It would be hard to top the drama of 2018. From media mega-mergers to the rise of Time’s Up, it was a year that had more than its fair share of twists and turns. Leslie Moonves resigned in disgrace, AT&T snapped up Time Warner, Disney inched closer to subsuming Fox and “Black Panther” shattered box office records and became a rallying cry for inclusion. Given all that change, 2019 has some big shoes to fill. Our newsroom of Nostradamuses thinks the next 12 months will more than meet the challenge. Here are 10 stories we could be busy chasing just as soon as the new year dawns.
Apple Shells Out for Sony Pictures
The Silicon Valley giant will finally recognize it could use some Hollywood expertise as it tries to catch up with Netflix’s and Amazon’s streaming services. Buying Sony gives Apple access to a library that includes “Men in Black,” “Breaking Bad” and “Jumanji,” as well as the right to make more “Spider-Man” movies. That’s a web Apple would be lucky to spin. Also, buying a studio is basically a rounding error for a company worth $1 trillion.
Robert Downey Jr. Says Goodbye to Iron Man
Over the course of 10 Marvel movies, Downey has proved the straw that stirs the Avengers’ drink. But even superheroes get tired of saving the world. Next summer’s “Avengers” installment will serve as a swan song to Tony Stark/Iron Man for the actor, allowing him to bid farewell to the franchise that resurrected his career and launch his own Phase 2 as a thespian. With Downey hanging up his suit, look for Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” to become the most valuable member of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
TV Exits Traditional Commercials
NBCUniversal and Fox have started trying to find ways to rid primetime of the usual litany of ad breaks. More TV networks are likely to follow suit as a new generation of viewers, who have embraced on-demand streaming, grow used to seeing fewer ads — and sometimes none at all. The phrase “And now a word from our sponsor” is about to go out of style.
Digital Media Players Merge to Survive
It’s been rough sledding for internet-centric content companies. BuzzFeed, Vice Media, Vox Media, Refinery29, Awesomeness and Mitu are among those laying off staff or freezing hiring in recent months, as they’ve seen digital ad revenue stagnate and new businesses fail to take off. In November, news start-up Mic laid off nearly its entire editorial team and was acquired by Bustle Digital Group. BuzzFeed chief Jonah Peretti essentially issued a call for the industry to engage in M&A in a recent New York Times interview, with the idea that they could build strength in numbers to get better ad deals from Facebook and Google. One combo that could be in play: BuzzFeed and Vox, which are both backed by NBCUniversal.
Adele Makes It Rain (Again)
Adele emerges from familial bliss, drops “29” — breaking the sales records she set with “25” in 2015 — spends a year on tour offsetting her downbeat ballads with hilarious, foulmouthed between-song banter that makes everyone fall in love with her all over again, and then dips back into familial bliss for another four years.
Windows Battle Redux: Studios Prepare for War
Everyone was getting along so well for a while! After Disney announced plans to buy Fox, major studios shelved negotiations over a deal that would have let them release movies on demand within a few weeks of their theatrical debuts. The hope was that exhibition chains would play along in exchange for getting a cut of the profits. After waiting for all the merger madness to shake out, it will be back to the barricades. Warner Bros. and Universal will announce plans for early VOD releases on a few films, and theater owners will cry foul. One thing is certain: There will be blood.
Agents of Change
Look for some interesting movement at both of Hollywood’s über-agencies. Rumblings out of CAA continue about a change in the agency’s ownership structure — there were even brief discussions earlier this year about TPG selling all or part of its CAA stake to John Malone’s Liberty Media. Those are the kinds of conversations that can spark back up, and it’s a sign that TPG and CAA are in the market for deals. At WME and IMG, expect internal management shuffles as the company adjusts to its diversification strategy under parent company Endeavor.
Netflix Hikes Prices, Suffers Modest Backlash
The subscription VOD leader last raised rates in the fourth quarter of 2017 (two years after the previous hike) — and pulled it off with nary a hiccup in subscription growth. Look for Netflix to raise fees again later in 2019, especially in more mature markets like the U.S., to help pay for its debt-fueled content deals. Any price increase would spawn ire and some cancellations. But Wall Street believes Netflix has runway to safely increase fees; its most popular plan, at $10.99 per month, is lower than Hulu’s ad-free $11.99 service. Greg Peters, the company’s chief product officer, recently told analysts that “we earn the right to increase price a bit” if the service keeps delivering on customer expectations.
Streamers Ready for a fight
The battle for streaming subscribers will intensify exponentially as Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia launch their entries into the direct-to-consumer realm, vying with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, ESPN+ and several others. They will also do battle with Sling, DirecTV Now and many of the narrow-bundle MVPDs that have begun sprouting up in recent years. Watch for a slew of advertising aimed at getting you to pry open your wallet and pick up just one more broadband subscription.
Compiled by Brent Lang, Todd Spangler, Jem Aswad, Cynthia Littleton and Brian Steinberg.