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The Future of Entertainment

USC Marshall convenes industry pros to discuss massive changes to the production and consumption of entertainment in the time of COVID

December 09, 2020

The demand for high-quality content has never been higher.

That was the takeaway from a USC Marshall webinar titled “The Future of Entertainment,” featuring three longtime industry professionals and moderated by a professor with expertise in the sports entertainment arena. The webinar took place on Dec. 4, 2020.  

However, almost everything else about the entertainment industry has changed, and the pandemic shutdown has accelerated those changes dramatically.

“COVID for us has been an accelerant on consumer behavior,” said Elaine Paul, CFO and VP of finance at Amazon Studios.

Moderated by S. Mark Young, professor of accounting and the George Bozanic and Holman G. Hurt Chair in Sports Entertainment Business, the panelists included Joshua B. Grode, CEO of Legendary Entertainment, John Nendick, founder of Malaga Consulting and former global leader of M&E at EY, as well as Paul.

“Given our location and ties to the business, the Marshall School has a clear competitive advantage to be a leader in entertainment education and research. That top industry leaders like Elaine, Josh and John, were willing to participate in the webinar is certainly testimony to this.”— S. Mark Young, professor of accounting and expert in the sports entertainment business

Nendick agreed about consumers. “Consumers are in the driver’s seat, enabled by technology to consume what they want,” he said. “Streaming is the big growth engine. Look at Disney+, 73 million paid subscribers is way beyond even what they’d planned.”

The scale of streaming is also unprecedented, the panelists agreed.

“We’ve never had the size of a global network,” said Grode. “That’s never existed before. It means the content has a higher ceiling on its value. The economics of our business is changing. The approach to the market is changing.”

The sheer size and demand has compelled studios to release directly to streaming, said Paul, citing the recent decision made by Warner Bros. to release all of its 2021 films to HBO Max while also simultaneously showing them in theaters.

Movie theaters are one category of entertainment that has been hurt by the pandemic shutdowns.

Going forward the experts agreed, content is still king.

“At the end of the day, the winners are going to be determined by who has great content,” said Grode. “It’s finding the platform that values your content the right way.

“There’s a lot of ways to consume it,” he said. “But you’ve got to have the thing to consume.”

Breaking In

With many Marshall students watching the webinar, the question came up about how to break into the business.

Each panelist offered excellent advice.

“I would tell young people to study IT, technology… and Mandarin,” said Nendick.

“Data and advanced analytics are incredibly important,” said Paul. “An MBA with data science, for example, would be an incredibly marketable set of skills.”

Grode pointed out that the industry is actually quite small, and that everybody knows each other. “For the operational side, get any job and start building relationships,” he said. “If you’re a student watching this, you are now indirectly part of all of our networks. That’s an amazing networking  opportunity Marshall has given you. Don’t squander it.”

After the event, moderator Young said he was gratified with the large turnout for this topic.

“We had many current and former students tune in as well as a number of industry practitioners watching,” said Young, who teaches both undergraduate and graduate classes on the entertainment business. “Given our location and ties to the business, the Marshall School has a clear competitive advantage to be a leader in entertainment education and research. That top industry leaders like Elaine, Josh and John, were willing to participate in the webinar is certainly testimony to this.”