A drastic reduction in the number of US majors by 2023 was one of the notable predictions to emerge from Banff Connect LA, the annual event staged in Los Angeles by the Banff World Media Festival.
An estimated audience of 250 attended the panel discussion and networking event on Tuesday (February 27), designed as a taster for the festival itself, the 39th edition of which is set for June 10-13 in the Canadian mountain resort of Banff.
During the panel session – on the theme of ‘TV in 2023: Deconstructing the disrupted future’ – NBCUniversal affiliate and ad sales executive vice-president Jay McNamara stressed the effect of what he described as “the emergence and rapid uptake of the on demand services – particularly Netflix and Amazon – around the world.”
McNamara continued: “They’ve in many ways opened up new competition for content; in many ways, because they are now global monoliths. [They] have stifled some competition at the local level.”
Wall Street entertainment and internet analyst Laura Martin, from Needham & Company, predicted that over the next five years “we’re going to go from seven big studios to three, because they have to save margins and merging is the best way to do that.”
After investing in content themselves, Martin suggested, tech giants such as Apple “are going to buy the big studios and leave them [in Hollywood]. They will spend three to five years wasting tens of billions of dollars – which we on Wall Street will give them at almost no cost – and then they’ll figure out this is really hard. They don’t know how to manage content and they don’t know how to tell stories.”
The drama boom that has largely been driven by streamers and tech giants has “an economic unsustainability about it,” argued Sean Cohan, president, international and digital media at A+E Networks. “It’s almost like a housing bubble. When you look at the licence fees in the US and then you look at how much the deficits outside the US have to be. The math’s not working.”
On the issue of gender parity in the industry, Erik Logan, president of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), cited the influence of Winfrey on the company’s hiring strategies. “It has to come from the top of every organisation,” Logan said, citing the example of OWN series Queen Sugar, which employed only female directors for its first season.
He said for the series’ second season, many of the directors were unavailable “because they’d gotten jobs based on the opportunity that Oprah gave them.”
Sherry Liu, vice-president of business development at multi-platform media company Awesomeness, suggested that diversity is now becoming commercially necessary as well as desirable. “We programme to Gen Z,” said Liu, “and they are the most ethnically diverse generation ever. Our content and the people we work with need to reflect that.”
In an interview before the Los Angeles event, Jenn Kuzmyk, the recently appointed executive director of the Banff World Media Festival, said that this year the festival will for the first time stage “a handful” of screenings of US, Canadian and international series.
The festival is also working for the first time with UK trade body PACT to bring a group of British producers to Banff.
Kuzmyk said the festival, which has a reputation as a relatively intimate event with only around 1,500 attendees, is open to “strategic growth” as it evolves in the peak TV era. “Yes, we’re going to need to grow,” she said, “but it’s controlled growth.”