14 Moments That Mattered in 2014
From the year of the hack to the agency mega-merger and Barry Diller's bad news
1. THE YEAR OF THE HACK
Things looked bad enough when Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos leaked. But they got a whole lot worse when the so-called Guardians of Peace plunked a veritable goldmine of Sony information online, with promises of more to come. Sony chair Amy Pascal apologized to everyone from Angelina Jolie (at THR’s Women in Entertainment breakfast, what’s more) to the Rev. Al Sharpton. But will that be enough? Insiders are waiting to see if she can hold onto her job — and whether other studios will be targeted, too.
2. TIME WARNER CABLE MERGES WITH COMCAST (OR DOESN’T)
Comcast claims its $45 billion deal to acquire Time Warner Cable won’t have any negative impact, but there are doubters galore, and they may just scuttle the merger. Advocacy groups fear it would create a behemoth able to squeeze both content suppliers and consumers, and some lawmakers agree. “I have serious reservations about this proposed transaction, which would consolidate the largest and second-largest cable providers in America,” wrote Sen. Al Franken. That means the mega-deal still may not take place. As analyst Craig Moffett told clients in October, “Anyone expecting regulatory approval for the Comcast-TWC merger [or an AT&T-DirecTV merger, also announced in 2014] are “at best over-confident, and at worst simply a fool.”
3. JEFF BEWKES PLAYS DODGE-AND-WEAVE
Following a less-is-more strategy, Time Warner’s chairman and CEO unloaded its publishing unit, Time Inc., to create two separately traded companies — then had to deal with a rapacious Rupert Murdoch. After the story broke that Murdoch’s News Corp offered $80 billion for Tim Warner, Wall Street and Hollywood held their collective bet, convinced the mogul would get his way. He didn’t. Time Warner remained unshackled, and now the speculation has turned to a merger of News Corp with either Viacom or CBS. “I know something about it, but I don’t want to talk,” said Murdoch.
4. THE AGENCY MEGA-MERGER
WME fired off the agency wars’ closing shot of 2013, prevailing in the contest for sports and fashion powerhouse IMG, one of the industry’s most tantalizing jewels. The $2.35 billion acquisition resulted in WME instantly quadrupling in size, as the Hollywood agency of approximately 1,000 employees swallowed a company with more than 3,500 staff in more than a dozen businesses around the world. That considerably leveled the playing field against rival CAA, as both companies race to leverage their sports and entertainment businesses in a high-pressure landscape.
THR's Complete Look Back at 2014
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Hollywood's Top 10 Legal Disputes of 2014
The Best New York Theater of 2014
Todd McCarthy's 10 Best Films of 2014
The Best Television of the Year
The Most Viewed Trailers of 2014
5. JEFF ROBINOV’S BILLION-DOLLAR BABY
What a different a year makes. Jeff Robinov shocked Hollywood when he stepped down as president of Warners’ movie division in the summer of 2013 after he was passed over for a promotion. Then he roared back in 2014 with his own production company, Studio 8, and $1 billion in backing from China’s Fosun Group. Within three years, Robinov hopes to be releasing as many as six movies annually, adding a huge new player to a narrowing field. Said Robinov: “We’re going to make global movies, filmmaker-driven movies that are visually very distinct — mainstream concepts hopefully executed just a little bit left of center.”
6. CALIFORNIA'S GOLD RUSH
Look for filmmakers to swarm Sacramento following the news that California will inject beaucoup bucks as tax credits for movies and television, trying to stem the ever-increasing “runaway production.” The state’s new $330 million in annual tax credits will kick in July 1 and will be open to big-budget movies and network TV series for the first time. While there’s three times as much money available as there was before, other states still have their own hefty incentives and California will have to hope the appeal of working close home will make all the difference.
7. JIMMY FALLON RULES
Remember the colossal mess NBC made when it transitioned from Jay Leno to Conan O’Brien. And back again? It sure learned its lesson, with the most seamless late-night transition in history as Leno waved goodbye and Fallon took his place. With ratings hovering nearly 30 percent higher than Leno’s and a surging YouTube footprint past 5.3 million subscribers, Fallon is the de facto leader in late night, leaving David Letterman languishing in third place among younger viewers since ABC's Jimmy Kimmel joined the fray two years ago. Watch what happens when Stephen Colbert steps in to replace him.
8. THE ALIBABA IPO
Chances are that a year ago you’d never heard of Jack Ma, CEO of e-commerce giant Alibaba (think China's version of Amazon). Now China's richest man after his company's $25 billion IPO in September, Ma has described his firm as “the world's biggest entertainment company” and is intent on purchasing American content — maybe even investing in American movies. Some observers even believe his ambitions include buying a stake in a studio or acquiring one outright, following his whirlwind tour of Hollywood in October. Execs who missed out on face time will get another opportunity when Alibaba exec Zhang Wei eventually relocates from Shanghai to L.A. to head up Alibaba’s Hollywood HQ.
9. A BAD YEAR FOR WOMEN
The violation of women's bodies – and the culture of permissiveness around it – hung heavily over the entertainment landscape in 2014. There was the outcry following Rolling Stone’s story of alleged rape at University of Virginia (and the magazine’s tin-ear retraction); the news that Hannah Minghella and Jennifer Lawrence were both getting paid less than their male peers; and of course the shocking allegations that America’s Dad, Bill Cosby, may have drugged and raped a number of women over decades. Falls from grace don’t tumble much further — but maybe now Hollywood will do something that women get treated better.
10. SPIELBERG’S LOSS IS FOX’S GAIN
Days after Stacey Snider exited DreamWorks to be installed as co-chairman of 20th Century Fox, the veteran film executive walked in the main doors of the studio commissary in mid-October and took a seat to lunch with senior Fox execs. By dining with new colleagues, Snider sent a subtle statement: She’s ready to assimilate to Fox’s corporate culture and get down to business. Her exit came at a bad time for DreamWorks, once considered a major studio but now in desperate need of a box office breakout.
11. HBO GOES OVER-THE-TOP
So-called over-the-top streaming services long ago reached critical mass, but can a new offering by CBS ever challenge Netflix’s undisputed supremacy? Probably not, unless it gets an assist from the NFL. CBS launched All Access in October, and HBO and Showtime announced their intentions to take a similar plunge sometime next year. For $5.99 a month, users of All Access get TV shows on-demand a day after they air, plus instant access to older shows and live streams from the network’s owned and operated stations. On Dec. 9, CBS CEO Les Moonves suggested that NFL games could some day be offered on All Access. Industry insiders say that OTT services from Showtime and HBO, not to mention CBS, will prompt cable and satellite operators to seek lower carriage fees in 2015.
12. NIELSEN SHIFTS ITS RATINGS
Nielsen may have gotten egg on its face after revelations that it had wrongly tabulated ratings this year, but it is still pushing ahead on other fronts. In October, Nielsen announced that, starting next year, it will measure viewership of subscription video on demand networks. For the first time, it will provide ratings for services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, which reach as many as 40 percent of U.S. TV homes but don’t currently provide data on how many people actually watch their shows. Look for mobile ratings to come next.
13. BARRY DILLER’S BAD NEWS
The Supreme Court gave a slap in the face to Barry Diller and his Aereo service (which grabbed cable and satellite signals out of the air so that Aereo’s clients could watch them free) when it ruled the service violated copyright laws. The result? Aereo shut down at once and filed for bankruptcy. However, both CBS and HBO have announced plans to compete with streams of their content. That may not be an immediate threat to cable, but it is likely to give content owners new leverage. Now it’s “Pay up or we’ll go straight to the consumers.”
14. BBC’S FIRST FEMALE CHAIRMAN
Following a very public courting — involving Queen Elizabeth herself — Rona Fairhead was named head of the BBC Trust, the British broadcaster’s governing body. That puts a woman at the top of the organization for the first time, smashing a glass ceiling for the troubled company that’s still dealing with fall out from major child sex abuse scandals centered on late TV icon Jimmy Savile, and with big pay-offs including $700,000 awarded to outgoing director general George Entwistle after just 54 days in the role.