For Film Studios, Content Is No Longer King
But those two studios have much more than film content on their minds these days. For 2014 will also mark the first full year when Warner and Universal are totally under the control of those who have been focused on distribution, not production.
In the first quarter of 2013, Time Warner named Kevin Tsujihara CEO of Warner Bros. Entertainment. He had spent the previous eight years handling online distribution, video games and home video for the studio.
The reasons for Tsujihara’s appointment, wrote Brooks Barnes in The New York Times, “can be seen as a clear statement of what Time Warner thinks its studio needs most to face the challenges ahead…. Mr. Tsujihara… has been grappling with the Web as a disrupter of distribution and business models. He has also been Warner’s point person on piracy.”
Later in 2013, Comcast’s NBCUniversal named Jeff Shell as chairman of the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. Shell had spent the previous three years as chairman of NBCUniversal International, where he led all of Comcast’s global growth, from movies and TV to theme parks and you name it.
It’s easy to see why Comcast made this move. A look at Universal Pictures’ 2013 output shows little in the way of Oscar contenders beyond "Rush," but much mileage in franchise extensions like "Despicable Me 2" and "Fast & Furious 6," which led to a record of well over $2 billion in foreign box office revenues.
While production is obviously key to having great content to distribute, these days, the message from Time Warner and NBCUniversal is that it is more important for the person on top to know what to do with that content.
Which wouldn’t surprise either Jack Warner or Carl Laemmle, the legendary moguls who led Warner and Universal from those companies’ founding in 1923 and 1912 respectively. Of necessity in what was a new industry, the early studio chiefs needed to balance production, distribution and what today we’d call viewing platforms, but back then consisted only of movie theaters.
Essentially, the current movie studios are also playing in a new industry. Over the past century, the viewing platforms grew – first to broadcast television and later to pay TV and videotapes, and then to DVDs. But, in the 21st century, the platforms have exploded into a plethora of options – everything from video-on-demand to online video channels to gaming consoles, mobile apps/devices and all their various permutations.
As we enter 2014, the opportunity for Tsujihara and Shell will be how they exploit their respective studios’ tremendous existing content catalogs – which began to accumulate some 100 years ago under Warner and Laemmle – for all the new distribution channels worldwide.
Warner Bros. alone boasts of more than 61,000 hours of programming, including some o 6,500 feature films and 3,000 television series – the latter containing tens of thousands of individual episodes.
Universal says its international library consists of more than 4,000 feature films and 55,000 television episodes.The other major studios – including News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox, Viacom’s Paramount Pictures, Sony’s Columbia Pictures, and Walt Disney -- also hold vast repositories of content. Look for one of the major industry stories of 2014 to be how quickly those companies – each of which has its own vast multiplatform international interests – also move to place distribution at the top of their priorities.