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Entertainment Predictions for 2018: Best Picture Winner, B.O. Rebound, Netflix’s Ambitions

For sheer head-smacking shock value, how do you top a year that saw Rupert Murdoch become a seller, Harvey Weinstein become an irredeemable pariah, Bill O’Reilly become unemployed, “Wonder Woman” become the superhero box office champ and the president of the United States become the nation’s most widely read media critic?

Yes, 2017 was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. And the year ahead promises to be shaped by plenty of fallout from the previous 12 months. We’ll learn the fate of AT&T and Time Warner’s merger — probably to be decided in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. We’ll find out if the Disney brand can coexist under the same enormous roof as Fox. We’ll undoubtedly be astounded more than once by Twitter missives from the commander-in-chief. And we’ll likely be reeling from further examples of digital giants muscling into the content business, as audiences embrace an ever-growing number of providers and platforms.

Here are some informed guesses at headlines we’ll be reading in 2018:

Box office rebounds
The return of several blue-chip franchises such as “Jurassic World,” “The Incredibles” and “The Avengers” will lift ticket sales in 2018 after a weak showing in 2017. There’s even a chance the box office could set a new domestic record. Last year’s results were less than stellar, with attendance hitting its lowest levels in two decades.

Netflix buys a studio
These days, the streaming giant would rather own intellectual property than rent content from studios whose media-conglomerate parents are increasingly wary of its market power. In 2017, Netflix made its first-ever acquisition: Millarworld, a small comic-book house whose founder, Mark Millar, is the creator of franchises like “Kick-Ass” and “Kingsman.” It also rocked the TV world by recruiting über-showrunner Shonda Rhimes to an exclusive deal. Expect Reed Hastings to make similar M&A moves this year as part of the feeding of Netflix’s imposing multibillion-dollar content pipeline. One potential takeover target: MGM, which oversees a large library of movies and TV shows, with James Bond, “Stargate,” “Rocky” and “RoboCop” among its franchises. MGM also owns premium cable channel Epix, which could give Netflix an intriguing foothold in pay TV.

Lionsgate on the block
Industry insiders say Lionsgate is a ripe acquisition target following a near sale to Hasbro last year when the toymaker failed to offer enough money. Lionsgate stock has been on a steady run since mid-May in anticipation of a major transaction. John Malone’s cable giant Charter Communications is a likely suspect to go after the studio, given Malone’s investment in Lionsgate and Charter’s formidable balance sheet. Netflix could also be a player for the studio that is home to “Orange Is the New Black,” among other franchises.

2018 Hollywood Predictions
CREDIT: Celine Loup for Variety

Facebook doesn’t join peak TV fray
Look for Facebook to pull back on plans to be a player on this front, despite reports in 2017 that it’s prepared to spend as much as $1 billion on originals (though sports is a place where that money will be put to use). The early evidence is that Facebook’s hub for original content, Watch, just isn’t clicking, and the few unscripted series that have been tried are getting no buzz. While more scripted content is on the way, Facebook will eventually focus on what its data indicates works well: short-form video in the news feed, where there’s still ad revenue to be made.

Apple thinks differently
The tech company is shelling out megadollars to dive into the original series business with Steven Spielberg, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and showrunner Ronald D. Moore, but what remains unclear is how this content will be distributed. Many are expecting the launch of a new streaming service intended to go head to head with the likes of Netflix. But Apple doesn’t need the headache of building a service from scratch. It already has enough distribution points from which to make this content available. Expect the new series to be distributed by existing properties like Apple Music, which has a significant user base on which to build, and iTunes, which could give consumers an à la carte alternative to access this content if they don’t want monthly fees.

NBCUniversal snags BuzzFeed
While BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has had eyes for an IPO, the digital player is more likely to see another kind of exit: an acquisition by NBCUniversal. The media company owns about one-fourth of BuzzFeed, after investing $400 million. NBCU’s stake doesn’t give it an explicit option to buy BuzzFeed, and Peretti has expressed a desire for the company to remain independent. But BuzzFeed’s other shareholders may see the Peacock as a good home, particularly as the company looks to expand with more TV-like programming (like BuzzFeed News’ morning show on Twitter), and considering it fell short of 2017 revenue targets.

Trump Twitterstorm rages on
President Trump won’t let up on his tweets, despite plenty of polls that show even his most die-hard supporters wish he’d stop. Despite his huge victory in passing tax reform, he’ll continue to attack fellow Republicans when it suits him, particularly as vulnerable candidates in swing districts try to distance themselves from him in the 2018 midterm elections. And he’ll surely keep excoriating the work of his least-favorite news outlets, if only for sport.

Spotify goes public (Sort of)
Look for music streaming leader Spotify to rework the financials of its money-losing business in 2018. Having backed itself into
a corner with $1 billion in debt financing, the company managed to spend all of 2017 sidestepping a rumored IPO. Now there’s talk of the company skipping the traditional IPO route in favor of a more freewheeling “direct listing” that would allow it to simply place its shares on a
public exchange and have them trade with public demand — setting the initial share price rather than letting an investment bank do the job. Spotify has leveraged 60 million paying subscribers and 140 million active users into a rather optimistic valuation of $19 billion, despite having never made a penny of profit. But if Facebook was able to reinvent itself from a low-revenue playground to a cash-generating engine, why not Daniel Ek’s Sweden-born behemoth?

More Shows, Fewer Linear Networks
The tally of original scripted TV series will surpass 500 in 2018 — thank you, Netflix, Amazon and Apple — but the number of linear TV networks will continue to slowly shrink. Skinny bundles will force even the largest content providers to focus on quality programming for just a few channels rather than collecting a quantity of shows for all of their channels. Look for Discovery, Viacom, A+E Networks and AMC Networks to join NBCUniversal in swinging the ax as more channels lose cable distribution.

Disney’s “Avengers: Infinity War” hits theaters in May, with entries in the “Incredibles” and “Jurassic Park” franchises soon to follow.

Moviegoing goes the Uber route
One of the country’s largest theater chains will announce a new flexible ticket pricing model, one that will require fans to shell out more to see the next “Star Wars” movie and other blockbuster titles on opening weekend. Competitors will follow suit, meaning that demand will drive ticket prices at the local multiplex. If casual movie consumers thought ticket prices were too high already, just wait ’til they get a look at surge pricing.

‘Lady Bird’ flies high
Come March 4, the indie darling directed by Greta Gerwig about a Sacramento, Calif., high-school senior, played by Saoirse Ronan, will win the best-picture statue at the Oscars. This would mark a repeat victory for indie distributor A24, after last year’s surprise “Moonlight” moment — although the wrong envelope will not be read this time around.

Broadway traffic jam
The coming year on Broadway will be especially crowded with shows trying to become the next “Dear Evan Hansen” or “Hello, Dolly!” The sure thing is “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” certain to repeat its London mega-success (with both critics and audiences) on this side of the Pond. Disney’s “Frozen” will bring in the big bucks for its first year at least. Buzzy “Mean Girls” also might connect big, but there are enough wild cards in the mix that its odds look less clear.

Gordon Cox, Daniel Holloway, Ted Johnson, Brent Lang, Cynthia Littleton, Paula Parisi, Ramin Setoodeh, Todd Spangler and Andrew Wallenstein contributed to this report.

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