At TheGrill 2017, A Tipping Point: Tech Platforms Have Arrived on the Shores of Content

Some time this year streaming and tech platforms went from distant travelers just over the horizon to storming the beaches of Hollywood

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Those who are riveted by the spectacle in Washington, D.C., may be missing the moment happening in entertainment and technology.

Some time this year streaming and tech platforms went from distant travelers just over the horizon to well-supplied invaders storming the beaches of Hollywood.

This year Facebook announced plans to invest $1 billion in content. Apple has done the same, and both seem likely to grow their investments. AT&T is about to swallow Time Warner, a crown jewel of the content world, on the logic that Ma Bell phones are not such a great business anymore. Good call.

Disney has placed its bet on a streaming service and removed its content from Netflix, announcing itself as a competitor in this space while acknowledging that ESPN has an uncertain future on cable.

Netflix continues to grow at a robust pace, its stock price showing remarkable staying power and market cap now at $78 billion — about the same as Time Warner’s.

And Hulu, a streaming service — albeit one backed by traditional media companies — won the Emmy with its first ambitious original series, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The new world has been a long time coming, but it seems to be here. The outlines of the new entertainment ecosystem are becoming clear.

Distribution matters more than anything, and it is now the tech platforms that own the present and future of how content gets delivered. Platforms like Apple, with its ubiquitous smartphones, Facebook with its 2 billion daily users, and Amazon with its reach into every household in the nation, have scale that no theater chain can rival. Cable networks are holding on to their customers for dear life while chasing the streaming audience with their own new platforms.

M&A Panel at TheGrill Media Conference

I daresay this ecosystem will look very different five years from now, and what we now call “tech companies” may well look like entertainment companies as they move into content.

Is the change good? Depends on who’s asking.

That makes it a flush moment for screenwriters, showrunners, producers and actors. Those with the best content are in a strong position. But it makes it a moment of high-risk transition for the studios and networks.

At this year’s Grill, being held Monday and Tuesday of this week at The Montage hotel, we will be digging into this fundamental shift that is happening before our eyes. The savviest players have already begun their moves, and we have many of them here at the conference.

We will be talking to producers, marketers and leaders of the content companies to hear how they are navigating these changes on a daily basis.

One thing seems certain: The timing could not be more critical for a gathering of thought leaders. And the next 12 months will be decisive in defining the contours of what the content industry looks like for decades to come.