Will Netflix be the king of streaming in five years? What’s the biggest threat to dethrone it: Apple, Disney, or HBO? Are movie theaters back for real? How has the pandemic changed the film industry? Is TikTok the biggest arch-villain in entertainment? Where do hits come from? What is the metaverse, and will I like living in it? Derek has a lot of questions. His guests—Bloomberg entertainment reporter Lucas Shaw, and author of THE METAVERSE Matthew Ball—have many answers.
Below, an excerpt from Thompson’s introduction to Tuesday’s podcast, in which he looks at the history of media and entertainment. In the last century-plus, the U.S. has seen movie theaters, then linear TV, and now streaming captivate the viewing audience. What’s next?
Today’s episode is a double feature on the future of media and entertainment.
I was thinking recently that this has been a really weird summer for Hollywood. The theme of the last decade has been: “Streaming is taking over the world and movie theaters are in slow-motion stagnation or decline.” And you could absolutely say that the pandemic put that narrative into hyperdrive. Movie theater tickets plummeted. Box office was obliterated for two years. Streaming was zooming forward. It just seemed so obvious that the future of film was moving away from theaters and toward your living room couch.
But then, this summer happened. Netflix hit a subscriber wall, and lots of media and entertainment executives are now looking at that subscriber wall and thinking, “Hmm, does our streaming pure play make as much sense as it did six months ago? Is the ceiling of global streaming subscribers really a billion, like we thought it was just a few months ago? Or is it a lot lower?” They’re recognizing the benefits of being an old-fashioned company that is diversified, where your fortunes are balanced among theme parks and merchandising, cable, and yes, movie theaters.
This summer, Top Gun: Maverick set the all-time box office record for a Memorial Day opening. Then, Minions set the all-time box office record for a July Fourth opening. Does that sound like an industry that is dying? You can scream “It’s ticket inflation, it’s ticket inflation” all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that the movies are back, or at least the movies as a tentpole business are back.
This intersection really fascinates me. I see the history of media and entertainment as the history of frontiers that rise and fall like waves coming after one another. Movie theaters were the wave of the early 1900s. They rose and rose, and then tickets bought per American peaked in the 1930s, 1940s at about 35 movie tickets bought per person in America, an astonishing number. It’s been declining ever since. It’s now about two or three. So what happened? Well, in the 1950s, linear TV comes along, changes the world. TV, changing everything, but then linear TV itself peaks around 2010. And what’s the next wave? Well, it’s streaming. Streaming soars. It revolutionizes entertainment. Everything’s just going to be streamed to your couch. Your couch is the future of all entertainment. And yet, now we see that might be peaking. Movies, TV, streaming. What’s next?
My guests today are Lucas Shaw, an entertainment reporter at Bloomberg and frequent guest on The Town podcast, and Matthew Ball, investor, essayist, author of The METAVERSE. I have burning questions for both of them about peak TV, Netflix, Disney, Apple, the metaverse and the future of our attention.
This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.
Host: Derek Thompson
Guests: Lucas Shaw and Matthew Ball
Producer: Devon Manze