On Thursday, I published the first half of my 22 predictions for 2022. So today, without further suspense, I present the second half of the list.
1. Wakanda vs. Pandora: Assuming star Letitia Wright resolves her ankle/vaccine issues and production resumes, Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Nov. 11) should top 2022’s re-invigorated (but not nearly “normal”) box office. The original, starring the late Chadwick Boseman, grossed $1.3 billion in 2018, and remember that 2015’s Furious 7 is still the top-grossing Fast/Furious movie, thanks to the emotions surrounding star Paul Walker’s tragic death. Director Ryan Coogler will no doubt incorporate Boseman into BP2 in some way, so if Disney handles the marketing as deftly as Universal did, the movie should be gigantic. Even so, Disney’s other contender for the throne could surprise all the James Cameron naysayers. Avatar 2 is already strong on the latest Quorum awareness/interest surveys, and the storyline and characters actually feel fresh, according to one (non-Disney!) source who has seen footage, especially Kate Winslet. No, it won’t come anywhere near the $2.7 billion grossed by the 2009 original, which benefited from the 3D craze, especially overseas. But Avatar is still the only movie to ever gross $2 billion internationally–a total which included $261 million in China at a time when there were far fewer theaters in the country. After Spider-Man was snubbed, who knows if Avatar 2 will even get a Chinese release? Still, I’m predicting a close second place behind Wakanda.
2. Brother, can you spare a streaming subscriber? As subscription growth slows in the U.S., increasingly desperate streamers will prowl for smaller outlets (and their subs). It’s not just to pad the overall sign-up numbers; these platforms are thirsty for fresh content, and the best-case is franchise content, which has shown to keep subs as well. A good model is Peacock-WWE. Last March, NBC Universal took over the pro wrestling outfit’s WWE Network and its 1.1. million subs, offering them a deal on Peacock for their Roman Reigns fix. Check out these internal Peacock stats that came to me from a source:
– Of the 1.1 million subscribers to WWE Network, one million successfully converted to Peacock subscribers.
– More than 3 million Peacock subs have watched WWE content since it moved over in March.
– More than half of those 3 million subs indicated that they signed up “because of WWE.”
Rights and branding issues are thorny, but consolidation makes sense, even if it’s not a major merger like Comcast or Netflix or Roku picking off Lionsgate/Starz, or some of the other buzzed-about potential deals.
3. Movie memorabilia goes digital: If you still think NFT stands for Negronis for the Table, 2022 will change that. Yes, most Hollywood studios have already either issued NFTs or announced plans. (Did you secure your Saw death trap token? Me neither.) But until now they’ve mostly been used as marketing vehicles for new movies and shows. With more investment and creativity, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars are just sitting in studio archives and on cutting room floors. How much would some D-bag crypto banker pay for an NFT of, say, clips of the original Anchorman ending? This may all be a fad, but until (or if) the bubble bursts, Tarantino’s legal fight with Miramax over Pulp Fiction tokens only portends the coming cash grab.
4. Paramount’s pump before the dump: Speaking of Miramax, its half-owner, Paramount, will almost certainly lean on that library to boost streaming output under new C.E.O. Brian Robbins, who will make a statement to Wall Street with an especially robust direct-to-Paramount+ slate. Robbins’ effort won’t be enough to make Par+ a legitimate player in the streaming wars, of course, but he’ll probably boost the ViacomCBS sale value, which is the real goal here. And a lot of people attached to library titles and existing franchises like Paw Patrol and Sonic the Hedgehog will get paid.
5. AVOD trickles down to talent: The rise of free, ad-supported streaming services has been predicted pretty much since Netflix first raised prices. The premise: people like free. They do, but they also like new and original. So 2022 will likely see the fast-growing AVOD players—Fox’s Tubi, ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV, Amazon’s IMDB TV (or whatever they end up calling it) and Roku Channel—spend some cash to distinguish themselves among a sea of reruns. That won’t necessarily mean splashy nine-figure talent deals, but it will mean some big-swing originals like IMDB’s Judge Judy show, and creators will be encouraged to pitch the AVOD outlets. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a brand-defining hit.
6. Disney ponies up for cricket: It will be a big check to write, but Disney will keep its cricket rights in India. Thanks to the popular sport, and the digital rights that Disney inherited from Fox, India accounted for about 37 percent of Disney+’s 118.1 million global subscribers as of November. But that deal is up this year, and bidding is expected to be fierce. Sure, the India subscribers, who pay significantly less for Disney+ than consumers in other countries, bring down the global average revenue per user to $4.12 (it would be $6.24 without them). But the last thing that C.E.O. Bob Chapek wants is a major subscriber defection while Wall Street looks to him to increase the sub numbers. He’ll get the deal done.
7. An Academy about face: L.A.’s much-debated movie museum will begin incorporating more Golden Age memorabilia and new exhibits highlighting the industry’s historic Jewish talents, an attempt to appease the industry backlash over a notable shortage among the initial offerings. Regardless, museum attendance will slow significantly, even as Covid protocols relax, because initial lookie-loos won’t feel a reason to return, not until it includes more populist attractions. How about the history of Marvel?
8. Here come the copyright terminators: Just this morning, Ryan Reynolds welcomed the original Winnie the Pooh character into the public domain with a “Winnie the Screwed” ad for his mobile phone company. It’s pretty funny, but the topic is no joke to Hollywood. Expect to hear the term “copyright termination” a lot this year. Federal law allows authors (and, importantly, their heirs) to claw back lucrative rights after a period of time, subject to specific rules and exceptions. There’s a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t eligible (I’ll be writing about this topic again soon), but Disney is already in court over Spider-Man, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Thor, and a Supreme Court ruling later this year could impact those efforts.
9. Baseball swings and misses with RSNs: If you follow Major League Baseball, you’re probably as skeptical as I am that the current player lockout will be resolved by Opening Day in March. If a strike delays the 2022 season, that will put added pressure on the entire regional sports network model, which is facing a fraught future. Remember, baseball is the only pro sport where teams play nearly every day for six months. That’s a lot of TV time, which has been effectively monetized through long-term local deals. For instance, the Dodgers, my team, have an $8.5 billion pact through 2038 with Charter. But that’s all based on robust cable/satellite subscribers, which are declining, of course. As viewers move to streaming, MLB (and the other leagues) need to figure out a path to serve the audience and maintain revenue. Sinclair’s $10.6 billion deal in 2019 to buy the Fox RSNs from Disney already seems like a terrible move. And because commissioner Rob Manfred is, generally speaking, a doofus, the RSN problem could explode very soon.
10. Into the Oscars-verse: Will the Academy convince Spider-Man: No Way Home stars Tom Holland and Zendaya to host the March 27 Oscars? Sure, maybe, whatever; the Academy could throw in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield too. But it just doesn’t matter. Hot young stars might juice ratings a bit from last year’s historic low, but they won’t fix the fundamental problems: Creative stagnation, an unwillingness to boot categories; the flight of younger viewers from linear TV; political posturing; and the irrelevance of “awards” movies to the average movie fan. Only a complete reimagining of the show can save it at this point, and it’s still unclear whether the Academy has the ability (or the balls) to undertake such a reinvention.
11. Nobody knows anything.