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How the Hollywood Strikes Will Change Premium Content

With content production largely on hiatus in the US for months during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, as those strikes drew to a close in fall 2023, content companies found themselves at a crossroads, with the opportunity to start generating content fraught with strategic complications. In some respects, it’s a new beginning and a chance to consider new approaches rather than simply filling a void.

Chris Pfaff, CEO, Chris Pfaff Tech Media, Producers Guild of America (PGA), VR AR Association (VRARA), discusses the situation with Alan Wolk, Co-Founder/Lead Analyst, TVREV, Daniel Trotta, Product Manager, Content Engagement & Monetization, Warner Bros Discovery, Bethany Atchison, VP, Distribution Partner Management, Vevo, and Paul Erickson, Founder and Principal, Erickson Strategy & Insights, in this clip from their panel at November’s Streaming Media Connect.

Pfaff says that in this post-strike world, “bruises are being healed,” and there will likely not be any new significant content being created until possibly February of 2024, with fewer new shows being commissioned, which creates challenges for ROI. He asks Wolk, “Can you sort of kick us off in this post-strike [conversation]? I don't want to call it a dilemma, just call it a situation…”

Wolk says that a pause in the previously massive amount of new content creation may actually be a blessing. “There's that scene in South Park where they sort of mock the fact that they'll just pretty much greenlight anything,” he says of Netflix. “And that really damaged their reputation. If you Google ‘Netflix junk,’ ‘Netflix quality down,’ there are so many articles and blog posts that come up about that. And it's not even really true. It's just that there was a perception because initially, they had these great shows, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black…and then suddenly you have a whole range of stuff that's aimed at the masses and just not very well thought out and not very good. And it really created this perception that the stuff out there isn't really great. So I think as they start concentrating more on quality and less on quantity, that's going to be to their advantage.”

He says that a return to seasons with more episodes is likely. “These 25 episode seasons, that's something that I think everybody's realizing, ‘Oh, we don't get syndication that way. Everybody loved Ted Lasso, but there's 36 or 40 episodes, and that doesn't do it. Versus a Friends where you were 200 some odd episodes…”

Pfaff interjects, “There were only 39 episodes of The Honeymooners, so remember that! So Ted Lasso is in good company there…”

“But they still need these long series that go on for ten years,” Wolk says. “They may not have the same quality, but they become a part of people's lives. And that's a really important thing, too. So I think we're going to start to see a return to that, as well.”

Pfaff asks Trotta, “What's your look at that quality view from the technical side of the fence?”

“Well, first of all, I fully endorse and am hopeful that Alan [Wolk] is right,” Trotta says. “That opinion is exactly what I personally want for the future of television. My fear is that what we make today isn't going to be interesting to people 10 years from now. And so there will be no Parks and Rec, Suits, etc. I think one really interesting example during the strike was a deal that Max made with AMC+ to bring some AMC+ content over to Max for a couple of months in a promotional capacity. We got the full run of a handful of series, and there were bumpers, I believe, before each episode promoting AMC+. And we had this really nice synergy of new content coming to the platform at a moment where we were otherwise light, that aligned with things that users were already deep in the library watching. So, if you were a True Blood viewer, or if you were a Vampire Diaries viewer, something like Interview with a Vampire or Fear, the Walking Dead or A Discovery of Witches fell right into your zone and right into your lap on Max in September and October. What I think is interesting is the disparity. True Bloods is HBO, Vampire Diaries is CW. And so you might think there's a quality quantity difference between the two, and yet we see so often that it's a similar viewer.”

Pfaff says to Atchison of Vevo, “You're in a very different position, obviously, with music videos, but I would think that some of that might happen as well, given sourcing or curating new artists and matching them with something from the library side.”

“Our side wasn't really as affected by the strike just because musicians weren't part of that,” Atchison says. “So we were able to keep generating new shows, new content…but Vevo’s library spans from the 60s and 70s and one of our most popular channels as Vevo 80s. So we're kind of a testament to how older content can still really resonate today and connect with people. So it's not just the newest things that are driving viewership. It is really how you're curating it for viewers and how you're introducing it to the right audience that really makes the difference for us.”

Pfaff asks Erickson, “What do you think about that in terms of how people are really planning, particularly on the AVOD side as well?”

Erickson emphasizes that “content agility” is key, whether a platform is AVOD, SVOD, or FAST. “We have a situation now where the strike perhaps is allowing the industry to sharpen its skills in a different area,” he says. “Not all great content in your portfolio needs to be original commissions. You can also license, and you can leverage some amazing content from around the world if you internationalize it properly or if it's already internationalized. And as your audience base over time gets more diverse and retaining them as a business gets more important, licensing gives you a lot of agility to make sure you are super serving all the particular nuances of those unique audience segments.”

Watch full sessions from Streaming Media Connect November 2023. We'll be back in person for Streaming Media NYC on May 20-22, 2024. More details here.

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