“It’s not a two-horse race and it’s not winner-take-all. It’s about to get real messy,” analyst says
Hollywood movies used to end with a showdown between two rivals — a confident old hand like Disney, for example, and a daring upstart like Netflix.
But in the modern entertainment business, the rivals can’t even decide who the rivals are. It’s a “Game of Thrones” among competing kingdoms large and small, with no certainty about which players will still be players in a year.
What everyone does agree on is where the fight is: the world of streaming.
It’s tempting to imagine Hollywood as a face-off between Disney and Netflix. With its acquisition of Fox this week, 95-year-old Disney is trying to slap down Netflix, which in just 22 years has managed to top Disney in total value. Disney rules in theaters, but Netflix dominates streaming.
Netflix has raided rising Disney talent in recent months, but Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of Fox, which closed on Tuesday, arms Disney with new franchises and intellectual property it knows how to weaponize.
But tech companies Amazon and Apple, which dwarf Disney and Netflix in market value, are getting into entertainment more than ever before. And then there’s AT&T, the new owners of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — the kind of epic, complicated show almost everyone hopes AT&T will keep making.
“It’s not a two-horse race and it’s not winner-take-all. It’s about to get real messy,” Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive who now works as a media consultant, told TheWrap. “It’s not Disney vs. Netflix. It’s much more complicated than that. That’s a great narrative. I wish it were true. It’s just not.”
Disney rules theaters in large part because of its powerful intellectual properties, including the Marvel and “Star Wars” franchises, as well as nearly a century of its own princesses, regal lions, and flying elephants.
So now Disney is turning to streaming, with its upcoming Disney+ service. But complicating matters are plans by WarnerMedia, Apple and NBCUniversal to introduce their own streaming services. And Amazon has the money and proven success to keep them all worried.
“The whole thing is a big giant mishmash,” Crakes continued. “The consumer is supposed to go out and pick up seven or eight different services and figure it all out and manage it? They don’t want to do that.”
One way to track who’s winning is by market cap, the total value of a publicly traded company’s outstanding shares. Disney’s $163-billion market cap will likely rise with its acquisition of Fox. Netflix’s is at $164 billion. Amazon’s is $882 billion, and Apple’s $916 billion.
But skirmishes over awards can pay off in prestige, which can translate into subscribers. At September’s Emmy Awards, Netflix tied with HBO for most wins by a platform with 23 apiece. Before the trophies were handed out, Netflix snapped HBO’s 17-year streak of receiving the most Emmy nominations per platform.
Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel” bagged eight Emmys — not bad for a company that specializes in retail. Last February, Amazon brought in Jennifer Salke, a seasoned entertainment veteran, to run its studio.
HBO’s future is another variable: When AT&T took over the network, longtime leader Richard Plepler exited, fueling anxiety about whether HBO’s era of prestige TV will go on without him.
Analysts who spoke with TheWrap see the success of failure of Disney+ as crucial to its fight with Netflix — and everyone else.
Wolfe Research managing director Marci Ryvicker said that if anyone can succeed at streaming, it’s Disney. “I think Disney has a very good chance of succeeding, but I don’t think it’s going to be as big as Netflix,” Ryvicker said. “I’m hoping it’s more profitable than Netflix is, but time will tell.”
Todd Klein, partner at investment firm Revolution, said the Fox acquisition means Disney can finally streamline itself to be a streaming competitor. The company began layoffs Thursday.
“They have verbally committed themselves to leading with streaming content in the future, but they still have some entanglements for their various properties,” Klein said.
MoffettNathanson media analyst Michael Nathanson said that the Netflix vs. Disney view may very well be the “end state,” but argued “we are a long way from having it an only two-player market.”
“In global SVOD, Netflix has a massive lead. Disney has a long road ahead. In film, Disney has massive share, but other studios aren’t going away just yet,” Nathanson broke down the content categories. “In TV studios, CBS, Warner Bros., and Disney all have very healthy businesses.”
CFRA senior media analyst Tuna Amobi said AT&T’s WarnerMedia will be formidable streaming power because it combines Warner Bros.’ studio with HBO and Turner. But Ryvicker doesn’t think that puts AT&T in the same league as Netflix and Disney.
“I don’t even view AT&T as a real competitor at this point,” Ryvicker said. “Disney’s huge now with Fox — Disney’s huge. I don’t think anyone comes close to them just from a library standpoint.”
Amobi said Viacom also “could be a player” if it recombines with CBS.
Speaking of players: The competitors are plucking from each other’s rosters.
Amazon just bought a spy series from Joe and Anthony Russo, the directors of four of Marvel’s biggest films, including next month’s “Avengers: Endgame” and last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Netflix, meanwhile, has raided the cupboard of Disney’s ABC operations, most notably Channing Dungey, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment. ABC Studios mega-producer Shonda Rhimes has also taken her shop over to Netflix, as did “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris.
Also, everything you’ve read up until this point could be outdated on Monday, when Apple will unveil its long-gestating original content plans during a glitzy event at its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters.
The company has spent the last year and a half making head-turning programming announcements with J.J. Abrams, Reese Witherspoon, M. Night Shyamalan, and Jennifer Aniston, among others.
Next month will begin the final season of “Game of Thrones.” If AT&T eschews Plepler’s appreciation of slow-burn prestige television in favor of a barrage of quick-hit programs, the final season of the show may also mark the end of an era.
Since the show’s first episode in 2011, kingdoms have collapsed, become irrelevant or merged. It’s finally a battle between a very small number of players, and viewers can reasonably assume that Cersei Lannister, the Night King, or Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow will soon rule Westeros.
But Hollywood is a long way from declaring a victor. Or even getting down to a face-off between two rivals.