In this latest dispute between Talent and Owners, it’s worth remembering that Audiences don’t care about creator feelings nor corporations’ stock prices.
I get it, I empathize with all sides. I’m not here to tell you which side is right, unlike someone:
but I can tell you what will happen.
Dune director Denis Villeneuve has a valid concern and eloquently captures the frustration, confusion and angst many of his peers felt when Jason Kilar called an audible and lined up his troops in a new formation, a formation which was not going to please the many stakeholders who benefit from the status quo.
As media and entertainment corporations reassess their portfolios, redefine risk and reevaluate whether they ought to double down on core competencies or truly diversify, they will be more at odds with creator talent, i.e. the big names like Villeneuve.
The world of media has always drawn surprising dancemates and new owners.
Many in the industry, on the other hand, are calling the moves the unwelcome rattle of an outsider, and compare AT&T to other companies far from the U.S. entertainment world who entered in recent decades with disruptive goals — they include Japan’s Matsushita, which bought MCA; Vivendi, which bought Universal; and America Online, which bought Time Warner. None of those acquisitions worked out, they noted, and the companies soon uncoupled.
Indeed, in February 2020, I broke down telecommunications firms on-again, off-again love interest in media, which has created an odd couple, asking whether AT&T will sell WarnerMedia.
Audiences, however, don’t care about any of this. When the likes of MTV and VH1 stood on the sidelines as YouTube went from pariah to belle of the ball, audiences didn’t revolt, they simply found something else due to the vacuum Viacom created by suing, instead of partnering with Youtube. Like other new media producers, we noticed that vacuum, and filled it. Fast forward fifteen years, that pyramid has flattened and given way to a world where those with content and those with audiences are merging into one ecosystem that has gone direct to consumer. Warner Media, in essence, is trying to catch up for fifteen years of not recognizing that; the decision by Warner was sudden and swift.
While media has always been some combination of art and science – whatever said science, i.e. technology allowing for a given distribution at a given time – indeed the streamers care more about data and attention (namely: watch time). The content, to them, is a means to an end. If you would have told me of all of the shows on streaming platforms right now, I’d be drawn to The Crown, I would have thought you were crazy. But here I am, watching an episode a night.
Sure, maybe there are a few names of the highest end of that pyramid that they may handle a bit more delicately, but by and large, the tidal waves are so strong and so fast, that like gravity, you may not need to know how it works, but do need to understand it exists to survive.
When I say YouTube is revolutionary while Netflix is merely evolutionary, it is for many reasons, but partly in how YouTube redefined not just what we considered to be quality content, but also who is a star or talent. Today, YouTubers and influencers command greater popularity than many traditional talent… and I think that may be an indication of what will happen when traditional directors, showrunners and writers want to resist the forces of technology and globalization which have been unleashed and intensified. No this doesn’t mean that a new director can replicate Villeneuve’s art, but on day 1, we didn’t necessarily replace MTV or VH1, either. But over time, to our audience, MTV/VH1 did not exist. We were MTV.
And many no mistake about it, the old world – the one based on the “waterfall”, i.e.
“the industry’s term not just for the billion global dollars that a Hollywood blockbuster can produce but for revenue that flows from the full complement of DVD, digital, rental and merchandising that finances much of their own payouts”
is inherently at odds with globalization. The Internet didn’t just shrink markets by attacking the inefficient layers and layers of waste that all industries add over the years, it also removes man-made barriers and obstacles which were added to create more economic gain for the middlemen (i.e. why malls make you go around before taking the next escalator up), some of which over time they passed back to creators, agents, publicists, managers and so on. I understand anything that endangers one’s earning power is not welcome, but all industries undergo cycles.
I once read that Hollywood thought of itself as the center of earth, while Silicon Valley viewed itself as the center of the universe. Yes, Hollywood is indeed a very different place, but these changes had already started, and we’ve seen how this script ends.
Watch Odd Couple: Will AT&T Sell Warner Media, below: