“The advertisers are getting fewer eyeballs and paying more for those eyeballs,” powerhouse Hollywood attorney and L.A. Film Czar Ken Ziffren said today of the state of TV and the vast and fast changes the industry is undergoing. “We’re in a situation where mobile will predominate,” he added at UCLA’s 40th annual Entertainment Symposium, where he was part of a joint keynote session with Anne Sweeney, the former Disney Media Networks co-chair and president of Disney/ABC Television Group.
Ziffren listed analysis that predicts a 19% decline in multi-channel market share in the next five years. “I do think we will have a far smarter way of reaching consumers,” Sweeney said on the issue. “Far more targeted advertising.”
“It is in transition and no one knows where it is going,” Ziffren said. “If either us knew, we wouldn’t be here,” he added to laughter.
Ziffren and Sweeney, who recently joined Netflix’s Board of Directors, piloted a wide-ranging and wonky conversation at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse on Saturday looking at the industry over the past four decades and what the future might hold. This year’s symposium was co-presented by the recently formed Ziffren Center for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law.
The keynote started with a joke from Sweeney about how glad she was to be sitting on stage with Ziffren and not across the table in negotiations. However, it quickly turned toward the more serious topics of the evolution of the film and television industries. TV is a medium that is always “changing,” said Sweeney, because it is “always tracking the needs of the consumer.”
With a “be careful what you wish for,” Ziffren cautioned about what an a la carte future could bring with declining revenues and perhaps fewer options. The current bundle system actually benefits viewers, suggested Sweeney, because it “increases their ability to learn, to see the world through a new lens.” She added, “If the issue is price, address the issue, but I don’t think the solution is a la carte.”
“It might not be all skinny bundles, it might be a new network, part of that 17% will be the Ken Ziffren network,” she jested as an example. “Unlikely,” replied her laconic onstage colleague. Following up, and using the appearance of Netflix on the original programming scene just a few ago, Sweeney predicted “a network made of mini-networks” would fill the market share opening in the next decade.
“Amazon doesn’t have a business plan to make money off programming,” Ziffren suggested of the recent expansion of the Jeff Bezos “everything store” with the award-winning Transparent, Bosch, Mozart In The Jungle and Man In The High Castle, to name a few. “It’s currently a loss leader to attract customers to their Prime shopping cart,” the UCLA Law School grad and a longtime adjunct professor tacked on. “Why should entertainment be different than paper towels or anything else you are ordering every week?” threw in Sweeney, who announced just over two years ago today that she would be leaving the Disney upper ranks after 11-years to pursue directing and other endeavors, “What is odd to me is not odd to a 25-year old or even a 9-year old.”
Of course, the nearly one-hour back and forth wasn’t all about the small and smaller screens but the big screen too.
Pointing out the decline of releases from the big studios over the past decade, Ziffren said they were putting out about “15 pictures each” from the mid-to-high 20s just a few years ago. The studios make “16 plus pictures a year with a production cost of at least $100 million,” the L.A. Film Czar said. Overall, he told the UCLA crowd, the big-budget business model “works.” He asserted that the next most productive category being the $20 million movies or, as Ziffren joked, the ones that “largely speaking get nominated for Oscars.”
Gently chanting “China, China, China,” Ziffren also called out the vast growth in the Middle Kingdom for Hollywood “from almost nothing a few years ago to $6.5 billion box office.” International box office is roughly 70% for major studios today of the gross, but domestically a vast potential audience are no longer attending first-run movies, he said.
What can the studios and exhibitors do to attracting more audiences? asked Ziffren, “other than making better pictures, which they don’t do.” Suggesting subscriptions or varied pricing as possible solutions to bring in audiences that stay home because of the likes of convenience or cost, Ziffren brought the big-screen issue around to windowing. “There’s been attempts and failures for the studios and the home video people and the theaters to get together on this,” he said. “One hopes this challenge can be overcome.”
Ziffren did not mention the latest of those potential “solutions,” the recently announced Screening Room venture launched by Napster founder Sean Parker among others. The concept, which would see a $50 per-movie charge for a 48-hour rental on first-run movies in the home, is only in the idea stage, but the idea already has executives in distribution and exhibition raising torches and pitchforks as they do over any plan to shorten theatrical windows.
Ziffren also made a point of referring to a study that shows people who go to a movie are more likely to buy a DVD or download that movie later – thereby strategically creating greater revenue streams, aka money on the table.
The two-day symposium concludes this afternoon.