We asked Jennifer Holt, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, about the future of Hollywood and movies.
Boom: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have warned that Hollywood is going to “implode.” Do you think this doom-and-gloom forecast of the industry’s future is accurate?
Jennifer Holt: Certain aspects of the entertainment industry are facing some serious challenges, thanks to new technologies, consumer demands for “anytime, anywhere” access to entertainment, and new options for distributing content that open the playing field dramatically. That doesn’t necessarily mean Hollywood is going to “implode,” but it does mean those working in film and television production at the studios are going to have to continue adjusting the way they do business. Don’t forget that we have heard these cries of impending doom before, many times. And yet, Hollywood is alive and well, and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are still making movies, television, and money.
Boom: Can California survive without Hollywood?
Holt: I don’t think a “California without Hollywood” is a scenario we are going to be realistically facing anytime soon. While the percentage of films being produced in California is definitely shrinking, the state still accounts for nearly 40 percent of all entertainment employment nationwide, and 60 percent of all labor income in the industry is earned in California. That doesn’t even begin to account for the service and support sectors that are crucial to the workings of the entertainment business—everything from dry cleaners to hotels and restaurants—or the goods purchased by the industry, most of which come from California. Hundreds of films and television series are produced in California each year, and entertainment is consistently one of the country’s largest exports. This industry is facing challenges, but it is not facing extinction.
Boom: You’ve done work on deregulation in entertainment. How will this phenomenon impact the entertainment industry of the future?
Holt: Deregulation will continue to impact the entertainment industry and the audience in profound ways, until the government decides to take action on behalf of consumers. The consolidation of media industries that has resulted from the deregulation that began in the 1980s has impacted the quality of our media culture, the accessibility of information, and ultimately the fabric of our democracy. The same conglomerates that create the latest blockbusters also produce most of the television news that Americans consume. Companies like Comcast also control the cable wires and Internet service that deliver this information. Further consolidation in these industries only means less choice, higher prices, and more homogenized media. Future combinations of high-tech industries and content producers are something to watch. Should they begin to gobble up one another and impact competition that would limit our options even more.
Boom: How do you think the increasing availability of film and television online will affect American culture?
Holt: I think in one sense, it will continue to fragment the audience. We have more choices of what to watch on any given night with streaming platforms such as Netflix or Hulu, and more devices on which to enjoy this content. We don’t have to limit ourselves to one viewing space either—studies have found that many people are increasingly using tablets to stream media in the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen. So the more connected devices and available content we have, the less likely we are to converge in one place, around one screen, to watch the same show. Media is also becoming easier to share and discover with online delivery, so there is also the potential for exposure to more and different types of shows that we would otherwise see, even if we are watching them alone, on our phones.
Boom: What would you include in a time capsule for 2050?
Holt: I would include an episode of “The Bachelor,” because otherwise nobody in the future will believe this actually happened, a cable box, a clunky remote with buttons that you actually have to push, a special section for physical media such as DVDs, CDs, newspapers, and books so we don’t forget what they once looked like, an iPhone which we might all laugh at someday as much as the brick phone, a landline telephone with its connection cord, a cable bill, a modem, a copy of Minority Report (set in 2054), a broadcast network scheduling executive, and pictures of domestic and public spaces that don’t have screens on the walls—that will probably look as quaint in 2050 as images of families gathered around the radio do now.
Image at top by Waltarr.