Netflix began the 2010s by toppling Blockbuster and ended the decade by upending the entire industry
The 2010s were chock full of rapid, disruptive and turbulent change — arguably one of the most explosive eras for the media and entertainment industry: the launch and domination of streaming, the ballooning of movie franchises and the spark of the #MeToo era that brought down some of Hollywood’s most powerful figures.
The decade was nothing short of riveting.
These major shifts and a few others have helped to define the business of Hollywood and how consumers interact with content and culture in the last 10 years. Let’s dig in.
1. Streaming is the way of the future
Streaming began toward the end of the prior decade when YouTube became a staple in online video and Netflix began streaming its licensed content and gaining in popularity. Hulu, along with Netflix, also launched in 2007. But around 2013, Netflix debuted its first original (more like co-produced) series, “House of Cards,” and streaming as we know it today really took off.
“House of Cards” proved two things: The content game isn’t exclusive to legacy television and seasons don’t need to roll out one episode at a time.
Viewers were shocked when Netflix made all 13 episodes of “House of Cards” available on the same day it launched, helping to usher in a wave of viewers watching TV shows when they wanted to, not when the TV schedule mandated it.
Netflix has amassed more than 100 million subscribers around the world, and now legacy media companies like Disney and WarnerMedia — along with a few tech and retail giants — are following Netflix’s lead into the digital ecosystem.
Netflix began the decade by toppling Blockbuster. It ended it by upending the entire industry.
2. Intellectual property is king
It’s hard to answer the question of which came first, but looking at the domination of IP and franchises in the last 10 years does beg the question: Did IP become currency because of the demand for content in the streaming age? Was the demand for IP a result of dwindling box office activity? Or did the focus on safe IP result in the former?
Hollywood has always been risk-averse, so franchises and otherwise familiar IP have always carried weight, but the past decade has taken the concept to an entirely new level. At the end of the previous decade and the beginning of the 2010s, Marvel Studios laid the groundwork for a franchise — no, an interconnected universe the likes of which had never been seen and may never again. The unparalleled success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become somewhat of a template for any studio (including Disney, with some of its other properties) looking to capitalize on IP.
As streaming services blossomed this decade, companies needed familiar films, TV shows and stories to attract viewers and keep them watching, which gave way to mad dashes and big checks for film libraries and established shows such as “Friends” and “The Simpsons.”
3. The boys club is over
It was considered Hollywood’s worst kept secret: Harvey Weinstein, casting couches, hotel rooms and decades of sexual assault and predation. In 2017, three journalists, as well as a host of women who’d been victimized, spoke up and shined a light on the disgraced Hollywood producer’s decades-long practices and the systems that allowed them to persist.
The investigations by The Times and The New Yorker, which won joint Pulitzer Prizes, helped fuel a cultural shift in conversations around the dynamics of gender, power and parity. The conversations gave way to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
In addition to Weinstein, other powerful men including Les Moonves, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, Bryan Singer, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and Charlie Rose, to name a few, faced accusations of sexual assault or misconduct.
4. Diversity does sell overseas
It was a long-held Hollywood belief that films with diverse casts, and expressly with people of color in lead roles, don’t do good business outside the U.S. market. In fact, one of the biggest revelations from the 2014 Sony Pictures hack was an email from a producer to then-chairman Michael Lynton, arguing that films with “an African American lead don’t play well overseas.”
That was proven to be a myth during the 2010s. In the years following the Sony hack, Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight” not only won Best Picture at the Oscars, but grossed more than 57% of its total worldwide box office in international markets. Marvel’s “Black Panther” — a superhero film with a predominantly black cast — grossed roughly $647 million internationally, nearly half of its global intake.
For additional proof of just how well diversity can travel, Dwayne Johnson became one of the biggest movie stars in the world over the course of the decade. His “Fast and Furious” spinoff “Hobbs & Shaw,” also starring Jason Statham, pulled in $585 million overseas for 77% of its global box office total. And according to Forbes, Johnson, the son of a black Canadian father and a Samoan mother, was the highest paid actor of 2019.
5. Chinese investment isn’t here to stay
The enthusiasm surrounding China’s interest and investment in the U.S. entertainment industry was impassioned and short-lived. In 2016, Chinese investment in the U.S. entertainment industry hit $4.78 billion, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2012, just as Chinese investment in Hollywood was ramping up, Beijing conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group bought a majority stake in the then second-largest U.S. movie theater chain, AMC Entertainment, and planned to invest more in the space. Wanda then in 2016 bought production company Legendary Entertainment, and in 2014 eyed a controlling stake in Lionsgate Entertainment (which didn’t come to pass).
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba also made moves toward Hollywood, including plans to invest more than $7.2 billion in entertainment.
But troubles soon emerged. Pricey East-West co-productions like the 2017 Matt Damon fantasy “The Great Wall” bombed big time in both markets, losing an estimated $75 million.
In late 2017, Paramount, which was relying on a co-financing arrangement with Huahua Media to cover 25% of its film slate, found itself without a partner. The Chinese government essentially kiboshed the deal as it began to clamp down on foreign investment in entertainment and other industries. As a result of new regulations, Wanda sought to scale down it’s majority investment in AMC.
6. Studios come and go
Hollywood is a fickle business and — this decade showed — not for the faint of heart. Launching and running a successful, independent studio or production company proved difficult. And it was made even more so as monolith studios and media and entertainment companies gobbled up Hollywood’s market share.
The decade started with MGM filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010. And though the studio has been able to come back from near-extinction, the industry saw a few studios and the like disappear during the 2010s. Production and distribution companies such as Relativity, Open Road and The Weinstein Co. all effectively closed their doors. (Of course, TWC’s downfall came about because of circumstances beyond just the financial challenges of operating an indie outfit in modern Hollywood.)
Then there were the companies that were acquired for scale, as bigger became the best protection: NBCUniversal aqcuired DreamWorks Animation, AT&T snapped up Time Warner and CBS and Viacom reunited. Rupert Murdoch even sought to distance himself from the risks of Hollywood, selling off much of his 20th Century Fox film and TV assets to Disney.