The entertainment industry is wrapping up one of the most chaotic and costly years in its history. From striking writers and actors to swooning stock prices, 2023 didn’t lack for drama.
But even as Hollywood looks to put all that in the rearview mirror and get back to business as usual, the landscape remains treacherous. Wall Street has big concerns about how media companies are handling the shift from cable to streaming. The box office hasn’t recaptured its pre-pandemic stride. Once the epitome of coolness, late-night TV is suffering from a full-blown identity crisis. Elected leaders are eager to crack down on the excesses of Ticketmaster and its ilk. All this upheaval is expected to lead to more consolidation in a space that’s seen century-old companies vanish or get absorbed into larger businesses, displacing thousands of workers and creating unprecedented disruption.
Here are five burning questions facing a business in turmoil as it turns the page on another year.
1.) Where are the blockbusters?
If you own a movie theater, it’s looking pretty scary out there. COVID’s lingering impact coupled with months of strikes have disrupted the production schedule for major films, leaving studios without a compelling slate of blockbusters.
Tiffany franchises like Batman and Avatar don’t have sequels lined up for the next 12 months. High-profile titles like “Captain America: Brave New World” and “Mission: Impossible 8” were postponed to 2025 as Hollywood’s labor headaches intensified. A few sure things, such as “Dune: Part Two” and “Deadpool 3,” are slated to debut, but there are not enough big-ticket projects to calm jittery cinema operators.
Of course, last year, few predicted the phenomenon that was “Barbenheimer,” so there’s always the possibility that some upcoming movie — be it “Fall Guy” with Ryan Gosling or the Mad Max spinoff “Furiosa” — will capture the zeitgeist in an unforeseen way.
2.) Will Disney get its groove back?
Not so long ago, all was right in the Magic Kingdom. Marvel was the envy of the movie biz, “Star Wars” had been rebooted, the theme parks lured families from around the world and Disney+ seemed like a potential Netflix killer.
Boy, how things have changed. Disney’s superhero films are bombing, a victim of a rapid expansion into streaming that led to a glut of content and a lack of quality control. The studio keeps announcing, then abandoning “Star Wars” spinoffs and sequels. Price hikes at its parks have alienated consumers. And Disney+ has failed to convert its subscriber base into robust profits, while rumors are swirling that the company might sell ABC to generate some cash. All of this has left Disney’s stock languishing, setting the stage for a fresh proxy fight with activist investor Nelson Peltz.
3.) What will happen to late-night television?
It isn’t just democracy that hangs in the balance. The fate of late-night TV could hinge on the upcoming election cycle, and whether talkers still have an impact on political discourse. The threat of a brutal presidential campaign, with the very bleak possibility of Donald Trump grabbing power, is something the hosts of most of these shows are dreading. “I could see getting to a place where you still love doing the show, but the stuff you have to talk about is a lot harder to get through,” “Late Night” host Seth Meyers told Variety last year.
As for the daypart itself, there’s the question of how Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” will fill the void left by Trevor Noah. At CBS, will audiences embrace an entirely different format in the “Late Late Show” slot, as Taylor Tomlinson takes over as host of panel comedy show “After Midnight”?
Whether late-night shows continue after their current hosts leave is an ongoing debate. But first, let’s get through November.
4.) Can the concert ticketing conundrum be solved?
During the week of Dec. 4, two bills were introduced in Congress to curb the excesses of the ticketing market, which has seen prices soar into five figures for concerts by Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and, of course, Taylor Swift. The Senate’s “Fans First Act” aims to “address flaws in the current live event ticketing system by increasing transparency” and “holding bad actors who engage in illegal ticket sale practices accountable,” according to the announcement.
That sounds well intended. But can the concert ticketing conundrum ever be solved? Ticketmaster is a useful punching bag, but what’s the solution when 25 million people are trying to buy 3 million tickets? Or when hackers are scooping up tickets and flipping them for ludicrously inflated prices? And what’s the solution when people want to see a show so badly that they’ll pay those prices?
Will any of those problems be solved in 2024? Prognosis: Grim.
5.) Which conglomerates will be left standing?
A raft of media conglomerates and streamers may run into each other’s arms as the operating terrain grows complex. In the past, Paramount Global, Comcast, Warner Bros. Discovery, Disney and Fox were all-powerful — the main providers of entertainment, information and sports. But streaming has upended all, and Wall Street demands profit from broadband efforts while consumers turn away from linear operations still driving millions in revenue.
Paramount is clearly up for grabs, with the company engaging in talks with Warner Bros. Discovery and Skydance and RedBird Capital exploring their own deal for the House of Redstone. But sector watchers should also scrutinize streaming services. Disney is making moves to tie up Hulu and Disney+, and unveiled a content-sharing pact with Netflix. Verizon has a new bundle that includes Max and Netflix. Surviving the fallout may require new alliances that once were believed to be impossible.
Jem Aswad, Michael Schneider and Brian Steinberg contributed to this report.