Courtenay Valenti, president of Warner Bros. Pictures, and Laura Sher, co-general manager and executive vice president of TV operations for MGM and Epix, both acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruption in the world of content distribution and creation. However, both executives told TheWrap it’s hardly the first time Hollywood has had to adapt to change.
As part of a Power Women Summit panel titled “Exec Corner: Dealmakers, Deciders and Disruptors,” moderated by TheWrap’s Diane Haithman, the two industry veterans agreed that audiences consume movie and TV content on new platforms due to streaming, but not necessarily because of the pandemic.
Still, the pandemic is generally thought to have upped the demand for movies and TV shows, “I think content has always been king,” she added.
Valenti said that trends in audience behavior were only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She observed that while movie house closures during the pre-vaccine months cut deeply into theatrical business, that change had begun several years earlier because of new viewing options. “It just got massively accelerated by the pandemic,” she said.
Even pre-pandemic, audiences were tending toward watching mid-size movies on TVs and other devices, and saving the theatrical experience for big tent-pole films, Valenti said. She noted that the pandemic has not eliminated the hunger for the live experience.
“People love the communal experience of going to the theater,” Valenti said. “People have been very definitive about what the future is going to look like. And guess what? It’s not looking that way.”
MGM’s Sher also remains confident that the entertainment industry will continue to adjust to new technologies ,as well as such wild-card global developments as the pandemic.
“No one wants to make predictions,” Sher said. “The only thing that I’ve found is that the industry, whatever sector is very resilient. I mean, we sort of figured out how to produce content in the middle of a pandemic, right? With all of these sort of accommodations, that, you know, I never thought would would be feasible.”
Sher said COVID protocols have made production more expensive, but “we’re doing it… on the Epix side, we’re acquiring films, acquiring content. We’re flexible in terms of how we window, our content, how the deals are structured, you just sort of have to accommodate what is actually happening at the time.”
Both women also suggested that newcomers to the industry bring that same sort of flexibility and nimbleness to their own career paths.
Sher also offered advice to would-be studio executives, saying walk through the first career door that opens. “It’s great to just sort of get in the door and start and work and build,” she said. “I think a lot of times now, what I experience (with) younger generations a little bit is that they want the job immediately, the perfect job, and that’s not really how it sort of works in my experience.”
Valenti agreed. The college economics and English major pivoted from an unsatisfying Wall Street career at age 25 to try her luck in Hollywood. She said she got her first job at Warner Bros. as an assistant in 1989, “and I’ve been there ever since. At the time I was answering phones and getting coffee and doing all the basic assistant work, but I was enthralled, and there’s nothing better than that feeling when it hits you that ‘I’ve landed where I meant to be.'”
For more, you can watch the full discussion here.
The Power Women Summit is the largest annual gathering of the most influential women in entertainment, media and technology. The event aims to inspire and empower women across the landscape of their professional careers and personal lives. This year’s PWS provides three days of education, mentorship, workshops and networking around the globe – to promote this year’s theme, “Represent.”