Kevin KrimJuly 25, 20234 min read

Strikes and Streamers: The Story Reshaping Hollywood’s Future

The Covid-19 pandemic rocked Hollywood to its core. But it’s the dual set of writers’ and actors’ strikes that may end up bringing the business to its knees.

Indeed, the entertainment industry has been marked by nearly constant turmoil over the past few years - and right now, it finds itself in perhaps a more precarious position than ever before. Ironically, while we cheer for Barbenheimer, one of the most celebrated theatrical release pairings in years, Hollywood’s talent disputes show no signs of resolving. 

Consider what has happened just since 2019. During the lockdowns of 2020, movie theaters were shuttered for months on end, and since they’ve reopened, attendance has been colored by fits and starts. Even after last year’s ‘Maverick’ led renaissance, the box office this year has been all over the place. Audiences are savvy and choosy – less watchable titles have stumbled while ‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ joined the billion dollar club.

Of course, the silver lining during the depths of the pandemic was that streaming consumption boomed, and studios and networks churned out new shows and movies at a staggering clip. Yet by 2022, viewership had come back to earth, and Wall Street had lost its tolerance for streamers’ mounting losses in the name of subscriber growth. 

Now, the writer’s strike, followed by the recent actor's strike, couldn’t come at a worse time for the studios (though some CFOs may be tempted to disagree – more on this later). When you’re just getting people excited about going to theaters at pre-Covid levels, when your legacy (linear TV) offering is deeply disrupted yet you’re pressured by the economics of streaming – and then you lose the ability to produce your core product (i.e. shows and movies) - well, you don’t just have a problem, you have existential crises on top of existential crises. Throw in the fact that, lest we not forget - YouTube creators aren’t on strike. Or Netflix showrunners in Korea. Or TikTok talent.

A growing number of consumers have already shown they consider ‘social video’ to be a worthy, equal competitor for their attention. We don’t need to give them a nudge in that direction.

That’s why guarding against short term thinking will be crucial - and watching the consumer - not just the bottom line - will be everything. That’s where data-driven marketers can shine and maybe even play the hero the industry needs right now.

But first, there are some instructive moments in Hollywood history that are worth looking back on - yet it's hard to find a comparable timeline with this much disruption happening at once. Regardless, if the past is any guide - we should expect major changes.

Back in the late 1980s, a writer’s strike helped push more consumers from network TV to cable. In 2007, we saw another strike help drive the boom in reality TV, while viewers started moving fastest to time shifting and on-demand viewing - even buying shows like “Lost” and “The Office” via iTunes.

This time around many of the writers have cited the threat of AI as a reason for the need to protect their craft through a strike. But this is really about money, and whether there is enough to go around in a business that can no longer count on stable dual revenue streams, not to mention lucrative syndication windows.

For the studios, this is a time to be smart, and to try to not get bogged down in negotiating emotion on the one hand, nor a fixation on cost savings on the other. In the short term, it may actually seem good for profits to have a temporary absence of production costs. However, this is the time to push back on the CFOs and remind them that this industry is nothing without great content - which is still created by a finite talent base.

We’d argue that this is the moment for studio heads to actually lean on their creative and marketing leads more than ever - because they are the stewards of the most important information you have right now - the data that tells you what consumers actually want. More to the point - modern marketers know how to dig into the numbers to decipher what’s working, not just what’s popular. They are often able to see threads and hidden gems before they are obvious - which should be invaluable during a prolonged production shutdown.

At this incredibly vulnerable time, finding hits will be more important than ever - yet the ‘big watercooler show’ may not exist like it once did. More than ever, studios need to lean on data to find which formats and genres are percolating - both in the US and across the globe, and mine those diamonds.

Surely, the industry as we’ve known it is most likely never going to look like it did before. The risk at hand is if we’re not careful, we won’t have an industry that is worth hanging onto. But if the excitement around a Barbenheimer double feature is just what the audience ordered, only your marketing team is going to be able to tell you why.


Know What Works. Always.

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