Over the past year, the gap between Hollywood and its customers has widened to a degree that should send shivers down the spines of every entertainment exec.
The industry has routinely used a fairly reliable gauge to measure the size of this gap. It’s called profit.
Sadly, 2022 was a disaster for the once-golden city. Media companies saw the loss of half a trillion dollars in equity.
A town that for a century had been recognized as the entertainment capital of the world has seemingly been reduced to a shadow of its former self.
How could this have happened?
In my opinion, somewhere along the road a decision was made to have entertainment take a bow so that a one-sided agenda could take center stage.
“Especially this past year, ideology has become more important than art,” Quentin Tarantino recently told the host of HBO’s “Reel Time with Bill Maher.” “It’s like ideology trumps art. Ideology trumps individual effort. Ideology trumps good.”
From the youngest of age, our primal need makes itself known with the simplest of words: Tell me a story.
It’s universal. Human beings crave stories, ones with characters, plots, and themes that reflect life’s truths. This is how Hollywood initially came to be. And how it grew to be an industry like no other, all entwined within our minds, hearts and imaginations.
We were happy when Hollywood profited. It meant more entertainment fare would be forthcoming, maybe even greater than that already experienced.
It’s hard to believe the once-great ocean of entertainment that existed steadily devolved into a digital stream of woke stories.
Evidently, the public doesn’t have the appetite for what the industry has been serving up of late. There are definite consequences when audiences’ wishes are ignored.
Movie theater attendees are now a fraction of what they used to be. Despite the solid successes of Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” and James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the 2022 multiplexes saw their audiences essentially cut in half, when compared to four years ago.
Of course, movie theater companies experienced record losses in their share prices. AMC’s value dropped almost 80 percent, and Cineworld, owner of Regal, headed for bankruptcy court.
Likely hampered by projects that were saturated with woke ideology, Disney experienced its worst yearly stock-drop since 1974. Disney is the largest, most influential and sole media company that is listed in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and it saw its shares drop a whopping 44 percent? Unbelievable.
The board of directors suddenly terminated CEO Bob Chapek and brought back former CEO Bob Iger, ostensibly to rescue the Mouse House.
Warner Bros., Discovery and Lionsgate also saw their stock prices take a plunge of over 60 percent.
With regard to television, traditional broadcast and cable TV (aka linear television) saw a significant ratings dip. Similar to what happened earlier to the music business, Hollywood executives discovered that streaming media does not yet provide sufficient revenue to offset the losses incurred in linear television and theatrical film releases.
However, a bright spot appeared on an otherwise dismal media landscape. “Yellowstone,” which is a modern perspective on the classic Western, garnered a huge audience hungry for retro-drama. Consequently, the series is continuing to enjoy stellar ratings.
Another media company that actually saw its investment value rise is the sports entertainment powerhouse WWE, which ended 2022 with a gain of 38 percent. It could be that this increase has to do with the moral sensibilities of a huge segment of viewers that find the clear distinctions between heroes and villains quite appealing.
The studios spent money galore on streaming content in 2022, and the cash layout just never panned out. Executive chairman James Dolan of AMC Networks explained Hollywood’s quandary in a memo that he recently wrote.
“It was our belief that cord-cutting losses would be offset by gains in streaming. This has not been the case. We are primarily a content company and the mechanisms for the monetization of content are in disarray,” he stated.
The AMC executive pointed out a reality that most of Hollywood is facing in 2023 and warned of “a large-scale layoff as well as cuts to every operating area.”
Netflix was first out of the gate to layoff employees, following a substantial loss of subscribers. Other major entertainment companies have also announced or have already started their layoffs, hiring freezes, and/or cost-cutting measures, including Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount and CBS.
Warner chief David Zaslav actually stunned the entertainment world last summer, when he decided to shelve and write off the costs of “Batgirl,” a funded and completed film that was in post-production and had been approved by previous leadership at the company.
At an investor conference in November of 2022, he noted that in the past few months, things had gotten “a lot worse.”
The road that Hollywood will take going forward is yet to be mapped.
With a hope and a prayer, it will be one where entertainment takes center stage once again.