The Biggest Story of 2021 — And the Streaming Service That Won the Year – Bloomberg

I’m sorry we didn’t have a newsletter last weekend. I was dealing with a mild bout of Covid, time I used to catch up on Oscar movies. That means you get two newsletters this week.
For this special edition, I asked a handful of my peers to answer five questions about the year that was and the year to come. Let’s get into it.
Matt Belloni, Puck News: Netflix buying Squid Game for $22 million and turning it into about $900 million in "impact value" (albeit an internal Netflix metric), without having to share any of that value with the show's creators. 
Mark Bergen, Bloomberg: The Kremlin forced Russia's opposition offline, and tech companies caved. Notably, Russia's government used the language of responsible content moderation — opposition party videos and apps were "extremist."
Ashley Carman, The Verge: Big Tech’s entrance and investment into podcasting. The platforms signed more exclusive deals with podcasters — Spotify with “Call Her Daddy” and “Armchair Expert” and Amazon Music with “SmartLess” — and invested heavily in ad technology. Both Amazon and Spotify acquired hosting and monetization platforms, as have the big radio conglomerates like iHeartMedia and SiriusXM.
Lachlan Cartwright, The Daily Beast: Fox News and Tucker Carlson. Tucker has incredible power within Fox and a direct line to Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch. Tucker can go on air and say and do whatever he likes knowing the Murdochs will always back him. Look at Tucker’s January 6th conspiracy theory filled docuseries “Patriot Purge” or the way we has given airtime to vaccine skeptics. It has led to the resignations of conservative commentators Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg and to Chris Wallace’s defection to CNN+ and shows you who is really running Fox News.
Alison Herman, The Ringer: The arrival of Marvel on Disney+, which singlehandedly shifted the balance of power in streaming towards the weekly release and turned Marvel into a truly year-round, 24/7 machine.
Peter Kafka, Recode: Consolidation – both the deals that happened/will likely happen, and the companies that will certainly be consolidated one day but for now are hanging out on their own, with no choice but to act as if they are going concerns. 
Brent Lang, Variety: The sluggish, fits-and-starts rebound of theatrical moviegoing. While there were notable box office successes like "Spider-Man: No Way Home," ticket sales remain depressed and even most of the year's highest-grossing movies will likely lose money because they carried budgets that made sense pre-pandemic and no longer provide viable paths to profitability. Studies show that roughly 49% of pre-pandemic moviegoers are no longer buying tickets and roughly 8% of that cohort is likely lost forever. How can Hollywood close that gap? 
John Ourand, Sports Business Journal: The struggles regional sports networks are facing, particularly the Sinclair-owned Bally Sports ones. Professional sports teams have depended on local TV revenue from RSNs – and the healthy annual increases they pay – to fund much of their local operations. Sports leagues and teams are terrified about the prospect of that revenue dropping considerably as RSNs deal with cord cutting issues.
Micah Singleton, Billboard: The continued rise of the "creator economy" in the music industry. The lack of touring revenue put pressure on labels, streamers, and startups to help musicians find new revenue streams, and that genie cannot be put back into the bottle.
Kaya Yurieff, The Information: The absolute frenzy among tech giants to woo creators and the incredible pace at which they copied each other’s features. TikTok’s rise and its ability to mint new internet personalities seemingly overnight has pushed many tech companies to reexamine their own features and prioritize paying creators directly this year, which largely hasn’t been a focus over the past decade (with the exception of YouTube).
Mark Bergen: The metaverse doesn't exist! Sure, Facebook's revamping corporate strategy is interesting, but it's not worth the ink spilled on something that looks, for the moment, like vaporware. 
Lachlan Cartwight: Almost every outlet went overboard in their GameStop coverage with multiple film and book projects on the way, but who is actually going to care by the time they are released? A lot of people wanted to read something into the meme stock moment, but has it really changed our world as much as it was hyped up at the time? (with the exception of a few people making bank). 
Peter Kafka: SPACs, along with/followed by attempts to reframe speculative bubbles as something other than speculative bubbles.
Micah Singleton: Music-based NFT sales. NFT albums were the first instinct for many artists who jumped into the market earlier this year, but the average consumer will never consistently pay an increased rate for music they already get through their steaming subscription. 
Kaya Yurieff: Clubhouse pioneered the trend and saw a huge boom in 2020, but excitement tapered off this year as pandemic restrictions eased, as evidenced by its falling downloads. While live audio rooms aren’t going away, the format is not going to become the big, new mainstream thing it was amped up to be.
Ashley Carman: The copycat hype reached a fever pitch last spring, and looking back, we haven’t seen much change since then. Clubhouse claims to keep growing, and Spaces is taking over more of the media industry’s time, but everyone seems to realize on-demand recordings are essential to making content accessible and popular. Read: we're back to podcasts.
Brent Lang: Scarlett Johansson suing Disney had all the makings of an epochal struggle. A-list star and her powerful agency (CAA) hunker down for a protracted legal battle over how talent is compensated at a time when streaming has upended the landscape. I fully expected a stream of other actors whose big-ticket projects had been relegated to Disney Plus and other services to join Johansson's battle, but the clash of the titans never materialized. Johannson and Disney quietly settled and made nice, other stars got bonuses in return for their compliance and nothing much changed in terms of a status quo that heavily favors media conglomerates over creatives.
John Ourand: The alternate “Monday Night Football” telecast with Peyton and Eli Manning on ESPN2 received tons of great press and is sure to spawn lots of imitations. But it never eclipsed 2 million viewers and represented only a fraction of the viewership for the games’ main feed on ESPN. It is probably the most successful alternate telecast that’s been produced. But it still is little more than a second feed.
Matt Belloni: This was a power play by nearly all-white talent publicists who don't like the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.'s uncomfortable press conferences, cloaked as a battle for racial inclusion. More diversity in awards bodies is necessary, of course, but the motives and hypocrisy at play in this fight are pretty stunning.   
Brent Lang: With roughly 70 million global subs, the service grew its user base substantially and has emerged as a viable challenger to Netflix and Disney. It also fielded a number of buzzy hits like "Hacks," "Mare of Eastown" and "The Flight Attendant" that, for my money (and I subscribe to all of them), were far more accomplished than anything I watched on Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon, Paramount Plus…the list goes on and on and on. Plus, moving films like "Many Saints of Newark," "The Suicide Squad" and "King Richard" to the service gave it some watercooler buzz and allowed WarnerMedia to save face when those movies collapsed at the box office
Alison Herman: The day-and-date bet for movies paid off in subscribers, the batch release model for series splits the difference between weekly and binge watching in pleasantly intuitive fashion, and the pipeline of original productions finally filled up after a year of pandemic delays. Plus, it closed out 2021 strong with Station Eleven, a phenomenal show I recommend to anyone who can stomach it. 
Mark Bergen: "White Lotus" was great and "How to With John Wilson" rules. But mostly, HBO Max was buggy as hell earlier this year and now seems to work fine most of the time.   
Ashley Carman: In the context of streaming apps with an interest in podcasts, I’d say HBO Max. The team made a puzzling choice putting its new Batman show exclusively on its app, which I still don’t totally see the logic behind, but all the companion content does tempt me when I finish an episode or show, especially because it’s promoted immediately afterward. That said, I still don’t want to listen to a podcast from my TV.
Kaya Yurieff: It’s hard to not be a subscriber to Netflix. While it has lost some popular titles like “The Office” and “Friends,” it continues to churn out hit original TV series, including a new season of “Tiger King” and offer cult favorites like “Schitt’s Creek”. Netflix has also seen success in translating its original series to other languages, introducing titles like “Lupin” and “Money Heist” (my personal favorites) to reach wider audiences. Over the past 12 months, I’ve canceled my subscriptions to HBO Max and Hulu, but can’t imagine parting with Netflix.
Peter Kafka: I watched a lot of HBO and HBO max this year, but I think it’s Netflix simply because they have largely proceeded as they intended to, while their competitors/would-be-competitors dithered and re-orged.
Matt Belloni: Roku. Yes, it's a streaming service now, even though it's primarily a dongle connector company. As a gatekeeper, it's poised to become a streaming power on its own. The company to watch in 2022. 
Micah Singleton: YouTube Music. It's growing quickly and it seems it figured out how to convince people to pay for music on YouTube, a massive mental hurdle it has struggled with since Google Play Music.
John Ourand: ESPN+ . For more than a decade, I’ve been writing about how leagues have been trying to convince Silicon Valley’s digital media companies to bid on their media rights. Largely, the FAANGs have stayed on the sidelines, allowing ESPN to build out its streaming service with an unmatched array of rights.
Matt Belloni: Lionsgate.
Mark Bergen: Clubhouse.
Ashley Carman: Podcast independents (QCODE, Lemonada Media, and At Will Media).
Lachlan Cartwright: Viacom CBS.  
Alison Herman: ViacomCBS
Peter Kafka: Lionsgate
Brent Lang: Blumhouse.
John Ourand: Look for a sports betting company to align with John Skipper’s Meadowlark Media.
Micah Singleton: Spotify.
Kaya Yurieff: Pinterest
Matt Belloni: The MLB player lockout will delay the start of the baseball season to June, putting added pressure on the faltering regional sports network business. 
Mark Bergen: YouTube will make a big splash in augmented/immersive reality (but won't call it "metaverse"). Google has FOMO too!
Ashley Carman: We’ll hear less about wholly exclusive deals and more about windowed content, a la the “SmartLess” / Amazon Music deal with a one-week exclusivity agreement.
Lachlan Cartwright: There will be several fawning and breathless profiles of Aryeh Bourkoff published in multiple outlets and we will be reading a hell of a lot less (uncritical) coverage of SPACs. 
Alison Herman: Predictions are a fool’s errand, so I’ll go with the only sure bet I can think of: the upcoming third season of Atlanta will be as bold, funny, and surprising as the first two. It’s been a long wait!
Peter Kafka: VR boom continues to not happen, because the number of people who want to strap devices on their face for fun remains limited.
Brent Lang: MGM's leadership is politely shown the door after Amazon absorbs the studio. Some smart streamer recognizes MGM chief Michael De Luca's value, as well as his close relationships with talent, and brings him in-house to make prestige fare.
John Ourand: Amazon will buy a 49% stake in the NFL’s digital media properties, including NFL Network, RedZone and, in the first quarter of the year. That deal will not include Sunday Ticket, which will go to ESPN+ and DirecTV.
Micah Singleton: Superstar artists will begin touring in summer 2022, despite continued COVID spikes.
Kaya Yurieff: We’re going to stop romanticizing the creator economy and start having a labor discussion about internet personalities, similar to the gig economy. While influencers have already started unionizing through SAG-AFTRA, I expect more discussion next year about creator burnout and the pitfalls of the industry.
I also asked these guest writers to offer their favorite articles this year,….
The Dark Side of Congo's Cobalt Rush
"Stellar, revealing reporting about a very important part of tech," says Bergen.
Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist.
Singleton recommended this stellar ProPublica piece on a county in Tennessee that locks up kids for crimes that don't exist.
On “Succession,” Jeremy Strong Doesn’t Get the Joke
"Even if you’re not the type to find the needless, tone-deaf celebrity statements in Strong’s defense more of a feature than a bug, Schulman does an excellent job outlining the idiosyncrasies of one actor’s process, unpacking one of the many magic tricks that goes into making a show as great as Succession," says Herman.
The Curious Rise of Twitter Power Broker Yashar Ali
"It was less about the subject of this brilliantly reported, written and executed piece and more about what it told you about the media eco-system," says Cartwright.
What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind
"Much has been written about 9/11, but this article timed to the 20th anniversary of the attacks stuck with me," says Yurieff. "The author, who knows the family, paints a poignant picture of dealing with loss and grief two decades later."
Not that anyone asked me, but here are my favorite albums and TV shows of the year (in no particular order). I don’t feel ready to give a list on movies since I haven’t seen half the movies on most critics best-of lists, but both “Summer of Soul” and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” would end up on my list.”
Apologies to “Station Eleven,” “Maid,” “Southside” and “Yellowjackets,” all of which I’ve started but not yet finished.
As we look into 2021, I want to take this moment to stay goodbye to one of my favorite TV shows of the past decade, “Insecure.” If you never watched this show, please do yourself a favor and check it out.
Maybe I am biased because it is about people my age and set in my hometown, but it is a wonderful story about friendship that also offered the dopest music week in and week out. (For the people who are already fans, I hope you read Issa Rae’s interview with Vulture.)
Happy new year everyone, and thanks for reading.