Editor's Note

The Next 100 Years

The success of the media and entertainment industry lies in becoming dream machines that redefine pop culture. And there are no shortcuts to it 

“Why do we have to grow up?” Walt Disney once asked. It rings truer in these dark times, where innocence of a child’s laughter is drowned by thundering guns, explosion of bombs and shrill pitches of dictators around the world.

We need the magic of Walt Disney now more than ever to preserve innocence and the joy of childhood.

Mickey’s foot-tapping does not excite us anymore. When Dumbo the elephant sprouts wings and says, “Don’t just fly, soar”, he is not egged on by enthusiasm, we generally shrug and look away. Do we still clap with delight when Mary Poppins snaps her fingers and says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of joy”?

Is Disney’s appeal to the young and young-at-heart waning as Barbenheimer gripped the world last year and no Disney movie made it to the top three box-office hits in 2023?

Disney, like other legacy Hollywood studios, is losing the eyeball battle to Big Tech. Within just a few years of existence as film producers, the techies of Silicon Valley are sweeping the Oscars, beating Hollywood moghuls. Apple and Amazon’s movie catalogues are giving legacy studios a run for their money.

For long, the techies were written off as nerds, studio bosses basked in the complacency of culture-factories that could not be replaced. But the close to 500 million subscribers of Amazon and Netflix globally have proved them wrong. To put the number in perspective, just a little over 400 million people flocked to the theatres to watch the top three Hollywood grossers in 2023.

Unlike studio bosses, the techies do not need their shows to make money. For them, it is an add-on to their existing tech empires. And so, they are ready to take creative risks that studios frown upon.

On top of that, the techies are constantly innovating to lower the entry gates of content creation. Using AI and ML, creators from across the world are flooding social media with their content and creating their own revenue models, dealing another body blow to the studio bosses. Data already shows that most young adults are spending more time watching these user-generated content on their phones than TV shows. And whatever the story or the star cast, it is common knowledge that pulling people to theatres has become a task. Add to this the lure of gaming and studios have lost the battle. 

So, what is the future of media and entertainment (M&E)?

For Disney, Mukesh Ambani’s deal has emerged as a saviour. But what of other legacy companies? 

Lessons from the founder of Hollywood’s most successful studio, Walt Disney, could help: At the height of Disney’s expanding empire, different parts of it, from entertainment parks to television to movies and studio, were all interconnected to reinforce each other. But at the centre of this empire were content creators. Walt Disney knew where to put his money and heft. 

Clearly, a strategy that has not been passed on to his current CEO Bob Iger or the other media bosses. Whatever the financial burden, top media houses need the miffed writers on their side and not as adversaries. 

The success of the M&E industry lies in becoming dream machines that redefine pop culture. And there are no shortcuts to it; titillating nostalgia through remakes or replugs of franchisees are unlikely to do the trick.

Creativity needs freedom and indulgence. Is the management listening?