In the Streaming Age, Media Companies Blur the Line Between Film and TV

IP Is King Film and Television
Robert Sammelin for Variety

Our issue this week aims to capture the altered state of the entertainment industry. As the biggest media companies have thrust themselves into the highly competitive direct-to-consumer business, it’s been fascinating to cover how they’ve realigned their operations and created new hierarchal structures around their new priorities.

For more than a year we’ve been having internal discussions about how the once distinct line between film and television has essentially blurred as the exploitation of IP across platforms has trumped the traditional divisional divides at the media giants.

As Joe Otterson’s cover story points out, “Where gilded properties like ‘Star Wars’ and the many characters of the Marvel universe were once stratified as the stuff of movies only, the explosion of content platforms has erased the lanes that used to so specifically define something as ‘film’ or ‘TV.’”

Given that the entire ecosystem of the business has shifted, we as entertainment journalists have had to adapt and rethink how we cover an industry that is now swept up in the digital age.

Market-leading companies like Disney, AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Comcast’s NBCUniversal have reconfigured their heretofore siloed operations by broadening the responsibilities of top managers

to ensure they are funneling strong content to their respective streaming services. Studio leaders are being asked to be platform agnostic when it comes to deciding the best way to deliver content to the consumer.

“Now the norm is centralized groups to steer development and production for a myriad of potential outlets,” writes Cynthia Littleton. For example, Disney executive Kareem Daniel was promoted last year to lead the revenue-generating distribution side of the studio’s vast TV and streaming operations. Film leaders such as Warner Bros.’ Toby Emmerich must now think beyond the theatrical release of the movies on his annual slate and pitch ideas to HBO Max. WarnerMedia chief Jason Kilar, the founding CEO of streamer Hulu, shook up the norm with a pandemic-driven decision to simultaneously release Warner Bros.’ 2021 movies in theaters and on HBO Max.

Last December, Kilar told me, “The first and probably the most important aspect of the decisions I made with how we [restructured operations] was how we organized ourselves specifically around content. I felt that the right thing to do in service of the customer was to have one group overseeing studios and networks, rather than two.”