Megabanter 2021: Streaming wars get real, legacy studios at risk

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Kim Masters, Matt Belloni and Lucas Shaw discuss the biggest stories in Hollywood from 2021. Illustration by Mike Royer/KCRW.

It’s time for that annual tradition on The Business: the year-in-review Megabanter! Kim Masters, Matt Belloni and Lucas Shaw discuss 2021  in Hollywood. 

Two of the biggest stories were the explosive success of Netflix’s “Squid Game” and WarnerMedia’s experiment with “Project Popcorn” — the code name given to the decision to put all of its 2021 movies on the streaming service HBO Max the same day they open in theaters. 

Both stories point to a bigger issue — the streaming wars have been heating up for years, but now they’re a matter of life and death for some studios. Legacy studios looking to stick around need a streaming service that can rival Netflix, Amazon and Apple. 

Another issue that shook the industry in 2021 was the question of theatrical windowing — when to make a movie exclusive to theaters and for how long? WarnerMedia got rid of their windows altogether this year, and had to write a lot of checks to keep talent happy, though they have said they’ll be putting some movies like “The Batman” exclusively back in theaters for 2022. 

This year also brought into clearer focus what Disney will look like under CEO Bob Chapek’s leadership. Chapek and outgoing CEO Bob Iger have had an uneasy past year, as Iger hasn’t made it clear he has full confidence in Chapek, who has been at Disney for many years, but never worked in a creative role at the company. 

As Disney+ subscriber numbers slowed, the Disney stock price took a dip, recently hitting a 52-week low. Chapek will have to figure out how to get more subscribers to Disney+. Everyone who’s interested — families with kids, “Star Wars” fans and Marvel fans — have probably already signed up. One way to grow that base could be to bring Hulu into the Disney+ fold, but then there’s a branding issue because Disney is known for being family-friendly, and some of the content on Hulu is quite adult. 

Below-the-line labor unrest in Hollywood also unfolded this year. IATSE, the union representing behind-the-camera workers, was prepared to go on strike. Then there was the tragedy on the set of “Rust,” which brought even more focus to on-set safety issues, especially surrounding gun use in movies. 

There’s also the question of the shady independent producers who make movies solely for financial rewards and tax breaks, and don’t actually care about the films themselves. This represents only a small subset of independent producers, but if there have been issues flagged on their sets before, some people are wondering why the unions allow them to continue to make movies with union crew members. 




Kim Masters


Kaitlin Parker