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Sony’s chairman of global TV studios Ravi Ahuja warned that the end of the peak TV era will likely “be painful for most companies,” as cost-cutting measures across the industry leads to less shows and money spent on marketing.
Ahuja, who also manages corporate development, said that while he hopes the big media companies are done with layoffs after this year’s staff reduction efforts, he predicts the changing streaming business model will find media power players cutting back on content production and promotion over the next two years.
“You’ll see a little bit of the air coming out of the balloon,” Ahuja told TheWrap’s editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman during a spotlight conversation at TheGrill, the publication’s annual business conference, on Wednesday. “The portfolio shows may shift a bit [too], away from the big subscriber-acquiring swings to more shows like [Sony-produced] ‘The Night Agent.’”
Peak TV — a term originated by FX Networks chairman John Landgraf in 2015 — refers to the rise in production of TV series as streamers, cable and broadcast networks aimed to build up their libraries with content for every taste. Landgraf said earlier this year that the Peak TV era reached its peak in 2022 with 599 shows produced across the board.
Hollywood’s current strike-enforced work stoppage, recent en masse cancellations and purging of content at platforms like Netflix, Max and Paramount+ show a clear slowdown in original content production as the companies work to please Wall Street in their desire to expand profitability in the streaming sector.
Ahuja — who worked as CFO of the Fox Networks Group before becoming president of business operations and CFO of Walt Disney Television — also recalled his surprise at the companies’ 2019 merger.
“We didn’t think the Murdochs were going to sell but they did,” he said, crediting the desire to compete with Netflix and the launch of Disney+ as reasons for the decision. “One thing about Rupert is he sees around corners and I think he felt that: compete or don’t.”
As for the future of Fox after Rupert Murdoch’s retirement, Ahuja speculated on whether a sale could be in the company’s future. “The prevailing thought is that at some point it gets sold, but I could see it either way,” he said. “I could see it re-merged with News Corp.”
The spotlight conversation also touched on Sony Pictures Entertainment possibly being acquired, which Ahuja said is not on the horizon for the company at this time.
“If I were sitting at Apple I would say I’d love to buy Sony, but as far as I know we’re not for sale,” Ahuja told Waxman.
On the topic of synergy, Ahuja praised “progress” within Sony with the success of collaborative efforts with PlayStation on adapting IP like “The Last of Us” and “Uncharted.” He also teased an upcoming collaboration in the works with Sony Music, but wouldn’t provide specifics on the project.
When it comes to the company’s strategy to create shows for other platforms, Ahuja added there are no plans to reinvent the approach as streaming production cutbacks loom.
“It’s a little harder to get a show over the finish line [now],” he said. “We hope we don’t get to a point where we have a show that we love and can’t find a home for it. Our bet really is [focusing on] getting the execution right and having the creative excellence, and we’ll be fine.”
Ahuja added that Sony Pictures Entertainment studios has operated as an “arms dealer business” by design, after realizing that adding one more streaming platform to an already saturated market wouldn’t benefit the company in the long run.
“We make 200 shows in our studios business — scripted, unscripted, kids, games shows — we make a whole host of shows for others,” he said. “It’s served us very well to be focused… The clarity of focus allows us to deploy resources in a way we think is very efficient and creatively excellent.”
As for what comes next in the future of the streaming landscape, Ahuja said that bundling — which is already starting to take place at companies like Disney — will become prevalent in the coming years, starting with the smaller streaming platforms.
“We’re going to see bundling by platforms — by Amazon, by YouTube, by Apple, by Roku — across competing companies,” he said. “That’s already started too… it’s a more customer-friendly, efficient way.”
“If you look at television around the world, there’s always a bundle of some sort,” he continued. “It’s not all individual, a la carte services. There’ll be a lot of value in putting together the experience for customers.”
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