Holding Our Breath in Hollywood This Year

TheGrill 2023: This year has been a painful convergence of long-term trends and short-term realities driven by the impact of technology

Sharon Waxman TheGrill
TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman at TheGrill 2018. (Ted Soqui)

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Figuring out the future of entertainment wasn’t easy before 2023. But this year, it got really hard.  

We have had two strikes that shut down nearly all production and hobbled new releases for four-and-a-half months. We have had Wall Street dissatisfaction. A moribund box office. Streaming challenges. And we have the rise of AI. 

It doesn’t mean doom and gloom for the future, but it does mean there’s a lot to figure out as the future hurtles toward us at a frantic pace. That’s what we will discuss at TheGrill, which for 13 years has been about investigating the changes to entertainment brought by technology. So let’s break it down. 

This year has been a painful convergence of long-term trends and short-term realities, none of them particularly positive. In streaming, the exploding cost of peak production has met the concrete wall of Wall Street’s profit expectations. So entertainment stocks are down; Disney is down from $180 a share in the spring of 2021, to about $80 a share now.

As we all know, the writers strike that began in May ran for 148 days before finally reaching resolution and a new contract on Sept. 24, just days ago. Now, negotiations to resolve the second strike, between SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood’s major studios, are underway, after three full months of a work stoppage. For all intents and purposes, Hollywood has been on hold as all sides have tried to figure out an economic model that works. 

What underlies all this disruption are the changes to the business of entertainment that technology has wrought. The move from a 40-year-old business model of sharing profits with the talent that creates successful television and movies has been overtaken by streaming. The labor disputes have been all about raising streaming residuals and this new scary thing: artificial intelligence. 

In December, we got hit by a true thunderbolt from the land of technology. ChatGPT and the emergence of generative AI sent everyone into a tailspin as we’ve tried to wrap our minds around the implications of computers that gather information at warp speed, producing full-blown written content, images and solutions that replicate human skills — with no need for humans.  

Our imaginations have reeled as we consider the future:

What are the outer limits of artificial intelligence? 

Will robots replace actors? 

Will movie stars be replicated as digital avatars? 

Can ChatGPT write a respectable script? If so, who owns the copyright?

Will it replace writers? 

Can AI write a score? Design a set? Choreograph a dance number?

Quite apart from all that, there are some who fear that unregulated generative AI represents a threat to the imminent future of humanity. And they cite the movies that predicted this — “Terminator.” “The Matrix.” “Ex Machina.” “Blade Runner.” Is this a realistic worry? 

So, let’s take a beat. We know more today than we knew in December, when generative AI was unleashed on the world. 

We will delve into these concepts with the leading researchers and experts on the subject, and with the people who are using these tools already in entertainment. Spoiler alert: The machines may not be taking over just yet. 

Meanwhile, the writers strike is over, and we have hopes that the actors will find a similar path forward with the studios, soon. A roundtable discussion will delve into this. 

We are excited to jump into other topics on the front burner in Hollywood, including the theatrical business, streaming, M&A and live entertainment, and to hear from experts on stage and all of you who are involved in the day-to-day work of creating the entertainment culture that feeds our world.

Onward to TheGrill! 

About TheGrill: For more than a decade, TheGrill event series has led the conversation on the convergence of entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges of and opportunities for making content in the digital age. TheGrill delivers a unique series of curated discussions, industry panels and networking activations that explore the ever-changing media landscape.

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