Fasten your seat belts: Hollywood is in for another bumpy ride in 2023.
With the economy once again on the brink of a recession and cutbacks hitting hard all over town, the entertainment industry is bracing for more challenges in the year ahead. Among the many question marks for 2023: Will the movie business revive to pre-pandemic levels? When will the high drama at Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery settle down? And how viable is streaming as a business model for legacy media companies anyway?
In an ordinary year, Will Smith’s Oscar night slap of Chris Rock might stand out as a signature event, but that onstage incident, as shocking as it was, was soon overshadowed by two seismic developments: In April, the Warner Bros. Discovery merger closed, paving the way for a series of changes under new boss David Zaslav, while Wall Street darling Netflix disclosed its first subscriber loss in a decade, prompting a massive stock slide and general freakout about big bets placed on streaming as the wave of the future.
In November, Disney’s board of directors stunned Hollywood when it ousted embattled CEO Bob Chapek and reinstated Bob Iger to the top perch. Iger quickly undid some of his successor’s corporate realignments and set about mending relationships with a rattled creative community.
Nerves are far from soothed around town as the holidays get underway, however. With last-minute cancellations on the rise and labor storm clouds on the horizon, Hollywood is feeling less festive than usual. Here’s our look back at the tumultuous year that was and the outlook for the one ahead.
When will the exhibition business be truly boffo again? Sure, “Avatar: The Way of Water” dominated at the box office over the weekend, but its opening haul fell short of 2022 Marvel releases including “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and cannot paper over the ongoing difficulties of midrange films such as Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” Theater owners have been lamenting the meager release slate for months, and it doesn’t look like studios will return to pre-pandemic output levels any time soon.
Streaming’s reality check
Netflix’s Q1 2022 subscriber miss forced the industry to reexamine bullish predictions about the sector’s growth potential and all the billions of dollars spent on content. Layoffs and cancellations commenced, none more startling to the creative community than Zaslav’s August decision to write off “Batgirl,” greenlit by the previous leadership of Warner Media and intended for HBO Max. This here-today-gone-tomorrow approach to distribution unnerved creatives behind shows, some of whom had spent years developing their projects.
Outlook: Mixed. Streaming is here to stay, but so, likely, are scaled-back expenditures and a reliance on ad-supported options as the sector matures.
Ads regain favor
With cord cutting continuing and content costs high, streamers began leaning more heavily into ad-supported options in 2022. Former holdout Netflix rolled out an ad-supported tier in November, with Disney+ doing the same earlier this month. Meanwhile, free ad-supported streaming channels are growing apace, and all that inventory makes Madison Avenue happy.
Outlook: Positive. The threat of TV shifting to entirely subscription models is fading fast.
Post Peak TV?
With networks and streaming services ready to cancel shows on a moment’s notice and cost containment a mandate from C-suites, we might have finally moved to post-peak TV. In 2023, we should get a better idea of whether that mountain of content has been scaled — and whether the upcoming Emmy season will be less punishing as a result.
Outlook: Sanity seems to be returning as the volume of content production slowly (and inevitably) ebbs.
A series of court cases involving sexual assault have many in Hollywood wondering about the future of the #MeToo movement. A Los Angeles jury has convicted Harvey Weinstein on three more counts of sexual assault. But earlier in the year, a jury sided with Kevin Spacey in a $40 million civil lawsuit. Danny Masterson’s rape trial, which could have put him behind bars for 40 years, ended in a mistrial. Meanwhile, Louis C.K. won a Grammy in April.
Outlook: Unclear. It’s hard to imagine returning to a pre-Weinstein world of looking the other way at vile behavior, but the legal processes for #MeToo cases remain unpredictable.
In the wake of botched ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s tour, the biggest cliffhanger in music is whether lawmakers are all bark or some bite, too, in taking on either Ticketmaster (which is caught in a stuck-in-the-middle-with-you dance over tacked-on fees that actually benefit the company relatively little) or what many see as the real enemy, the secondary market.
Outlook: Don’t hold your breath but after the outcry from the Swifties, maybe some consumer-friendly legislation is on the horizon.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made headlines this year with Meghan’s revealing interview with Variety in October and with the December release of Netflix’s “Harry and Meghan” docuseries. All that buzz generated a quick Season 2 pickup of the series. So what’s the next frontier for 2023 — producing scripted series and features?
Outlook: One bullish Variety staffer sees the pair adding “Oscar-nominated” to their list of credits in the future.
Contributors: Jem Aswad, Marc Malkin, Joe Otterson, Brian Steinberg, Elizabeth Wagmeister and Chris Willman