It’s impossible to predict the future.
If studio executives, filmmakers, musicians and showrunners knew what trends were about to take hold, they’d have gone into streaming two decades ago, bought Marvel before Disney did and invested in Spotify when it was a struggling Swedish startup. Alas.
But that’s not stopping the bright minds in our newsroom from going out on a limb and forecasting what’s in store for the entertainment business in 2020. There was no shortage of drama this year. Disney bought Fox and launched a streaming service, Viacom and CBS merged, “Avengers: Endgame” shattered “Avatar’s” box office record, Lil Nas X became the first LGBTQ artist to come out while having a No. 1 record and Trump became embroiled in impeachment. Still, if Variety reporters’ predictions come to pass, the next 12 months will upend the media landscape and set the world spinning. Here are some of the headlines we expect to see and stories you’ll find us chasing.
A Woman Will Direct the Year’s Top-Grossing Film
Five of the biggest movie titles in 2020 — including all four major superhero movies — will be directed by women: “Birds of Prey,” by Cathy Yan, on Feb 7; “Mulan,” by Niki Caro, on March 27; “Black Widow,” by Cate Shortland, on May 1; “Wonder Woman 1984,” by Patty Jenkins, on June 5; and “Eternals,” by Chloé Zhao, on Nov. 6. It’s an unprecedented show of force for female filmmakers, and at least one of these movies will end up atop the domestic box office for the year.
‘Anderson Cooper 360’ Is Filmed in Front of a Live Studio Audience
TV news networks will work to make more programs that feature the use of live in-studio audiences — a move that will suggest Paddy Chayefsky wasn’t so far off when he came up with the premise for the 1976 film “Network.”
Streaming Fatigue Sets In — and Bundles Become Key
The fists will be flying in the fight for subscription VOD customers, and not everyone will come out unscathed. Consumers will find their wallets strained as they’re forced to pick among a bazaar of streaming options including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO (and the new HBO Max), Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi (and that’s just for starters). Expect the marketing onslaught to hit peak noise in 2020. As the SVOD squads look to lock in customer bases, look for more special discounts in the form of bundling — in particular, deals between the streamers and cable and satellite TV operators.
‘The Crown’ Emerges Victorious
With longtime Emmy champ “Game of Thrones” having ceded the stage, “The Crown,” another highly polished artwork about the responsibilities of royalty, takes the top prize. In so doing, it becomes, finally, Netflix’s first best drama or comedy winner at the Emmys — just a few months after the streamer also lands its first best picture gong, for “The Irishman.”
Oscars Go Hostless … Again
Expectations were low for the 2019 Academy Awards, but viewers were pleasantly surprised when a show without an emcee was, you know, quite watchable. Looking to avoid another Kevin Hart debacle, the broadcast will once again forgo a host and the controversies that often come with those selections. Except this time what was once fresh and novel will seem stale. By 2021, the Oscars will have a master of ceremonies once more.
Leo the Lion Hangs ‘For Sale’ Sign
MGM will be on the block as speculation about Apple and Amazon kicking tires on IP assets reaches fever pitch. It’s a seller’s market for companies with proven franchises, and MGM controls the rights to no less than James Bond.
Marvel Conquers the Small Screen
Disney will usher in a new age of storytelling with the debut of the first of its MCU limited series on Disney Plus, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” The company will integrate film and television on a scale never before seen, paving the way for future projects to explore storytelling across multiple platforms. The next set of superhero adventures will start on streaming before jumping to television with a big screen detour or two.
During the last Writers Guild contract negotiation nearly three years ago, the guild’s main priority was to shore up the health insurance fund, which it achieved. Then, the WGA also extracted small gains on the issue of pay increases to reflect the television world as it is: almost no residuals from reruns (because there are no longer reruns, really!) and shortened TV seasons where a salary based on a 22-episode network run is practically nonexistent. But even since May 2017, the streaming universe has exploded, and now we have Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and the soon-to-arrive HBO Max and Peacock. If the WGA doesn’t get the studios to pony up real raises now to feed that maw, it’s never going to. Many writers think there’s going to be a strike in May. And from the way studios are rushing shows and movies into production before the May 1 deadline, the studios seem to think so too. Meanwhile, look for Netflix to break with the rest of Hollywood and cut its own deal with the WGA.
Warner Bros. Is Finished Making Mid-Budget Movies
After the failures of “The Kitchen,” “The Goldfinch” and “Motherless Brooklyn,” Warner Bros. will get out of making dramas, thrillers and movies for adults. Instead, the studio will focus on producing more sequels, spinoffs and reboots based on characters from the DC Comics vaults. In the meantime, movies with iffy commercial prospects will get dumped on HBO Max, forgoing a traditional theatrical release. That’s bad news for filmmakers who are struggling to get greenlights for movies that don’t feature heroes sporting capes.
For Ken Ehrlich’s Final Grammys, Expect the Most Ken Show Ever
After 40 years, the 2020 Grammy Awards will be the last one helmed by Ken Ehrlich, as the veteran will be stepping aside for chosen successor Ben Winston. But do not expect him to go gently into that good night: For his last waltz, it’ll be the quintessential Ken Ehrlich Grammys, bursting with generation-spanning duets, emotive ballads and Hollywood-spangled moments of social commentary.
The Anti-Disney Plus Appears
Disney’s streaming-service launch was such an unqualified success (if you believe the hype about subscriber numbers) that it sent the company’s already robust stock soaring to new heights. Don’t expect such warm welcomes around the launches for WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and Comcast’s Peacock. The former is saddled with muddled branding and a hefty price tag. The latter appears designed to supplement Comcast’s core pay-TV business — a business that’s on the decline and for which consumers have long-held antipathy. One of the two — or the blink-and-you-missed-it Apple TV Plus — could turn out to be the Mirror Universe version of Disney Plus.
Indie Films Make Deals With the Devil to Survive
Further obliterating the independent film establishment, business alliances like A24’s exclusive multiyear pact with Apple will become the rule, not the exception, for smaller studios. Getting their hands on financing and some kind of promise of creative autonomy will be enough to convince them to skip theatrical releases. Art-house cinema’s loss is Netflix’s gain.
Facing Four More Years of Trump, Musicians Remember They Have Voices
After a 2016 election cycle in which a lot of music stars either sat out getting politically involved or just offered isolated comments about a Trump campaign they didn’t really expect to succeed, there will be greater outspokenness this time, with actual get-out-the-vote caravan gigs. As proof that sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option: the recent eagerness of the formerly apolitical Taylor Swift to speak her mind.
Baby Yoda Gets Ready for His Close-up
The “Mandalorian” breakout star’s charisma simply cannot be contained on a single
Disney Plus series. With Lucasfilm struggling to figure out the next act for “Star Wars,” the company will turn to Baby Yoda. Get ready for a big-screen spinoff for the adorable aspiring Jedi master. The force is strong with this one.
Jem Aswad, Kate Aurthur, Matt Donnelly, Daniel Holloway, Brent Lang, Cynthia Littleton, Joe Otterson, Todd Spangler, Brian Steinberg, Jazz Tangcay, Adam B. Vary and Chris Willman contributed to this report.