Disney Has a Weakness in the Streaming Wars

Beauty and the Beast
Photo by Mike Marsland
Matthew Belloni
February 24, 2022

I met a big talent lawyer for a drink on Tuesday, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Man, can you believe how much money people are making?” That’s a common refrain around Hollywood, and it’s a shift, in my experience, from the usual tone among representatives. Agents, managers, and especially lawyers like to bitch about cheap buyers, about who is totally screwing their clients, and about how hard it is for talented people to get a fair deal in this town. In some ways, being upset is kinda their job.  

But these days, it’s harder to complain. Sure, there are anxieties over things like the long-term viability of the streaming business, the vanishing profit participations, the wounded theatrical box office. Yet big picture, through a confluence of economic and societal forces, Hollywood finds itself with more deep-pocketed purchasers of premium content than at perhaps any time in its history. It may not feel this way to a struggling creative person, but it’s the buyers, not the sellers, who are under the most pressure today.  

Cheap money and the digital revolution have helped debt-fueled innovators like Netflix upend the studio oligopoly of film and TV distribution. The incumbents have finally responded with their own digital platforms that, like the upstarts, must constantly be fed expensive new content. There’s a war not just for supremacy but for survival, and two major tech players—Apple and Amazon—have decided, for some reason, that they should be combatants in this war, even though they really don’t need to be. Add in the investment in entertainment by private equity firms like Blackstone, Silver Lake, and Apollo; the fact that the linear TV business, while shrinking, is still far from dead yet; and those teetering movie theaters, which are so challenged by shifting consumer habits that they are demanding more expensive product to lure people off their couches, and you have a perfect storm of cash, desperation, and the messy transition from one era of entertainment to another. “People don’t realize that these are the good old days,” I said to the lawyer.