December 21, 2023
It’s that time of the year again, when all of us
white guys media pundits give our predictions for the New Year. I gave up on doing these during Covid, and last year I just wrote my Wish List for What I Hoped to See in 2023. None of those wishes came true, but some seem to be in the works. In 2021, I published my Questions for 2022, and only one of those was came to pass (it was Sundance cancelling and going virtual… ouch!). And looking back at my 2019 predictions, I think only 4 out of 10 were correct, so what I’m saying here is… I’m not sure you should trust any of my predictions this year, either, but here we go. Consider this more of a tour of what’s on my mind, what I think is on the industry’s mind as well, and how it might all add up (I’ll bold the main ideas).
First, you ain’t gonna like this one, so I won’t say it out loud, but let’s just say the political climate is going to get worse throughout 2024, and especially so as we get closer to the month of November. That’s true for the US, but also for many other countries around the world, and things don’t look great in many places. I’m betting on things being catastrophically worse than expected (yes, in the full sense of that word), and that means that pretty much anything to do with the film business - or art - will be orders of magnitude less important than anything else going on.
While this will likely lead to a lot of filmmakers making more activist films, and more “truth to power” works – all of which we need – it will coincide with an even greater trend towards people wanting escapism when it comes to what they watch. Some people attribute the entirety of the collapse in the market for documentaries in theaters to people just being too exhausted at the end of the day to watch anything except escapist fare, and I know that’s true for me. I think this trend will only get worse, because not only will audiences not want to watch anything too serious (unless it’s seriously escapist), but none of the buyers and commissioners will want to fund anything too heavy either, whether that’s to appease consumers, or to appease governments via self-censorship.
Next, as nearly every other pundit has predicted – 2024 is going to be a year of mega-mergers, an M&A frenzy. This will primarily play out among the big swinging discs, as I call the big boys. And sure enough, as I was writing this post, the news broke that WB/Discovery might be buying Paramount. Most people, until this week, seemed to expect that Apple would buy Paramount, if not Disney. Everyone predicted that Zaslav was ready to start selling Max/Warners/Discovery to anyone, in whole or parts. And most people think it will be a colossally bad deal for whoever buys them. But based on this news, maybe he’ll buy and destroy more properties before he sells?!
Some see Disney buying Roblox. Everyone currently at AMC (Sundance, IFC, AMC, Shudder, Etc.) seems to think they aren’t for sale. Fire. Sale. Others think it will be Apple buying A24. Who knows? But consolidation is gonna happen, and every smart person I know thinks we’ll be down to 4 major players this coming year, and I am leaning into just two of them left standing by 2025. I’ve also been predicting we’ll see this merger frenzy extend into the smaller players as well – everyone from Alamo Drafthouse to Zeitgeist (oops, they already went to KinoLorber, where there’s been a bit of M&A frenzy already), and even among the smallest of indie entities. I’ve been predicting this for years. I think we’ll finally see more of it in 2024, and while most people will decry this consolidation of indies, I think if done smartly, it could actually help some of them gain the scale to compete for more attention. Not all mergers are bad.
Don’t think for a second that the Biden Administration will stop any of this (on their way out the door, ahem), either. They’ve had enough recent success to scare away a few potential mergers, but for the most part, these things will sail on through. But what does consolidation usually lead to? More of what we’ve been seeing – less buyers, less competition, and that means less being bought from the “free” market. It also means a continued race to the bottom, the lowest common-denominator fare. This is coinciding with a desperate search for new revenue sources in an old familiar place – more advertising. And what do advertisers want more of? Bigger audiences, which also pushes the remaining players to focus on more escapist fare, more reality TV, more celebrity driven stuff, more eyeballs. Less politically controversial fare, or anything that might turn off one half (or more) of the audience, and get them into regulatory cross-hairs. Expect a lot more blah.
On the plus side, as everything on TV and in theaters gets dumb and dumber, a sizable audience will be looking in vain for quality films and shows, once again. This is an opportunity. As I’ve reported here (and others have elsewhere), there’s been a trend at many movie theaters where younger audiences are showing up in droves for repertory cinema (classics). This is being driven partly by the rise of #filmtok and of Letterboxd. But it’s also a search for quality. A desire to see tried and true, meaningful films. The audience is getting sick of series that don’t pay off come season three, if ever. They do want fun, but they also want good, and interesting, and deep.
Audiences also want things that speak to their lived reality, and/or probably more importantly – the reality they wish they lived in. That’s why Angel Studios has been such a success, and why I keep bringing them up – almost weekly – as a model to emulate. That audience wants to see more of a certain kind of content that speaks to them, and that is absent from the rest of media (or so they’d argue, as I would argue we’re actually swimming in it already). There are a lot of other sizable, underserved, niche audiences who are desperate for good “content” of any kind – books, movies, games, short form video, etc. Those who identify these niches, and serve them – uncynically, and coming from their communities and with those same values (you can’t fake it) – will succeed in 2024, like they’ve always done.
The other important trend to recognize in 2024 is that these audiences don’t distinguish between high and low, or between films and TV, or a documentary film vs. an unscripted series. Or really between a game, a TikTok post, a YouTube video, or anything else that hits their feed. It’s all (that dreaded word to the purists) content. And if it’s good, it should be shareable and something they can experience together in a meaningful way. This can be simultaneously – on their phone, everywhere all at once, or it can be windowed – they have to go to the theater. But it has to be good (high or low), and in touch with its audience in a genuine way. That’s why Taylor Swift makes Billions. Say whatever else you want, but she connects genuinely and across all platforms with her audience.
These last concepts are super important for 2024, and you could also call these trends by other words – authentic; creator-led; participatory; diverse; and multi-platform. That’s how we live in an attention economy. Right now, I only know a handful of companies that understand this and are embracing it: Edglrd; Portal-A; EST; and A24 (to some extent). Almost everyone else who understands this stuff is firmly in the “creator economy.” Very few film folks, or media people are embracing this future. Those who do so in 2024 will thrive and still be around in 2025. It’s a profound shift, but one that’s been happening since at least the early-Aughts (I’ve been writing about this since at least 2006 and I am not ahead of my times). But we’ll see all of this coming together in 2024 like never before.
Aside from this mega-trend, I think we’ll also see a few other interesting things in 2024. Given the seismic shifts hitting the industry, we’ll also see a lot more experimentation in new distribution methods and business models, especially in the documentary community. The doc world has been hit hard by consolidation and the changes at the streamers, and it also has a committed base of artists and supporters ($$$), and people are already building and launching experiments that feel exciting. More of these will come to light in 2024.
Most will fail.
But that’s ok, at least people will be trying things instead of just talking about them, or hoping the old world will come back, somehow. But I think we’ll see more successful experiments being applied to narrative/fiction films, because they’re also suffering from the same market forces, but more people want to see these films than they do docs. Hate me for saying it, but it’s just true – there’s a larger market for narrative films. And as I said before, people want escapism – and they want smart versions of it, and you just have better odds of this working in your favor (as an audience member) in the fiction space than with a documentary that might depress you.
I also think we’ll see big new moved in the brand funded entertainment world, where I spend 95% of my time. I’ve not been covering many of the brand funded films this year in the newsletter, because quite frankly, a lot of what’s been out there in 2024 hasn’t been very interesting. The field has been maturing, and everyone is catching up, but this has led to a lot of been there, done that. But now we’re ready to see some real investment in better quality, bigger risk-taking, and bolder moves. Why? Because you have to take these bigger swings to stand out in today’s crowded space. Smart brands will “up their game” in 2024. Super smart ones won’t stop with making entertainment either, but will focus on bringing it to audiences in better ways. They’ll also look at the gaps in the market and realize most of those align with what they’re good at – namely marketing. There are a ton of good films out there that just need better marketing. There’s a big need for trusted curation, and bringing attention to relevant films. We need better event-based strategies for releasing films. These are all things where brands can excel, but they need to stop scratching their “but I really want to direct” itch, throw the red-carpet dreams in the rubbish bin, and focus on where they can best add value, and thus reap bigger brand building rewards from consumers who thank them for that help.
So, them’s my thoughts on what we’ll see in 2024. I could ruminate on this stuff and predict another twenty things, but this post is long enough already. As you can see, I see a lot of turmoil, but also a lot of opportunity ahead. If you’re still reading this far in, drop me a line and let me know what you see happening in 2024.
1091 not paying filmmakers. As I mentioned in my newsletter last week, and now much more fully covered by Addie Morfoot in Variety, Chicken Soup for the Soul Ent. owner of 1091, Redbox and others isn't paying filmmakers and might be worse off than that. 1091 was a successful company, but it was bought a year ago and things have been going downhill ever since, according to many filmmakers. Make sure to spread the word, as rumor has it, they are still signing people up, even while not paying existing clients. (BN)
If Buying Isn't Owning, Piracy Isn't Stealing: Cory Doctorow continues to make the good argument that if a platform can sell you something, but their terms under the DMCA allow them to suddenly remove your access again later, then they haven't truly "sold" it and, thus, we need to rethink equating piracy with theft. This is relevant again given that Warners recently pulled titles off of Playstation devices, and Playstation had to comply - and take away titles people had paid for, without giving them any refund or recourse. Another great customer pleasing move by the sweater-vest slasher, Zaslav, of course. (BN)
Nigeria's Filmmakers Turn to YouTube, over Netflix, for bigger audiences and to fight piracy: Guess who knows a thing or two about piracy's impacts? Hollywood filmmakers, that's who, because once a Nigerian film goes to DVD, people would pirate their films and sell them to their global audience immediately. This became such a phenomenon that many producers would sell their film to the bigger pirate rings (they became organized), so they could at least make some profit. In addition, while there are 31MM+ YouTube users in Nigeria, there are only 170K Netflix subscribers, and Netflix doesn't want their movies anyways (sound familiar, indie folks??). So, as reported by Damilare Dosunmu in Rest of World (h/t Redef), Nigerian producers are turning to YouTube to fight piracy, find an audience and make some return. Of course, they can do this because their budgets for many Hollywood films are low enough to make a profit from the low margins from YT advertising. Interesting, nonetheless. On a related note, a different kind of Nigerian film has been doing quite well on Netflix, and the Hollywood Reporter has the story on that film, The Black Book. (BN)
How Do We Define Success in a Streaming World? That's the question from LightShed Partners this week, as they take a look at the recent Netflix data-dump. They note that The Mother was watched somewhere between 127MM households or maybe 254 million people (depending on how you do the math and interpret the numbers), yet is considered a flop, yet it did better than any theatrical movie except Barbie and Super Mario Bros. I don't agree with their math because they aren't computing the total viewership of theatrical movies, which go on to PVOD, TVOD and then SVOD as well, and you'd have to compare all of those to compare apples to apples. That said, they are correct that we need better ways to declare success in a streaming world. That also said... The Mother was crap, and I bet 126.6 M of those households wished they hadn't watched it in the first place. (BN)
But... Perhaps Longer Windows Do Matter? Meanwhile, over at Cinelytic, they have an analysis of recent streaming and box office trends, and their data seems to show a clear correlation between longer windows, greater than 45 days, and better streaming success. You can read their post about it here. (BN)
Then again, nothing is working for Documentaries: However, over at IndieWire, Anthony Kaufman has a good summary of the state of the doc field this year. Utter Crap. Not much new here, but I don't think this story can be reported enough - things are not good, and we need people to wake up to the reality of the marketplace. Give it a read here. (BN)
2023 List of 50+ Immersive Storytelling "Things:" Lance Weiler is back with his 5th annual edition of "the annual “Immersive Things” list. A collection of innovative works from around the world pushing at the edges of immersive possibilities." This is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of storytelling, and there's always a few gems on the list. My faves this year are Shaun Gladwell's "Passing Electrical Storms" which uses VR and biometric data to simulate your death (!); and Alan Warburton's "The Wizard of AI." Find both on the list. (BN)
GSH = Articles written by Sub-Genre's Gabriel Schillinger-Hyman, not Brian Newman (BN)
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