group, has become one of Hollywood’s biggest players, committing several billion dollars to acquire AMC  Theaters, Legendary Entertainment, and Dick Clark Productions. But the buying spree may be coming to an end. Wang has attracted unwanted attention from Capitol Hill, where both Democrats and Republicans say it’s time to crack down on the expansion of Chinese “soft power.” China has seen an exodus of capital in the last couple of years and may also be looking to slow the pace of foreign investment. And then there’s Trump, who sees U.S.-China trade as a zero-sum game. Much as Wang might like to avoid politics and focus on business, a combination of factors has created a political powder keg. One more blockbuster Wanda deal could set it off. Look for the chairman to hang on to what he has over the next year and avoid further multibillion-dollar acquisitions.

Thin is in

Fat channel bundles will soon become a  luxury item, with a wealth of cheaper internet TV options just a few clicks away. AT&T’s DirecTV Now has a $35 monthly package  that provides value and mobile-viewing convenience that cable — and DirecTV’s core satellite service, for that matter — just can’t match. Hulu is poised to pounce in early 2017 with live internet TV (another challenger to early entrants Sling TV and Sony PlayStation Vue), followed by YouTube and possibly even Amazon. Of course, for cable and telco operators, it’s not all bad news: Those over-the-top viewers will still need speedy broadband, and margins are better on that side of the biz. Meanwhile, look for marginal cable channels — some from Viacom, some from NBCUniversal — to go away as skinny bundles take root.

Virtual gets real

Virtual reality will keep growing in 2017, with consumers finally spending real money on headsets. In turn, the industry will finally get a sense of what consumers want to do with the new medium … and find out that some of its initial assumptions were flat-out wrong. One example: VR for PR — the  idea of promoting every movie and game with a separate experience — will quickly feel old. Some startups will have to close shop as a result, while others will be snapped up by bigger players looking to turn a trend into a real business.

Tony! Tony! Tony!

In a Broadway season crowded with new musicals, the just-opened “Dear Evan Hansen” will compete at the Tony Awards against “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” a quirky electro-pop opera inspired by a section of “War and Peace”; “War Paint,” a sophisticated musical about dueling titans of the cosmetics industry, uniting Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole on one stage; and “Groundhog Day,” coming to Broadway in the spring following raves in London. If there’s a fifth slot in the race, keep an eye on “Come From Away,” a potential sleeper now flying under the radar.

There’s no place like home

The exclusive window for theatrical presentation of first-run films has shrunk — from years to six months to 90 days or less. But this is the year it will become even tinier. Some studios are talking directly to exhibitors about shortening the exclusivity period. And there’s a potential third party in the mix: By promising to cut major filmmakers like Steven Spielberg in on the at-home distribution action, Sean Parker’s Screening Room has accelerated talks to let audiences get movies in their homes ASAP. Expect some big films to become available for rental as soon as two weeks after they debut in theaters. If theater owners don’t budge, studios will find another way to get their films to customers when (now) and where (home) they want them.

Ad libs

Can you watch TV without commercials? Of course not. Without Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and the rest, we’d be shelling out even more for TV than we do now. But in the year ahead, viewers will notice a shift: more ads tied to the specific show in which they appear. Maybe you’ll see ads during NBC’s “Late Night” that feature host Seth Meyers, or a spot touting “Grey’s Anatomy” along with a product from Cover  Girl. As marketers tailor their pitches to shows, viewers may see less of the traditional one-size-fits-all model.

Inside voices

Your stereo system, your phone, your car, your camera: Everything will speak to you in 2017. Devices that don’t understand your voice commands will soon seem outdated, as will getting your phone out of your pocket every time you want to google something or check an app. Established players like Apple, Google, and Amazon, as well as voice newcomers like Facebook, will fight hard to become the voice platform of choice. That will unfortunately lead to yet another platform war, forcing developers and consumers to pick and choose, while Alexa, Siri, and company refuse to work with one another.

Moving the peak

TV is almost certain to set another record in 2017. FX Research estimates that 451 scripted original programs aired on U.S. television in 2016. That all-time high is an increase of 30 over 2015, the year FX president John Landgraf coined the term “Peak TV.” (For comparison’s sake, 192 scripted programs aired in 2006.) Some think next year’s total could hit 500. Julie Piepenkotter, FX’s executive vice president of research, didn’t want to be held to a specific figure. “While it’s a reasonable bet that 2017 will hover around the 500 mark,” she says, “I’m going to go with Yogi Berra: ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ ”

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