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Barry Diller made a name for himself in the film industry as the CEO of two Hollywood studios, Paramount Pictures and what was then 20th Century Fox. Now he is declaring the industry dead.
“The movie business is done,” Diller said in an exclusive interview with NPR on the sidelines of Allen & Company Sun Valley, a media and technology conference in Idaho. “The movie business as before is over and will never come back.”
Yes, it has to do with a substantial drop in ticket sales and the closure of theaters during the coronavirus pandemic. But Diller, president and chief executive officer of IAC, a company that owns Internet properties, said, “It’s much more than that.
According to Diller, who ran Paramount and Fox decades ago, streaming has dramatically changed the film industry, including the quality of movies being made.
Last year, several media conglomerates, including Disney and WarnerMedia, decided to simultaneously launch new releases in theaters and on streaming services. It was a radical change, and the theater chains protested it.
“Before, there was a whole lot of preparation,” Diller said, recalling the time, energy and money the studios had invested in distribution and advertising campaigns.
The goal, he said, was to generate sustained enthusiasm and enthusiasm for new films. “It’s over,” he said.
The way companies measure success is also different, according to Diller.
“I was in the movie business where you were doing something really because you cared about it,” he said, noting that popular reception mattered more than anything else.
During Diller’s tenure at Paramount in the late 1970s and 1980s, the studio released films like Saturday night fever. But since then he has been known for his work on television. He helped create the Fox TV network, for example.
Now at IAC, he’s more closely associated with Internet businesses, including the Daily Beast.
Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images
Diller on how the quality of the movies suffered
Streaming today is a multi-billion dollar industry, and competition between companies for content and customers is fierce. Diller cited Prime Video, Amazon’s streaming service, as an example of the evolution of incentives in the entertainment industry. In May, the company announced plans to buy MGM for nearly $ 8.5 billion.
“The system doesn’t have to appeal to anyone,” Diller said, suggesting that Prime Video’s primary goal is to get more customers to sign up for Amazon Prime. “It’s to buy more Amazon stuff. It’s not a terrible thing. I’m just not interested in it.”
During the pandemic, there has been a massive increase in video on demand. In the first quarter of 2020, Netflix added 15.8 million new subscribers. Its growth rate has slowed since then, but the company says it ended the year with more than 200 million customers.
Diller acknowledged the recent success of streaming services and how much needed they have become during the pandemic, but less complimented their expensive efforts to create more original content.
“These streaming services have done something they call ‘movies’,” he said. “These aren’t movies. It’s weird algorithmic processes that created things that last about 100 minutes.”
For Diller, it’s about seismic change and nostalgia, but also semantics. The definition of “movie”, he said, “is in such a transition that it doesn’t mean anything yet.”
Businesses are trying to figure out what viewers want and how they want it. This has led to successes and failures.
Diller looks back at Quibi’s spectacular failure
When asked about Quibi, the now defunct streaming platform founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, the former president of Walt Disney Studios, Diller was unequivocal. “Quibi was just a bad idea,” he said. “I mean, it’s that easy.”
The company raised $ 1.75 billion and spent most of that money ordering content – short videos designed to be viewed on smartphones.
Daniel Boczarski / Getty Images for Quibi
In the months following its launch last year, Quibi failed to gain traction and ended its streaming service in December.
“It was a bad idea that had no testing ground other than a large-scale investment,” Diller said. “Otherwise he would have crawled for a while. But it was such a large scale thing that he lived and died in a millisecond.”
In January, Quibi sold its assets – 75 shows and documentaries – to Roku, apparently for less than $ 100 million.
“It has nothing to do with anything,” Diller said. “The idea of professional A-grade stuff in 10 minutes or less just didn’t make sense.”
Katzenberg was a protégé of Diller – part of a group of people Diller mentored known as Killer Dillers – and he’s also in Idaho this week, attending the Allen & Co conference. Through a spokesperson, Katzenberg declined to comment.
Diller said he had “almost no” interest in cinema today. In recent months, he has turned to producing Broadway plays.
“I find it much more creative,” he said.