Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The 5 Most Pressing Questions for Television in 2019

With 2018 coming to a close, now is the perfect time to look ahead to 2019 and predict what some of the trends for the television industry will be. Many companies have already announced their major plans for the coming year. And yet, some questions still remain. As such, I'm looking at some of the biggest stories that will develop over the next 12 months.

Can CBS change its corporate culture?

A year ago Amazon was a streaming service plagued with scandal and uncertainty. Misconduct allegations forced out its leadership team while many other executives left for opportunities elsewhere. That was coupled with the broad directive from Jeff Bezos to develop the next Game of Thrones. In the past 12 months, the company has found a new direction aided by the hiring of Jennifer Salke from NBC to run the video program. The streamer may not have found the next Game of Thrones. But this year saw the company achieve a trillion dollar evaluation, be the first streaming service to win the Emmy for Best Comedy Series for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and debuted solid hits Jack Ryan and Homecoming. They are a company once again competitive in the streaming wars. All it took was finding the right direction and actually taking responsibility for the errors of past leadership. And now, those are the same questions that plague CBS. In fact, the systemic pattern of abuse within the overall company may even be worse and more pervasive. It all clearly started at the top with Leslie Moonves who abused his power, with the board's investigation proving that they had just cause to fire him from his prominent role within the company. That came after he was celebrated at the May Upfronts this year because of his stance against Shari Redstone in a bid to remerge CBS and Viacom. Of course, problems were apparent at CBS long before Ronan Farrow's exposé of the abuses at the top. Every year saw the top critics questioning the lack of racial and gender diversity amongst its shows. Despite changes to the programming teams, no one ever gave a good enough answer as to why the network wasn't doing more to make shows toplined by woman or people of color. And now, it has become clear that CBS was an environment of normalized abuse where everyone was expected to act a certain way or get out of the company. The reveals of the behind-the-scenes behavior on Bull, Star Trek: Discovery, Fam, Criminal Minds and more are so illuminating. They prove that CBS may not be a business people in the industry want to associate with. As such, the search continues for a new CEO to hopefully steer the ship in the right direction. It comes at a time when linear ratings continue to trend downwards. CBS may hold flat in the overall rankings thanks to it airing the Super Bowl this year. But the new CEO has a tall order of needing to present an agenda immediately that recognizes and fixes the systemic abuses while winning the trust of the audience back. It's unclear if the overall company can whether the storm. The CW and Showtime are still well positioned to continue doing strong business. CBS and Viacom can't flirt with a merger again until 2020. So, everything remains precarious in 2019 with it remaining unclear just how much change anyone should realistically expect. But change needs to be called for by everyone in the industry at the moment.

How will Disney's acquisition of Fox assets change the various networks in the expanded portfolio?

The executives at Disney and Fox have spent the last 12 months getting their respective companies ready for a merger. The closing of this deal will form one of the largest media companies to date. It has seemingly sailed through the regulatory process of the government as well - apparently learning from the perils of the AT&T-Time Warner merger. And yet, there are still a bunch of unanswered questions. Sure, we already know that Peter Rice and Dana Walden are moving to Disney with high-profile jobs overseeing large portions of the company portfolio. Walden's longtime partner Gary Newman is leaving Fox but with no additional plans at this time. He could be snatched up by a rival company or studio. Or he could also make a move as an independent producer. Meanwhile, Charlie Collier has come over from AMC to partner with Michael Thom to figure out the identity of New Fox. That's still the best name for what will be left of the broadcast network which isn't being sold as a part of this deal. The future of the network is uncertain because it heads into pilot season as an independent network for the first time in awhile. Over the last few years, vertical integration has been so important to the various outlets. Companies want to own the shows that they are airing on their networks. And now, New Fox doesn't have a corresponding production studio to make those deals very lucrative. In fact, they will have to pay for the licensing rights to longtime hits like The Simpsons and Family Guy for the first time. That may signal that those respective shows could be coming to an end. They have to be expensive and Disney will now be seeing all of the profits from the overall franchises. The only thing for certain about New Fox is a growing reliance on live sports. The network will continue to air Thursday night football games in the fall. But the company has also picked up WWE SmackDown from USA to air on Fridays. As such, the network will simply have less real estate for its scripted offerings. In that regard, it seems to be making a significant programming shift with broad multi-camera sitcoms and procedurals. That could be a successful path forward even though it's not the most exciting thing to talk about in the industry at the moment. But New Fox isn't the only company with looming questions because of this deal. The future of Hulu is also at stake here. When everything is done, Disney will acquire the majority interest in the streamer. So how quickly will the direction of that company change after multiple executive restructurings this past year? Will it firm up its plans for an international rollout? Will it continue being the place for the largest library of streaming acquisitions? Moreover, ABC has had a rough year with major linear drops. Will Disney reinvest in its broadcast network or will it be too interested with its new tools in the new year? These are questions that need immediate answers.

Will Netflix continue to grow?

Netflix has become such a monolith when it comes to content and global domination. It was the company that essentially started the streaming wars. This service knew the value of streaming long before any other company. And now, everyone operates with the understanding that streaming is the future. Every media company is now flirting with the idea of launching a streaming service that will make their content available to the consumer. Netflix has foreseen that as well. As such, 2018 saw a push for the streamer to own even more of its shows. This was the year of overall mega-deals with Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Kenya Barris, Marti Noxon, the Obamas and more signing lucrative contracts to make content exclusively for the company. The executive ranks have only continued to increase - with Channing Dungey moving from ABC to help Cindy Holland with the overall catalog. But this year was also important because it proved that Netflix truly did want to be in competition with everyone. It didn't want to just settle for being one of the best providers of scripted content. It wanted to offer the same kinds of shows that you could find on HGTV, Food Network, E!, VH1, etc. It continued to experiment with which genres could work in the binge format. As such, the company is now virtually debuting content every day. That's so impressive and can easily be seen as so tiring as well. It's impossible for any individual to screen every content that Netflix offers on its service. But that's what makes it seem like a worthy investment as well. It truly does offer shows for everyone. Someone could find something that they like on the platform. That's the Netflix brand. That has always been its mission. This year was the first where it truly seemed to deliver on that promise. The overall company gained almost 30 million new subscribers around the world as well. That was up from the modest expectations of growth this year. As such, Netflix will continue to dominate the conversation in 2019. It will further expand into new territories and sign producing agreements for local shows. But the question still looms of just how big Netflix is capable of being? Will the growth taper off because of increased competition? Or will the cap finally burst for how much money the company has been drastically spending? It will remain a monster on a global scale. But what should everyone's expectations be for the streaming service in 2019? 

How will Apple, Disney+ and WarnerMedia disrupt the streaming wars?

These three companies have all formally made plans to launch their own streaming services in 2019. Each platform will produce original content that will be exclusive to them. Apple has actually spent 2018 bulking up on original programming. It has closed deals for 19 shows already with some high-profile talent attached both in front of the camera (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Octavia Spencer, Aaron Paul, Chris Evans, Jennifer Garner, Richard Gere) and behind-the-scenes (Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Ronald D. Moore, J.J. Abrams, Damien Chazelle, M. Night Shyamalan). Disney+ hasn't been slacking off either. Jon Favreau has a Star Wars drama featuring the eclectic cast of Pedro Pascal, Nick Nolte, Giancarlo Esposito, Carl Weathers and Werner Herzog. However, that may be the only scripted series that Disney+ will offer in 2019. The service isn't even slated to debut until late 2019. It will still be considered a valuable offer though simply because of its library of Disney, Pixar, LucasFilm and Marvel brands. Plus, the acquisitions of National Geographic and FX will only make the deal even sweeter. So, it will have the content to make a reasonable price point very appealing as the service builds up its original content moving forward. The same is true for WarnerMedia. It has some exciting titles like Friends and the Harry Potter franchise. So far though, it really hasn't firmed up any official plans for what all will be available on the service - especially with HBO Go and HBO Now already doing so well for that particular corner of the company. At least Disney+ and WarnerMedia have that pipeline for content though. When it comes to Apple, it still seems like they will only be offering originals. They have made deals with high-profile individuals and companies. However, it's mostly for new content. That will be very exciting one day. But it may not make it a solid launch for a company that is already worth a trillion dollars. But audiences should expect an official launch from Apple sooner rather than later. That's still very exciting simply because of the anticipation and the knowledge of the product that Apple is known for delivering. But again, it doesn't seem like any of these companies will immediately present as rivals to Netflix. They will surely complicate the streaming wars though. In 2018, most people admitted to subscribing to at least two of these services. Netflix is so dominant while Amazon and Hulu are certainly bulking up their offerings in the new year as well. So, it will be intriguing to see if all of this growth can be spread across the field or force everyone to narrow down a little bit on what's working and what isn't.

Which outlets will completely exit the scripted space?

Earlier this month, FX research released their annual graphic stating that Peak TV hasn't quite peaked just yet. However, the growth has been slowing down. The streaming services have seen an explosion with their content. But a number of other outlets - like on basic cable - have been getting out of the business simply because it has gotten too expensive. A look at Viacom reveals that the company executives are focusing their scripted efforts on a few networks (BET, Paramount Network, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon) while firming up plans to exit with others (TV Land, CMT, MTV, VH1). Meanwhile, NBCUniversal has gotten E! out of the space while Bravo has remained very tentative on scripted prospects - even if Dirty John has been a solid enough hit. And then, there are the companies that don't seem interested in scripted at all simply because they have strong brand strength elsewhere. OWN is the only outlet on the overall Discovery, Inc. portfolio that has made scripted an aspect of its business model. A+E Networks actually only has a small number of scripted offerings across its networks. Even then, Vikings on History has been the only major success. In fact, it seems like Lifetime may only produce scripted TV movies in 2019 instead of ongoing scripted series. All of these trends could only intensify in the coming year as the companies need solid plans for their futures that they can best communicate with their respective audiences. The streaming outlets aren't immune to this trend either. In the earlier questions of this overall post, I've talked about the streamers that are looming over the industry. They are all primed to survive for a number of years moving forward. However, 2019 could see the deaths of some other platforms. Sony Crackle could very easily fold if it doesn't find a company willing to cover half of its continuing costs. Moreover, Facebook Watch and YouTube Premium have had trouble getting off the ground in 2018. As such, both platforms have been making changes to their delivery systems in the past few months. However, that may not be enough. YouTube may not even be taking pitches from respective content creators even more. Plus, both companies have much larger scandals concerning privacy and abuse that should be their chief focuses at the moment. So, the overall industry could condense in the coming year. However, the outlets that are successful at the moment are more than likely only going to get stronger in 2019.