When it comes to what's in store for the entertainment and media industry in 2011, proclaiming that technology will continue to reshape Hollywood is a little like those supermarket tabloids naming a febrile octogenarian entertainer who will — shock! — pass away in the coming year.
In other words, it's not a shock.
Harder to predict are the specific events that will be making headlines (and hitting the mark too consistently, we fear, could trigger a visit from an investigator with the Securities and Exchange Commission).
But it's become a New Year tradition among this newspaper's Company Town reporters who cover the business of Hollywood to canvass our sources annually and ask what they think will be the top-line events in their industry for the coming year. These aren't predictions of what we think will happen, which is an important distinction.
This method has yielded some notable hits — our sources predicted in 2007 that Rupert Murdoch would make a bid for Dow Jones in his quest to own the Wall Street Journal, and last year they told us that Jay Leno would fail at 10 p.m. and return to late night.
OK, so the Leno prediction was one even we could have made with reliable certainty.
And this much is certain over the next 12 months: There will be only more friction between the legacy companies in entertainment and media — the Time Warners, News Corps. and Viacoms, the DirecTVs and Comcasts — and the challengers like Google, Apple and Netflix that are looking to invade the established players' turf. The tech giants hope to benefit from consumers looking to drop cable and turn to the Internet and mobile devices to watch movies and TV.
With the plates shifting under the media landscape, forecasting what will happen in the industry in 2011 is dicey even for industry insiders. That said, here are predictions of what's coming down in the year ahead. Some are obvious. Some are bold. A few are off the deep end. Credit — and blame — our sources.
• Sony Corp. Chief Executive Howard Stringer will turn 70 next year, and although he has indicated that he wants to stick around until 2013, he will lay the groundwork in 2011 for an earlier retirement. Anticipating that Sony's interest in Hollywood will flag once Stringer's out of the picture, CBS Chief Leslie Moonves will move to gobble up Sony Pictures so he can have a big studio to run after stumbling out of the gate with his own start-up, CBS Films. Moonves will placate an apprehensive Wall Street by explaining that Sony's profitable TV division — which produces "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" — offsets the risk of the movie business and there would be cost savings by combining CBS' and Sony's TV operations.
• Not content with dominating the hand-held device market with its iPod, iPad and iPhone, Apple will go for an even bigger piece of the home entertainment pie — the living room — and thereby launch the biggest status symbol since the Trinitron. Yes, Steve Jobs will debut Apple's own TV set, fueled by iTunes, of course.
• "American Idol" ratings will take a huge hit without Simon Cowell. New judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will not be able to match Cowell's snark, and without the tension he brought to the show, viewers will vanish. Fortunately for Fox, the cost of the show is a lot less without Cowell's hefty contract, so it will still be a money machine. Meanwhile, Cowell's new talent contest show, "The X Factor," will take off like a rocket in the fall.
• After mulling over vacating the evening news game for the potentially more lucrative world of her own syndicated daytime show, Katie Couric will sign a short-term renewal deal to stay with the "CBS Evening News."
• Netflix, which already has many mainstream media companies antsy, will buy the pay-TV channel Starz from Liberty Media for at least $3 billion, creating for the first time a real threat for rivals HBO and Showtime.
• DreamWorks Animation will push for a lower distribution fee with Paramount Pictures, but the Viacom-owned studio will probably resist. That could prompt DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg to pair up with another studio or even sell the company outright. If DreamWorks is sold, however, it won't be to the company with which it previously flirted: Time Warner, owner of Warner Bros. That's because Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes won't pay Katzenberg the premium he's seeking.
• Activist shareholder Carl Icahn will continue to make trouble for Lions Gate Entertainment and its current management despite his recent setback of an unsuccessful takeover of the movie and TV studio. The corporate raider will keep pushing to merge Lions Gate with MGM, which has just emerged from bankruptcy and desperately needs traction to be taken seriously by Hollywood.