Jeffrey Cole: perspectives on the digital realm

The director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg explores trends and issues that expand on the findings from the Center’s studies.

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When we lose weight, who gains?

May 22 — Disney got it wrong with one of its most popular and enduring theme park attractions: it’s not such a small world after all!

The “Small World” ride premiered at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Built by Disney’s imagineers, it was such a sensation the company quickly moved it to Disneyland where it opened in 1966. Visitors sit in a small boat that moves through a shallow channel—viewing dancing dolls from around the world while being serenaded by one of the catchiest songs ever. It’s impossible to get that song out of your head, no matter how hard you try.

In 1966, the channel was deep enough for the boat to seat about twenty average sized riders, a mixture of adults and kids. But as love for the attraction grew, so too did the weight of the visitors to the park.  (more)

Disruption comes to our bodies — and beyond

May 8 — Disruption, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes. But a new and extraordinarily powerful disruption is — for the first time — changing the actual shape and size of the human body. It is a true game changer, bringing profound impact on our health, life spans, psyches, social lives, economy, as well as how we relate to each other.

This disruption is just getting started.  (more)

I work at a McDonald’s but don’t get paid!

April 17 — It used to be easy. You went to the counter, ordered a drink or a snack, the cashier announced the total, you handed them cash or a credit card, and then waited for your change or signed for it. During the pandemic, it got even easier when the signature for most charges became unnecessary. You held your phone near the credit card machine, it beeped, you said thank you, and went on your way.

This process had become more and more streamlined over decades, culminating in the most efficient checkout possible short of telepathy. Now we are headed far in the other direction, taking more time and effort, and slowing the whole process down.

The process is making us go to work.  (more)

AI has begun with fear

March 20 — Last week at Austin’s South by Southwest (SXSW), several tech leaders extolled the virtues of AI and made positive predictions about how it would improve the world. SXSW is one of the leading tech conferences in the world, filled with fans, executives, and investors looking for the next new thing.

There is no audience anywhere that is more supportive of new tech. SXSW attracts enthusiasts who want to see, use, and invest in the newest technologies. Back in 2007, Twitter debuted in front of a SXSW audience who erupted in cheers at the new form of social media .

At this year’s SXSW, one tech panelist urged people “to be an AI leader.” And OpenAI’s Peter Deng shared his (self-serving) view, “I actually fundamentally believe that AI makes us more human.”

Rather than erupting in cheers and wanting to learn more, the audience started booing at all the positive talk of AI.  (more)

Why sports are the biggest name in media

March 6Barbenheimer was an aberration — a lucky one, but a unicorn. It succeeded brilliantly because it emerged virally, not as the product of a studio marketing campaign. But there are no lessons to learn other than that people will flock to the theater to see original movies that appeal to them.

Little else in theatrical is working at the moment. With the extraordinary exception of Netflix, which did everything right, streaming has yet to find an economic model that works. Prices have risen. Advertising is now part of the basic tiers, but only Netflix has figured out a path to profitability. Consolidation is coming. Six years ago, I predicted that households will pay for 2.5 streamers, not seven. The jury is still out.  (more)

Does the internet make the world a better place?

February 21 — The World Internet Project (WIP) is about to turn 25 and is more vital than ever. In 1998, we believed that the internet would change the world, that practically every activity would be affected, and that most would be transformed. Although our predictions seemed excessive at the time, they turned out to be tame compared to the reality.

Our plan was to organize partners around the world and track digital developments in a way that had never been done for television: the most powerful media before the internet. At last count, we have thirty global partners. We have completely captured the rise of broadband, social media, smartphones, and—most recently—artificial intelligence.

WIP is the longest longitudinal study of the internet in the world.  (more)

When good evidence comes from bad people

Claudine Gay

February 7 — Getting your opponent canceled has become one of the fastest growing sports in America. If you can uncover some past indiscretion or just a simple (and frequently ancient) misstatement (now that off the record no longer exists), you can eliminate a person you dislike from a cultural conversation.

So much for freedom of speech.

Does it matter who is doing the uncovering? If an opponent comes forth with accurate information—even if he or she has little regard for free speech and is exposing someone for purely partisan or, even worse, personal jealousy or petty reasons—does anything else matter?  What if the information emerges anonymously and cannot be linked to a source, so we can only suspect ill intent? Does that matter? Once reporters have thoroughly vetted the information and can attest to its veracity, do we even have to consider motive?  (more)

2023 was the Year of AI; what will 2024 bring?

January 24 — Early this month, I spent a couple of days at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. In past years, most of the crowds (135,000 this year) were at the Central Hall looking at the latest big screens from Samsung, LG, and Sony. That hall was still full, and immovable as always, but many of the attendees made their way to the Automotive Hall, as well as the Health and Beauty pavilion, where they could see smart toasters, smart toilets, mirrors that diagnosed your health, and more.

I had also been at CES exactly a year ago. Twelve months made one massive difference. At CES 2023, you would have struggled to find any mention of artificial intelligence. While AI was in some of the devices a year ago, the words were barely heard in Vegas.

This year, AI was everywhere.  (more)

The winners coming out of COVID: where are they now?

December 6 — In this column, using data coming out of the Center’s COVID Reset Project, we continue looking at the winners coming out of COVID in 2021, and how they have fared since.

Have the winners seen their positions improve, stay the same, or even become losers?

Zoom: No company rivaled the success of Zoom during the pandemic. Others, such as Amazon, may have made more money, but it was a trillion dollar company before we were all stuck at home. Zoom rose from an obscure service almost no one had ever heard of to the system that made work and school from home possible. Even though there were other services already established such as WebEx, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, Zoom epitomized remote work. In four weeks, it went from anonymity to a verb. Nothing like that had ever happened before.  (more)

COVID winners, revisited two years later

November 20 — How have Amazon, Disney, Netflix, and more fared since the end of COVID?

In my last column, I looked at how the companies that came out of COVID as losers have fared in the two years since our first COVID Reset Project report. Some were able to gain ground and improve their standing, while others saw their futures stay the same or even decline further.

This time we look at how the COVID winners have managed since 2021.  (more)

Two years later: COVID’s big losers revisited

November 8Despite the devastating loss of life (more than one million) and the toll of COVID on the nation’s mental health (especially on those under 25), there were big winners coming out of the pandemic.

The Center’s COVID Reset Project has been tracking seven sectors of American life: physical and mental health, work, learning, shopping and payments, homes and communities, travel, and entertainment.

We started tracking just as the nation (or most of it) was getting vaccinated in January 2021, and we have been in the field ever since.

At the end of next month, we will have three years of data, with more to come.  (more)

The changing economics of consumer spending on technology and entertainment

October 25 — The recent wave of inflation has been the most painful since the late 1970s. Rising costs leave many of us looking at our monthly bills for expenses that can be reduced or even eliminated. We can’t do much about housing, food, or transportation (the big expenses) without extreme change like moving or delaying the purchase of a new car.

One area where we can make significant changes in our monthly bills is with communication services and devices. In the past, these charges were relatively insignificant. Over the past 15-20 years they have continuously become more costly—to the point where they command an important part of our monthly budgets. (more)

Lessons from last summer’s movie hits and bombs

October 11 — It started as a joke and turned into one of the most successful marketing moves in the history of the entertainment industry—or any industry for that matter. There was no mastermind behind the nonsensical pairing of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer into the awkward moniker “Barbenheimer.”

It just worked.

The unlikely linking of these two films was the most interesting development of the Summer 2023 movie season. There were other unlikely events that illustrated how much the theatrical business is changing while linear television and streaming struggle to determine their place in the media eco-system.  There are three major lessons for films in the Summer 2023 movie season…  (more)

What looks like “same old, same old” is anything but

September 27 — It used to be so predictable.

Every few years, one of two disputes (strikes or cable carriage wars) would routinely break out in the entertainment industry. After many threats and a lot of histrionics, issues would be settled (sometimes quickly, sometimes not), and then it would be back to business as usual.

But in the summer and fall of 2023 when both clashes broke out at the same time, it was very different. This time the disputes are existential.

It is not business as usual.

Now that both disputes have been settled (subject to a guild vote on the strike agreement), the business will never be the same. The year 2023 is a dividing line.  (more)

This year’s movies are longer than ever

July 19 — Let’s start with Martin Scorsese.

There isn’t a more talented or respected film maker. He started directing films in the late 1960s. At 80, he is as productive as ever.

As Scorsese built his reputation, his films got longer. His first film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) was 90 minutes. His second, Boxcar Bertha (1972) was shorter at 87 minutes.

Those lengths seem tiny compared to his last four films. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) was 180 minutes. Silence (2016) came in at a relatively short 161 minutes. The Irishman (2019) is his longest film at 209 minutes. This year’s Killers of the Flower Moon is almost as long at 206 minutes.  (more)

How long is too long for a movie?

July 12 — There have always been long movies in Hollywood. But, all of a sudden many more are getting even longer.

How do you know when a movie is too long?

Harry Cohn knew.  The legendary and much-feared head of Columbia Pictures in the 30s and 40s shared his secret: when sitting alone in a projection room, he could always tell when a film was too long and not good “if my fanny squirms…it’s as simple as that.”

That led to Herman Mankiewitz, the great co-writer of Citizen Kane, grumbling, “Imagine, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass!”

A lot of fannies should be squirming in movie theaters these days.  (more)

The end of broadcast TV

May 9 — When I was growing up, the arrival of September, in addition to the beginning of autumn, cooler temperatures and getting dark earlier, meant three things: one was not so good, one didn’t matter much, and the third was exciting. The not-so-good annual September event was going back to school; the one that didn’t matter much was GM, Ford and Chrysler introducing their new cars. The exciting one was the premiere of the new network television shows.

Broadcast television is in a devastating downward spiral. It has been this way since the 1990s and each innovation makes it worse. People under the age of thirty do not even think about network television (except for big sports). The audience is getting older and older, leading to an inevitable conclusion.  (more)

Movie theaters are back! 

April 19 — Movies theaters won.

If ever they were going to disappear, it was during COVID when all the theaters shut down, one major chain declared bankruptcy, we got out of the habit of leaving the home to see films, and even our grandparents learned how to stream.

The theaters survived disruption. The audiences won, too.  (more)

What Sam Altman is about to face

March 22 — Sam Altman better get ready. He is about to get very rich and, more importantly, very famous.

There is nothing that could ever prepare him for what is about to happen.

Altman is one of the initial investors and now CEO of the most talked-about company on Earth: Open AI, a leader in artificial intelligence and creator of ChatGPT. Already the recipient of multi-billion-dollar investments (including $10 billion from Microsoft, which also integrated ChatGPT into Bing and its Office suite), Open AI has burst into the public consciousness faster than any other company in history. In a few short months, it grew to 100 million users.

That’s just the beginning.  (more)

Reckless disregard for the truth is not protected under the First Amendment!

February 28 — It has always been an easy call.

The press should be, now and forever, free of any restrictions, impediments, or laws that hinder its ability to cover news. Its rights should always be placed in a preferred position when balanced against any others. Any law, tax benefit, or effort supporting the stability or growth of news, whatever the political flavor, is a good thing. John Stuart Mill’s 19th century argument for the free marketplace of ideas is more vital today than ever.

Equally clear is that the disappearance of newspapers and the weakening of broadcast and cable news is a bad thing. Had a strong local newspaper not folded in Long Island, New York, George Santos would not be sitting in Congress today. His obvious lies would have been quickly detected by a paper able to focus on one local campaign rather than a national newspaper like The New York Times reporting on hundreds of political contests.

The Supreme Court was correct in its 1964 landmark New York Times vs. Sullivan decision that made it almost impossible to win a defamation case against the news media. That’s as it should be. Anything else would create so much fear of retribution that the news media could not do its job. Then, just like the citizens of Santos’ congressional district, we would all pay the price.

I always root for the media.  Until now.  (more)

Why the Super Bowl still matters. . .
. . .and the Oscars no longer do

February 15 — While I was growing up, the two most popular television programs of most years were the Super Bowl in January or February and the Oscars in March or April. By the end of the first quarter of the year, it was all downhill for television ratings.

These were the two shows that amassed enormous and—more importantly—live audiences. Even as VCRs and DVRs came along, you didn’t want to watch the Super Bowl or Oscars later. You had to watch them in the moment, live. Both programs, more than any other, year in and year out, provided fodder for arguments and discussion at the office water cooler the next morning.

The Super Bowl has held up and prospered. The Oscars. . .not so much!

Now, there is only one program that captures the whole nation’s attention at the same time. The Super Bowl is just about the only collective experience the whole country shares.  (more)

Google’s turn in the cross-hairs: when disrupters get disrupted

February 1 — It was a “Code Red” followed by an urgent call for “all hands on deck,” or at least for the two most important pair of hands.

Twenty-four years ago, two Stanford Computer Science Ph.D. students in a Silicon Valley garage developed a new algorithm that seemed to read the minds of those who posed an inquiry to its new search engine, Google.

That algorithm led to a cascade of disruption, beginning with Microsoft’s business models, then spreading to the advertising industry, newspapers and magazines, encyclopedias, yellow pages, and far more, redistributing tens of billions of dollars.

Google became so defensive about the devastation its new search methods wreaked across the economic landscape that they adopted as its corporate motto: don’t be evil. All this devastation was not personal or directed at any one place: it was simply collateral damage along the path to progress.

Anyone believing in karma will be smiling now that Google itself is in the bullseye of disruption.  (more)


Who can win the next cable news war?

November 30 — In the forty-year history of 24/7 cable news networks, the ground is shifting like never before.

At the two biggest news networks, CNN and FOX News, there is profound change that may disorient and confound their audiences, forcing them to the left or right.

CNN, under strict budget cutbacks from its new owner, is forsaking its slightly left position and racing toward the middle. For the first time, it is fact-checking President Biden.  FOX News (and all the Murdoch properties), which built its programming over the past six years around Donald Trump, has abandoned the former President and embraced Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The day after Trump recently announced his third presidential bid, Murdoch’s New York Post covered the story with a small banner across the bottom of page one: “Florida Man Makes Announcement (p.26).” Ouch!

While these two channels, which I discussed at length in my last column, make up more than 50% of the audience for around-the-clock news, there are four other players. At least two stand to benefit, perhaps significantly, from the makeovers at the two behemoths.  (more)

The ground under the 24/7 news channels is shifting like never before

November 16 — What a roller coaster!

Last week began with us expecting, as history shows almost always happens, the party in power to lose a large number of seats in the midterm elections. The only question—in an overused metaphor—was whether it would be a red wave or a red tsunami. Even worse was the fear that democracy would unravel as “don’t confuse me with the facts” election deniers and ignorant candidates won their elections.

The week finished on a different note. Although troubled by inflation and crime, Americans could see past these transitory issues and voted to protect our constitutional democracy. As a nation we might not know much about civics, but we can discern a real threat when it is upon us.  (more)

Even death gets disrupted

November 2 — Disruption even finds you in death.

Ben Franklin’s quip that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” aside, if ever there was an industry that would seem immune to disruptive change, it would be the funeral business.

Yet, the funeral industry is experiencing a tidal wave of disruption that it does not like one bit. As usual, it is the customer rather than the established business who has the most to gain.

Many, not all, but many, mortuaries take advantage of grief-stricken families in their time of need.  (more)

Question: What does Tim Cook want Apple TV+ to be?

October 12 — What’s Tim Cook up to?

When Apple makes a move, the Earth usually shakes.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone at one of Apple’s must-see, splashy product announcements in 2007 (wearing his iconic turtle-neck sweater and jeans—all in black) there were four large players in the handset world: Nokia, Blackberry, Motorola, and SonyEricsson. Within four years, all had become irrelevant. The introduction of the iPod (2003) and iPad in 2010 had similar impact on the competition and consumers’ imaginations.

Apple does big things. Even the Apple Watch (not the iWatch) introduced by Tim Cook in 2014, three years after Jobs’ death, immediately captured the smartwatch market.

When we think of Apple’s products, retail stores, impact on our culture, and much more, we see a company whose goal is always to dominate the marketplace and our imaginations.  Therefore, it was surprising when the most valuable company in the world entered the streaming world in a small way.  (more)

Is civil war on the horizon? How bad could it get?

September 20 — In just the past three months, political tensions have moved perilously close to the breaking point. The Red and Blue visions of what America should be have become even more divided. The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision banned a constitutional right to abortion. For now, a woman can exercise a right in California or New York that could lead to a felony conviction or forced delivery of a pregnancy (under all circumstances) in the South.  The lawful search of Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents has already put the Department of Justice and the FBI on the enemies list for some Americans.

And, in the past week, to score political gains and photo opps in conservative media, the governors of Florida and Texas have transported (at state expense) migrants crossing the border to deep Blue places like Martha’s Vineyard and the front of the Vice-President’s residence in Washington, D.C. in order to “own the libs!”  (more)

A national mental health crisis

August 13 — How long does it take before the painful memories of a national trauma fade away?

Long after we settle the sticky issues around return to work (probably with most of us returning to the office most of the time), the mental toll of living through the COVID pandemic (even if we never lost a loved one or caught it ourselves) will linger.

Decades from now, today’s teenagers will recount for their grandchildren the year or more we moved our lives inside, afraid of contact with anyone except those living with us. They will revisit the pain of what we have all lived through.

The Center’s COVID Reset Project shows that the toll on our mental health will be, by far, the most important legacy of COVID. It will cast the longest shadow.  (more)

Returning to work: the war that is coming

July 20 — Five of the seven sectors of life that we track in our COVID Reset Project (communities, shopping, learning, travel and entertainment) are sorted out and resolved as we come out of the pandemic (and we think we are indeed coming out, no matter what anyone at the CDC might have to say about it).

Far from being close to settled, a war is brewing over returning to the workplace, with different parties already drawing battle lines.  (more)

Learning, shopping, communities, travel, and entertainment: coming out of COVID, which changes were temporary and which are permanent?

July 6 — As millions of Americans celebrated Independence Day by pouring onto to airplanes and heading to beaches, parks, sporting events, and concerts, we also celebrated independence from the COVID pandemic.

This pandemic is over — whether it really is or not. It doesn’t matter what science or common sense say, even as cases and hospitalizations are climbing again.

We need COVID to be over.

At the Center, we believe this is a once-in-a-lifetime disruption (hopefully something worse doesn’t come along). First graders many years in the future will regale their grandchildren with stories of scrubbing mail, wearing masks, and quarantining at home for months at a time.  Two months into the pandemic, we launched the COVID Reset Project that tracks seven sectors of life to understand how they may or may not permanently change.  (more)

See no evil. Except when we need to

June 22 — Sometimes the cost of not showing something horrific is too high. Would gun legislation move faster if people could see the violence of Uvalde and other mass shootings?

The news coming out of Uvalde, Texas in late May was horrific. Nineteen elementary school children and two teachers were murdered by a lone, crazed gunman. Only by entering the deep recesses of a diseased soul of unimaginable evil could we understand how someone could tell a 10-year-old “it is time to die,” then look into their eyes and pull the trigger.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, reporters told the stories of the twenty-one human beings who did not make it out of the classroom. Earlier in the day, several of the fourth graders had been honored at a ceremony for academic distinction. Parents shared heartbreaking details of the lives of the children they would never see again.  (more)

Will advertising make streaming look like broadcast television?

June 8 — The party’s over.

Imagine The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, or even the recent four-hour tribute to George Carlin appearing on broadcast television. All were on HBO. Carlin’s most famous routine is “the seven words you can never say on television.” Even The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Ted Lasso could not be shown on network television without so many edits for language or nudity that they would be unrecognizable to fans.

We pay up to $20 a month to watch content that is not censored and only available on pay-cable or streaming. The fact it is not interrupted by ads is important, but it is the lack of a nanny deciding what we are allowed to see and hear that has really driven the rise of pay channels.

All that is about to change. (more)

“Well, what are you going to do NOW?”

May 25“Thank God I never invested in Crypto!”

“See, it was always a scam. Now the laws of nature have been restored.”

“Those who thought they would get rich quick have gotten what they deserved!”

“Now it’s back to business as usual.”

“Maybe the name Stadium will be removed, and it will be Staples Center again.”

It has not been a good year for investors. Even Amazon and Apple — and especially Netflix and Facebook — are down, more than just an adjustment.  But the year has been particularly harsh for those who invested in crypto currencies like Bitcoin, whether they saw them as extraordinary investments or a new and digital way of moving money around and eventually becoming a currency.

This month, crypto currencies lost over $200 billion in one day. By some estimates the world of crypto has lost over $3 trillion from its highest point. These are investments that can grow by 90% one day and be down 80% the next day. Perhaps this is just a blip on their way to economic dominance.

But that’s unlikely.  (more)

What Netflix must do to survive

May 4 — Until two weeks ago, Netflix has led a charmed life. It successfully transformed itself from a DVD-by-mail competitor to Blockbuster Video (which turned down the opportunity to buy Netflix for $50 million) into the first superstar streaming service.

For years, Netflix had complete access to the best product from all the Hollywood studios. Its unparalleled success in attracting subscribers across the globe then gave it massive budgets to create original programming exclusively for Netflix.

Disney, realizing that by selling its content to Netflix it was creating a competitive monster, decided to stop making its content available outside the company. The other studios followed suit. Soon, it became clear they would start their own streaming services. Still, Netflix had a budget of $20 billion (this year) to fund its own content; Netflix grew like a prairie weed when it had almost no competition for the consumer’s wallet.  (more)

The slap heard round the world — except on ABC?

April 19 — What did he say?

The adult audience viewing the 94th Oscar Broadcast on March 27 could tell that something had happened when Will Smith got out of his seat and approached Chris Rock as he was about to list the nominees for best documentary feature film.

Smith appeared to slap the comedian. It was difficult to tell if it was a staged bit or if something completely unprecedented had occurred. After Smith returned to his seat he was shouting at Rock, but it was impossible to hear what Smith said because ABC bleeped out the entire exchange.  (more)

“The Great Resignation” — it’s not about jobs, it’s about mental health

April 6 — As we come out of the greatest disruption of our lifetime, half of us want to find another job, and half of those in a different industry. The toll the pandemic has taken on our lives is producing a mountain (actually, an entire mountain range) of statistics. None is more compelling than the 50% that make up what social scientists are calling “The Great Resignation.”

The last time we witnessed such a seismic shift in the employment market — with massive job openings and transitions — was in World War II when millions of soldiers went off to Europe and Asia. To fill those jobs, millions of women entered the workplace for the first time.

It should come as no surprise that we have not all come through COVID equally.  (more)

More COVID winners

March 23 — This is the third of a three-part series about the winners and losers as we start to emerge from the COVID pandemic.

In Part 1, I covered COVID losers: cash, Uber and Lyft, in-person shopping, commercial real estate, business travel, and mental health.

Fortunately for all of us, there are more winners than losers, so I started reviewing the winners last time in Part 2, talking about Amazon, Disney, Netflix, and Labor.  Let’s continue with more winners.  (more)

COVID’s big winners

March 9 — With infection levels dropping and the end of COVID seeming to be here, what companies were big winners because of how they reacted to the pandemic?

Last time, we looked at the industries and companies that lost ground during the COVID Pandemic. This week we look at the winners, those who emerged stronger than ever before. We often resist finding new ways of doing things until its necessary. During COVID lockdown, it became absolutely necessary.  Trends accelerated, some by years. A few well-placed and nimble companies benefited.  (more)

COVID’s big losers

February 23 — This time it feels real!

Last June, when most of us had been vaccinated and COVID was starting to recede, it felt like the crisis was waning and we could resume our old lives. We fled our homes onto airplanes, to restaurants and movie theaters, sporting events and concerts. Life was getting back to normal.  Like the groundhog on February 2, we didn’t see our shadow and believed Spring was on the way rather than facing another six weeks (in this case nine months) of pandemic Winter.

Despite our optimism, Delta and Omicron soon followed.

Today, we again see no shadow, and hope an endemic rather than pandemic, spring is ahead. We have decided that the pandemic is over… whether it really is or not. We need it to be over… whatever the science says.

After two years, the world has completely changed. At the Center, we have been tracking this change in our COVID Reset Project. Now we can see which industries and companies will emerge weaker and diminished coming out of the pandemic and which have gained strength and market share.  (more)

Whoopi Goldberg goes to “Reflection Camp” for airing her views on The View

February 9 — Now in its 25th year, The View has not only built a reputation as a place where controversial views can be shared, that sharing is encouraged. It even designates the beginning of the show (and some entire episodes) as Hot Topics. There have been spirited — sometimes explosive — exchanges in the past between conservative hosts such as Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Megan McCain as they sparred with their less-conservative co-hosts. Those exchanges have become the signature of the show.  It is why many people watch: to see what happens.

On January 31, 2022, and for a day after, it happened.  (more)


November 3 — Tesla doesn’t need to change its corporate name. It is not necessary to obfuscate the identity of its signature product, protect its tone-deaf CEO from public and government scrutiny, or suppress the way its products affect the health and well-being of its users.

The more sunshine it lets in, the more impressive the Tesla story becomes. Fifteen years ago, Chris Paine released a little-seen but award-winning documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car. The premise of the film was that the wide acceptance of the electric car would have been the most important development in automobile manufacturing since Henry Ford introduced the Model T, which is when private transportation began to replace public transportation for many Americans.  (more)

The two kinds of workers after COVID

October 13 — Early last summer, COVID numbers everywhere were headed downward. It looked like things might be returning to normal. After close to eighteen months of working from home, most offices and workplaces announced that employees would head back to the office just after Labor Day. Many companies implemented mask and social distancing policies. Some went further, mandating full vaccinations to return to work or even just to stay employed at the company.

Then the Delta variant arrived. As we have experienced repeatedly with COVID, our hopes were dashed, and we had to move backwards.  Returning to the office in early September shifted to mid-October and then to November. For many organizations, the return is now planned for the beginning of the new year, a full 22 months after we gathered all our work and headed home.

If it happens.  (more)

Movie theaters after COVID
Part 3: Movie theaters are not going anywhere

In the final column in his three-part series, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what the future will bring for movie theaters

September 30 — Paramount, Sony, and Universal were fully committed to returning to the old model of exclusive releases in the movie theater followed by a shorter window (60 days?) before making the movies available for in-home viewing. Warner’s Tenet experience convinced it that fans were not ready to return to the theater. It made all their films available on HBO Max and the theater the same day. This was a strategy born of frustration: the studio was uncertain what to do with a library of unreleased films and attempted to recover from the mishandled unveiling of its own streaming service.

Disney, the studio that controlled 40% of domestic box office in 2019 and had the most to lose if theaters were greatly diminished or disappeared, was the most motivated to explore how films could be best released in the post-COVID world.  (more)

Movie theaters after COVID
Part 2: A summer of experimentation

In the second of three parts, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what happened when the movie studios used a natural experiment for their releases

September 29 — By the middle of June 2021, half the nation had been vaccinated and felt COVID might be entering a more manageable phase. The country began opening up, especially after the CDC allowed vaccinated people to shed their masks in most indoor spaces (although not airplanes).

After 15 months of staying home, we could escape from Zoom and our own four walls. Within a week or so, 15,000 people poured into Madison Square Garden to see the Foo Fighters. Bruce Springsteen was back on Broadway. Sports arenas and theme parks re-opened. There was euphoria as we began to resume our old lives.

And movie theaters were back in business.  (more)

Movie theaters after COVID
Part 1: What happened and will there be anything left?

In a three-part series, Center director Jeffrey Cole explores what happened to movie theaters during the pandemic, how the movie studios used a natural experiment, and what the future will bring.

September 28 — The experimenting is over, and after eighteen months the results are in: movie theaters are here to stay!

It may take years to learn whether workers fully return to the office, students to the classroom, and shoppers to stores, but even while COVID is still raging we already know that movie fans will return to the theater.

In the darkest days of lockdown, streaming usage soared when people couldn’t go to the theater. Out of streaming emerged at-home hits like Tiger King, The Queen’s Gambit and Ted Lasso. It looked like it might not matter if theaters ever re-opened…  (more)

It started with computers and then moved to mobile devices: Does Apple have a third act?

July 7 — Having transformed computing, music, phones, cameras, and now watches, what will the next products from the world’s most valuable company be?

When talking about Apple, you quickly run out of superlatives. Its performance and story require new words, not yet developed, to describe the company that sits atop the throne of the technological revolution.

Apple was founded in 1976 and is now the grandfather of all the other tech companies. But the journey has been rocky. One of the co-founders, Steve Wozniak, left the company after nine years in 1985 to pursue his own interests. The other co-founder, Steve Jobs, also left in 1985, after losing a board struggle to John Sculley, the Pepsi executive brought in to manage Apple.  (more)

Why won’t you be my neighbor?

June 16 — Building good relationships with neighbors is one of our fundamental core values. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also builds safer neighborhoods, better community relationships, and raises property values. Core values teach us to help and love our neighbors. One of the few public figures that everyone admires, Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), opened each of his 912 shows by asking his audience, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Another hero, George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life, gives up his dream of traveling the world to stay in Bedford Falls and help build homes and create neighborhoods. Only at the end does he fully appreciate how important he has been to everyone in his community.

In film and culture, we place immense value on the importance of building deep and lasting relationships with neighbors. There’s just one small problem: most of us do not know our neighbors very well and have little interest in getting to know them.  (more)

 Phone companies and entertainment don’t mix

June 2 — Phone companies should stay out of the media business!

Everybody would be better off. No good comes of it. Egos are wounded, shareholder value is lost, great companies are weakened, and it does nothing for consumers.

While we are at it, soft drink bottlers, liquor distillers, waste management companies, electronics manufacturers, and most other companies ought to avoid the media business as well.

The simple rule is that everyone except those with vast experience running media companies should stay out of the entertainment industry. And we have several case studies that prove this point.  (more)

The post-COVID paradox

May 19 — This week, in the most positive sign yet (after vaccines) that we can see the light at the end of the COVID tunnel, the CDC lifted almost all outdoor and indoor mask mandates for those who have been vaccinated.

Since March of 2020, the CDC (and the rest of us) have had to deal with those who didn’t believe the Coronavirus was real, those who would not wear a mask, and most recently and dangerous for all, those who will not get a vaccine. To get people vaccinated, Shake Shack is offering free hamburgers and fries, West Virginia a $100 savings bond, and Ohio a weekly lottery with a grand prize of $1 million.

Getting people to re-consider deeply held beliefs and change behavior is a difficult business. Bribes may not be enough.  (more)

Movies, Concerts, Sports, Theme Parks: which in-person events survive?

May 5 — To almost everyone’s surprise, the Warner Bros. film Godzilla vs. Kong led the re-opening of America’s movies theaters after COVID, and earned close to $100 million in its first month at the domestic box office. International grosses are closing in on $500 million.

While in any year these would be respectable numbers (even though it cost $160 million to make), when you factor in that some movie theaters are still closed and that most of those that are open are operating at limited capacity, a strong case can be made that movie theaters are on their way to returning to their historic place in American’s lives.  (more)

The most powerful company in the world? How big can Amazon get?

April 21 — The country’s biggest online retailer is also the master of logistics, a streaming company, and has a series of grocery chains.  So what’s next for the house that Bezos built?

When I was a kid, I didn’t know anything about monopolies (except the board game), anti-trust laws, barriers to entry, or restraint of trade. Why, I wondered, didn’t a successful, well-run company (GM in the 50s, IBM in the 60s, AT&T in the 70s) take all that management experience and branch out into other related and unrelated businesses: a Swiss Army-knife of companies?  (more)

Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Dr. Drew: do no harm (unless it is good for ratings)

April 7 — Imagine a visit with a clinical psychologist: you share your anxieties, fears, and deepest concerns during an hour-long appointment. During the session, the highly-trained therapist introduces you to books, television programs, online services and other for-profit ventures — either owned by himself or members of his family, or in which he has a significant financial stake. Then, in the last ten minutes, the therapist’s wife comes out to sell her own expensive personal care products.

Although you might want to report this type of unprofessional behavior to the accrediting associations, it is just a typical day on the Dr. Phil television show.  (more)

Business travel will never be the same

March 24 — It’s almost the end of the first quarter of 2021. In any other year, I would be taking a short rest after speaking at a number of media or technology conferences. The new year usually began with CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, followed by NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives) in Miami, and then the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau’s) ALM (Annual Leadership Meeting) in either Palm Desert or outside Phoenix.

About now, I would be planning another five or six events over the second quarter, including the Cannes Lions Festival in June. No complaining about jet lag or being away; it was a good life…. (more)

Then there was one: With Paramount’s entry into streaming, only one studio is sitting on the sidelines.

March 10 — And then there was one!

With the March 4th launch of Paramount+, Viacom’s entrant into the streaming wars, there is only one studio, Sony, left without its own streaming channel.

Two years ago, there were six studios (before Fox disappeared into Disney). Only one of them, Warner Bros., had placed a bet on streaming.  (more)

Battleground Australia: Mark Zuckerberg vs Rupert Murdoch. Facebook blinks for now.

February 24 — Facebook and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. are at war. The battleground is Australia. That location is serving as a proxy for all of the global battles of government vs. technology vs. traditional companies that are sure to erupt over the next few years. A lot rests on who is the ultimate winner (or suffers the least damage) in this ugly dispute.

The issue is: can Facebook and other platforms freely use publishers’ news content, or should they have to pay for the privilege?  (more)

Twitter shutting down Trump and Smartmatic suing Fox News: It’s about time or a dangerous precedent?

February 10 — I don’t like anyone messing with the First Amendment.

The United States was the first country and still one of the few to spell out in our constitution explicit rights to freedom of speech, the press, religion, peaceful assembly and the ability to petition the government for redress of grievances. If America has ever been (or is now) exceptional, it derives directly from the first 10 amendments to the Constitution: the Bill of Rights. When we fight to preserve and protect the Constitution, this is what we fight for.

There are two concepts around freedom of expression that have always stayed with me: the importance of the marketplace of ideas and the danger of creating a chilling effect.  (more)

That didn’t last long: Fox News is back — to its old ways

February 2 — That didn’t last long!

Starting on Election Day and for the next several weeks after, Fox News began to put some distance between itself and Donald Trump. The marriage that had served both parties so well for years finally unraveled and then broke.

That all was not well in the relationship had been clear for months. (more)

The Roaring 2020s

January 13 — Between the catastrophic storming of the U.S. Capitol and record levels of infection, hospitalization, and death from the coronavirus, 2021 is off to a bad start. Fortunately, with the ramping up of vaccinations and the inauguration of a new President, hopeful resolution of both crises is within sight.

Then what?

The year-old decade of the 2020s is just the third 20s decade in American history. There may well be some important parallels from 100 years ago in the 1920s. If we are lucky and all our stars align, there may also be some parallels from the 1820s.  (more)


Home (and nowhere else) for holidays! 

December 8 — At the end of 1992, looking back at a year that had witnessed the end of three of her four children’s marriages, the publication of a best-selling, tell-all book in which Princess Diana disparaged the Royal Family, and ending with a catastrophic fire at her beloved Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed the fortieth year of her reign an annus horribilis. (“Horrible Year”—it sounds classier in Latin!)

Now that Her Majesty has seen 2020, she might have a more nostalgic view of 1992.  (more)

Warner Media blinks: the plan for Wonder Woman 1984

November 24 — Patty Jenkins was looking forward to 2020 being a spectacular year. Three years earlier, she directed the huge hit Wonder Woman, earning Warner Bros. $820 million. It was also the highest grossing film ever directed by a woman, established a new franchise (building on DC Comics), and made Gal Godot a bankable superstar.

The sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, was originally scheduled for release in November 2019 at the beginning of the Christmas season. The studio expected it to earn even more than the original, crossing the billion dollar threshold. In what can only now be seen as a case of very bad luck, the film was pushed to June 2020 in order to anchor Warner’s summer releases. The new date hit the COVID pandemic straight on.  (more)

Kudos to Fox News

November 8 — I cannot believe I am saying this, but kudos to Fox News for its role as a responsible news organization during the 2020 election of Joe Biden as President of the United States.

Credit where credit is due: Fox’s reporting was fair (It’s a very different story with its on-air commentators.). Fox understood its role as the only major source of information its loyal audience trusted, and that its reporting in the moments and days after the election could inflame or contain its base’s worst impulses. While no one has the right to such power, Fox News had the choice to stand as an impediment to democracy or as a facilitator for the peaceful transition of power. For choosing the latter, Fox deserves our thanks.  (more)

A warm welcome back: media gatekeepers

November 4 — The year 2020 cannot end soon enough. Putting divisive politics, devastating economic recession, continuing social injustice, and the Coronavirus pandemic in our rear-view mirrors brings hope for a better 2021 and beyond.  It has been a terrible year — one that will join 1918 and 1968 in the unhappy history books.

But out of all the chaos and anxiety of the past decade, culminating in 2020, may emerge a hopeful development: the return of the professional media gatekeeper as citizens try to separate truth from disinformation. A lot of money has been made and political ground gained by catering to what former Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway memorably dubbed “alternative facts.”

Now, finally, there are some glimmers of hope that this may be starting to change. (more)

HBO Max: The “New Coke” of 2020?

October 21 2020 — Let’s be clear: HBO Max will be an extremely successful pay television and streaming service and will see healthy growth in the years ahead.

Since HBO started in 1972 and became the first service to go on satellite in 1975 (creating a new industry and transforming television), it has been the leader in quality programming. It has won more Emmy awards (916) than any other network or channel in history. Even as Netflix has grown into a global monolith, it has a long way to go to catch up with HBO.  (more)

Can the tech companies continue to grow? Case study: Amazon

October 7 — The big tech companies have benefited from the pandemic, but can they continue to get even bigger or will their revenues fall back to Earth?  Most of us were unprepared in the middle of March to move our work, learning, buying, and almost everything else online within a day or two. But one sector had been preparing their entire existence for this kind of disruption: the tech companies.

The pandemic was their victory lap.  (more)

Googling, Ubering and Xeroxing: How Zooming became a verb in six months

September 23 — In the early days of Coronavirus starting last March, Zoom helped students and colleagues extend working relationships as we moved our lives online. But as September brings new classes and new jobs, is Zoom up to the task?

As March began, few people had ever heard of Zoom, and many had never been part of a video conference. Six months later Zoom has become a verb, and Zooming has become a part of daily life.

There are only a few examples of corporate names becoming a part of our daily idiom and a verb in such a short period of time. That honor comes not necessarily to the first or best mover in a new technology (there have been other video conference tools for a while like Skype, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams) but to the innovator that first rises to wide public consciousness.  (more)

It’s a Wonderful Internet: What if the internet had never been “born?”

July 21 — The internet won!

In the middle of March, with little warning or preparation, we moved our lives online.

What couldn’t be transferred online simply stopped. Movie theaters, concert halls, and theme parks closed. Baseball and basketball suspended their seasons, and it is still not clear if they will resume, or if the football and hockey seasons will ever start.  Almost all dining in restaurants stopped, and many people were hesitant to eat even at outside tables at the small number that stayed opened. Travel came to a standstill with airlines barely operating and hotels facing little occupancy. Cruise ships will not see passengers for a very long time.

If it couldn’t happen on the internet, it didn’t happen. If it could, it did.  (more)

The billion-dollar movie: R.I.P.

July 1 — The billion-dollar movies that open on 4,000 screens are the ones that command all the attention and get fans into crowded theaters. There is strong evidence that when one or more of these films are in theaters, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and smaller films prosper as well.

If the studios place their bets correctly, these are the films that can earn $1 billion or more worldwide. Last year, Avengers: End Game set a new record by reaching $2.8 billion.  These are the superstars of film and what every studio and theater chain aspire to achieve.

Like travel, restaurants, sports, and theme parks, the film industry has been severely wounded by the coronavirus pandemic. It will likely emerge from the crisis more transformed and weakened than any of the other businesses.  The billion-dollar film is dead, at least for now, possibly never to return. It simply isn’t possible for a film to earn a billion dollars in 2020.  (more)

Starting college in your parents’ basement

June 17 — The pandemic has accelerated many trends that already existed, teaching us to stream more and forcing us to reconsider how much we need offices or stores. But one environment that has resisted evolutionary pressure, though, is college.

It’s the middle of June: all across America families are celebrating high school and college graduations. This year it’s very different. Graduates of the class of 2020 will be forever remembered as the Covid Grads, finishing school during the pandemic.

In 2020, there were no proms, grad nights or graduation ceremonies. Some graduated on Zoom—celebrating virtually with their classmates—while others stood in the street in front of their homes while friends and families drove by honking from a safe distance.

Most college students living away, whether they were seniors or not, finished the last months of the school year by packing up their belongings and moving back in with Mom and Dad.  (more)

The psychological impact of the events of 2020: effects that may last for a very long time

June 2 — Our recent Coronavirus Disruption Project is full of countless trends, insights, and numbers.

One number stands out from the rest: 37%. That’s the percentage of Americans who—even after a vaccine is found and the pandemic fades away—plan to reduce their face-to-face contact with other people.

Once we feel safe (if we ever do) we may quickly revert back to old habits and behaviors. But, in the middle of the pandemic, more than one-third of Americans think they will be uncomfortable in large gatherings, crowded public transportation, packed beaches and swimming pools, shoulder to shoulder in bars and restaurants, full stadiums, theme parks, and movie theaters.  (more)

Going to work: a commute of ten miles or ten feet?

May 13 — Data from the Center’s new Coronavirus Disruption Project suggests that many Americans will never go back to daily commutes to work in offices, and that’s not a bad thing, either.

The phrase “going to work” has taken on an entirely new meaning.

Two months ago, most of us had never heard of Zoom. Now, for those who are working at home during the Coronavirus pandemic, Zoom is a way of life.  (more)

Has the coronavirus killed movie theaters?

April 22 — Going to the movies is just a memory from our old lives. It’s likely to stay that way.

Sitting in a crowded theater with a large screen may forever be replaced by streaming at home. Even if theaters do survive the pandemic, they will return slowly and for at least a year or so, maybe permanently, become a much smaller business.

In the Center’s about-to-be released survey on the coronavirus pandemic, we ask Americans what activities they miss a lot while being sheltered in place. What we miss the most is “being able to go where I want and do what I please.” Coming in a close second is “visiting with friends and relatives I see regularly.”

Next to bottom on a list of 15 activities people miss the most while stuck in their homes is going to the movies. The only thing we say we miss less is drinking and socializing in bars. (more)

Quibi: the best laid plans meet the Coronavirus

April 6 — The best laid plans!

All the money was raised, everyone was on board, a great team had been assembled, and the best possible talent flocked to the effort. Everything was ready. Jeffrey Katzenberg did it all perfectly. It seemed blessed, and little could go wrong.

And then came the greatest disruption of our lifetimes: the Coronavirus struck.  (more)

Welcome to The Coronavirus Zone

April 1 — It feels like we’ve been sucked into an episode of The Twilight Zone: we can call it The Coronavirus Zone.

With little warning and – more importantly – even less preparation, we find ourselves confined to our homes with just what we have in our kitchens or what we could get from local stores before the shelves (and toilet roll holders) were laid bare.

Most of our jobs, if we still have them, are now online. We are living our lives in the world of Zoom. In-person classes at all schools are cancelled, probably for the rest of the school year, as instruction moves online – for those schools that are prepared for it. And the teachers running these online classes have mostly never taught this way and need to get up to speed – quickly.  (more)

Disney’s self-disruption success saga

March 4 — Last week, after 15 extraordinary years, Bob Iger handed over the reins as CEO of The Walt Disney Company to the relatively unknown (outside Disney) Bob Chapek. The timing of the announcement—and the fact that it occurred in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and took place immediately—caught everyone by surprise and raised a few questions. It also marked the beginning of the end of one of the most important and consequential eras of leadership in the history of the entertainment industry—or any industry.  (more)

Center launches major new research initiative on health care

February 19 — We Americans spend more money to keep ourselves healthy than on any other aspect of our lives. In 2018, we spent $3.6 trillion on health care or $11,172 per person, an amazing 17.7% of GDP. Nothing else, defense or otherwise, comes close.

When bank-robber Willie Sutton was arrested and asked why he robbed banks, he allegedly was surprised at the question. He replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Health care in the U.S. is where is the money really is.  With so much money spent to cover less than 90% of the population at high costs, health care is ripe for disruption.

That’s why the Center, in a new “Future of Health” project, has taken a major look at the health establishment to determine Americans’ satisfaction with health care services and outcomes — as well as the role technology will play in changing our relationships with doctors and hospitals. (more)

Netflix launches a major offensive in the Streaming Wars

February 5 — It’s an easy question. When Netflix offers theatrical films at what feels like the same time they appear in the theater as part of their $12 monthly charge, can movie theaters survive asking $10-$16 a person for one ticket?  The obvious answer is no.  Now that Apple, Disney, HBO, and NBC are offering their own streaming services, Netflix is facing unprecedented competition that may represent an existential threat.  But it raises a question: why did Netflix even bother to release those three films into a theater?  (more)


Entertainment: disruption in full force

— Center director Jeffrey Cole joined other national experts in a nine-part feature in the Los Angeles Times on December 20, 2019 that offered predictions on key issues for the nation in 2020.  Cole took on the subject of how competing forces within the entertainment industry will transform film and television with the broadest impact felt in more than 60 years.

Cole’s predictions are here; the full feature from the Los Angeles Times is here.

An epidemic of loneliness?

December 4 — Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents: are digital technologies to blame?

Why do technologies designed to foster connectedness and relationships seem to be producing the opposite effect?  (more)

“OK, Boomer” — the opening shot in the generational war

November 20 — It’s not news that we live in a divided country. Historians say we are looking at the most significant and dangerous divides since the Civil War 150 years ago. What’s truly alarming is that some believe that another Civil War is not a far-fetched idea.

In my lifetime, the divides between the left and the right, or between Democrats and Republicans, have never been so acute or dangerous. We watch different media, collect separate (and opposing) facts, believe in different science, and, most worrisome of all, want to see the other side destroyed or weakened to the point of irrelevance.  (more)

Why NBC Universal’s Peacock will be “must-stream TV”

November 6 — Although Netflix, Apple TV+, and Disney+ have been grabbing headlines, NBCU’s Peacock service from Comcast has identified a strategic opportunity in the streaming wars.

Next week on November 12, the streaming wars will officially begin as Disney unveils its new service, Disney +. Consumers will be thrilled, confused, and overwhelmed. Not the least of their problems will be figuring how much more they are willing to spend every month on “television,” and which services are worth paying for.  The competition among the subscription streamers will be intense.  (more)

Television sets: a 1940s device reimagined for the 2020s

October 16 — It’s a tough time to be a television set manufacturer. So much is being asked of the manufacturers: we expect them to spend billions of dollars to distinguish passing trends from lasting innovations.

The humble television set is an old technology (it began to appear in the 1940s). Over 70 years later, we expect it to become state of the art, and add features and perform functions not even dreamed of when television broadcast its first signal.  (more)

The ghost of television past

October 2 — The next 12 months will see the most important transformation in the entertainment industry — at least since the beginning of television in the late 1940s. We are six weeks from Disney firing the first and most important salvo in the coming television streaming war. November 12 will mark the launch of Disney+ at the Netflix-killing price of $6.99 per month. (I recently took advantage of a great promotion and bought a three-year subscription at $3.88 per month.)

A year from now, after disruption and transformation, there will be new combatants in the streaming battle, while old ones will be injured or eliminated. When the smoke clears, we will see a different playing field in a changed industry.  We are at the end of the first era of television. It should be celebrated.  (more)

Microsoft: back from the brink

September 18 — Recently, I was speaking at a technology conference when someone asked, “Who is currently the best CEO of a media, technology, or entertainment company?” Despite all the work I do in the industry, I didn’t have a ready answer to the question. After carefully thinking, I came to a surprising conclusion: the best CEO in the industry succeeded the worst. The company is Microsoft.  (more)

Would breaking up Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google be bad for consumers?

July 24 — By any objective measure, the “Big Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google) are so big and powerful they control their industries, causing many critics and governments to question whether they are monopolies. In any normal environment, they would be broken up. The Big Four have become some of the biggest and most successful companies in history, and that size and success is making them targets.

These companies are so big they are a natural target for the antitrust division of the Justice Department. This is the same Justice Department that, in the 1980s and 1990s, went after the original AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft.  There is no doubt that the governments of the U.S., European Union, and elsewhere are preparing to move against the Big Four.  (more)

The disruption of Netflix: a plan for its survival

July 10 — The Streaming Wars have begun. The service at the greatest risk and with the most to lose is Netflix.  Ever since it made the awkward transition from the “Red Envelope” business into streaming eight years ago, Netflix has been on an unprecedented glide path to success. It is the unchallenged leader of the subscription streaming category that it largely created.

But Netflix’s days of being unchallenged are over. Several of the key studios, alarmed at the monster competitor they helped create by selling Netflix their content, are now pulling that content back as they start their own competitive streaming services.  There is a real risk of a downward spiral for Netflix. Its survival as the market leader is by no means assured… (more)

Hulu moves to “the happiest place on Earth”

June 18 — One of the powerful lessons we have learned in the Center’s work is that digital disruption usually comes without warning when it decimates an industry. The film and television business had an ally in the battle against disruption: time. They knew what was coming and that ultimately their content would be stolen as well.

One impressive thing that came out of that preparation was Hulu. The studios did not sit back and wait to be disrupted. They wanted to be ready when broadband made them as vulnerable to disruption as the music business…(more)

Streaming Wars begin: how Disney beats Apple
— and perhaps a surprise ending?

June 5 — As the streaming wars heat up, both Apple and Disney have announced new streaming services to compete with Netflix, but there’s another possibility.

This is the year the video streaming wars begin. By the end of 2019, Netflix’s and Hulu’s iron grip on subscription streaming (filled with old TV shows, old theatrical films, and massive amounts of original programming) will face serious competition for a monthly piece of the consumer’s wallet.  (more)

Foreign disinformation: the plot to kill 5G

May 22 — In a recent column, I wrote about why 5G is a really big deal. This new mobile technology is more than a faster 4G: it enables autonomous vehicles and tele-medicine, eliminates any limitations of wireless, may well be a cable TV killer, and will lead the next phase of the digital revolution.

But now 5G is in grave peril. The danger comes not from technology or its impact; it comes from deliberate misinformation and fake news.  This is terrifying on so many levels.  (more)

America’s cashless future

May 8 — Whether it’s using smartphone payment apps or implantable chips, in the near future Americans won’t make cash transactions. It’s not a question of if: it’s a question of when.  Since I was very young, there have been visions of what life in the 21st century would be like. Flying cars (out of The Jetsons, Back to the Future, and other science-fiction) would easily transport us above roads and traffic. Robots would answer our front doors, do our household chores, and make our lives much easier. And, in this vision of the future, cash would go away.

In 2019, we are much closer to a cashless society than to flying cars and full-household robots.

Why HBO doesn’t want you to watch the end of the Game of Thrones

April 24 — At last, the premium cable channel has started to show the final season of its most popular show. But now the problems for HBO may begin.  HBO did everything perfectly. It built Game of Thrones into the most popular television program in the world.

There is just one problem: HBO doesn’t really want you to watch the final seven episodes of Game of Thrones (GoT). They would prefer to build hype and excitement for the next few years and continue to make it the most talked about television event in at least a decade. To actually show you the final episodes means that just six weeks later all the hype, excitement, anticipation, and viewers would be gone. The buildup has been great for HBO. The actual last episode will mean the end of all of that. (more)

Why 5G is a really big deal

April 10 — The coming Fifth Generation (5G) mobile bandwidth speeds will be far more than just a faster connection, transforming medicine, transportation, media and more.

For the entire digital era, there have always been compromises when using wireless technology. The range and, more importantly, the speed of wireless has always trailed that of wired communication. That ends with 5G.  (more)

Parenting in the Digital Age: new rules for safety

March 27 — Some of the most important changes to our lives that come from the digital revolution can be hard to see. Digital makes parents work harder than ever to protect their children’s safety.

Our work in tracking digital change over the past 20 years has largely been based on identifying and explaining the big things that dramatically disrupt government, business, and our daily lives: driverless cars, the impact of social networks, changes in media and entertainment, and much more. Occasionally, it is useful to look back and notice the smaller changes that are altering the fabric of our lives — changes that can only be discerned by watching and tracking digital use over a long period of time.  (more)

Buyer’s remorse? AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner

March 13 — It’s exciting to own a movie studio. You get to go to the best parties (especially after the Oscars), hang out with the biggest stars, and host major premieres. You can make movies that earn over a billion dollars. And you can make movies that change the world.  Owning a studio has appealed to the likes of soft drink companies, alcohol manufacturers, Australian newspaper tycoons, real estate developers, Japanese electronics manufacturers (two of them), and others.

Most recently, the appeal of being in the movie business has attracted one of the world’s largest telcos.  (more)

A tale of two reports: Mueller and Starr

February 25 — It seems clear that special counsel Robert Mueller is close to finishing his long-awaited report on the Russian role in the 2016 Presidential Election. It is easily one of the most anticipated reports in American history.

The issues surrounding the release of the Mueller report, not to mention the actual content and findings, may produce one of the most heated public clashes in political history. Freedom of information, the public’s right to know, executive privilege, and the survival of a presidency are all at stake.  (more)

The coming war against technology

February 13 — Two incidents occurred shortly before the end of last year. The media paid them only a little attention and treated them as separate events. In truth, both events are linked, and they are part of what will be one of the most powerful trends of the next 50 years: anger and protest–sometimes violent protest–at the relentless advance of technology.

The first event occurred the weekend of December 22 in Hickory, North Carolina, when three large pick-up trucks blocked Tesla Superchargers, preventing the owners of the electric cars from charging their vehicles.  (more)

Will the Oscar go to Black Panther?

January 30 — Black Panther will do very well at the Oscars.

Action films and superhero films rarely are even mentioned at the Oscars. For the past generation, there has been an inverse relationship between a film’s box office success and honors at the Academy Awards. The three most recent examples of small box office films winning are: The Shape of Water, Moonlight, and Birdman.

This has caused a serious problem for the Motion Picture Academy. Most of the Academy’s funding (some $70-90 million) comes from licensing the telecast to ABC. The problem is that the ratings have been declining for a number of years. In 2018, 26.5 million people watched some or all of the Oscars telecast. Four years earlier the total was 43.7 million.  That’s a loss of 40 percent of the audience in just four years.  (more)

Facebook — the way back: four steps to salvation

January 16 — Facebook is at a crisis point, and its survival can no longer be taken as assured.

Facebook can turn itself around, survive, and even flourish, but since the end of the year, it has dug itself into an even deeper hole. Another misstep, and it will be the first of the big five (Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook) to disappear and the biggest company ever to crash and burn.  Facebook needs to regain the trust of the government, advertisers and, most importantly, its users. To survive, Facebook must take four essential steps. (more)


Facebook’s arrogance and amorality

December 11 — Long before we realized how little Facebook did to protect its users’ privacy, and how its top executives cared only about protecting their own reputations and self-created myths, there were already weaknesses in the Facebook story.

But the threat to Facebook’s existence comes not from past problems; but from the future impact of a unique blend of arrogance, hubris, greed, mismanagement, and incompetence.  (more)

Can Facebook survive?

November 28 — In Mark Zuckerberg’s worst nightmare, he never could have imagined anything as horrible as the November 24, 2018 issue of the Sunday New York Times that contained an op-ed piece with the large font headline, “Do You Have a Moral Duty to Leave Facebook?”

In these columns, I have examined how quickly these four companies appeared on the tech scene and asked, if they could emerge so fast, could they disappear equally fast?  Now we have a good indicator as to which of the four may go down first.  Facebook is in the midst of an existential threat that is entirely of its own making. (more)

Die, Netflix, die: how the studios are planning to starve the streaming giant

November 7 — In the seven years since Netflix spun off its red envelope business (DVDs by mail) into a separate company with the silly name Qwikster and focused on a streaming business that kept the Netflix name, the company has turned into a global behemoth.

Netflix is firing on all cylinders, financially and creatively. That is why it is now the target of all the studios in Hollywood. Disney, Warner, Paramount, Fox, Universal, and Sony want the free ride to end. Netflix has built its business off their backs. Now, the studios’ plan is nothing less than the full disaggregation of Netflix.  (more)

Will anyone have a job in the digital future?

October 24 — In all the work we have done on the impact of digital technology over the past 20 years, I strongly believe the beneficial effects have outweighed the problems that have arisen.

But over the next few months, I also want to look at the serious problems we see in the digital future and possible ways of solving those problems.  I want to start with the problem that keeps me awake at night more than any other, and for which I see no real solution: the future of work.  (more)

Electric cars have passed the tipping point

October 10 — Sometimes it is astonishing how quickly a new technology can morph from a novelty — or even a joke — into a new way of doing things that will forever change the world. Few technologies have gone through this cycle faster than electric cars.  Despite Who Killed the Electric Car?, a 2006 documentary about its death, the electric car is back and is transforming transportation.

How MoviePass won the war but lost the company

August 15 — When I wrote about MoviePass at the beginning of the year (first in January and then again in February), the company was largely flying under the media radar. In the past month, there has been an explosion of stories about the movie subscription service.

It has been a soap opera: fans and skeptics alike want to see if MoviePass still works (it changes day to day). If it does, then what new restrictions are being placed on its use? How long will fans continue to support the service with all the new limitations? Will cash flow be sufficient to keep MoviePass alive until it finds the correct formula — giving subscribers access to the movies they wanted to see while still making business sense?

As I detailed in the earlier columns, MoviePass has never made business sense. (more)

Leave HBO alone

August 1 — When a Federal court overruled the Trump Justice Department and allowed ATT’s takeover of Time Warner (as discussed in a previous column), it opened the floodgates to many more media acquisitions and mergers.

Now that it is clear there will be very few, if any, anti-trust impediments to big deals, many more are being contemplated.  In other words, quite a few media producers and distributors are going to find themselves working for new owners.  (more)

The secret meeting that never happened

July 18 — This meeting never happened. But it is as if it did.  The resulting impact on our lives is exactly the same as if it had happened. And it makes one of the world’s great conspiracy theories.

The big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — are each about 20 years old. Within 15 years, they became four of the five biggest companies in the world.  All four companies (unless you are an Android phone user and don’t use a Mac) are an essential part of our everyday lives.

If we believe in conspiracy theories, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine a secret meeting, probably somewhere around 2008, in Silicon Valley… (more)

“I think it would be fun to run a newspaper”

July 2 — The past 20 years have not been good for the newspaper business. Print journalism was disrupted by the internet with little warning. Much of the advertising revenue that sustained quality print journalism has been transferred to Google and Facebook, leaving most newspapers a shell of their former selves.

In the midst of the bad news, there are some encouraging developments: the digital divisions of America’s leading newspapers are booming. In this column I look at four of America’s best known, most successful, and award-winning newspapers: the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. (more)

Now that AT&T has acquired Time Warner, what should its biggest rival do?

June 18 — As expected, this week the courts overruled the Justice Department and allowed AT&T to acquire Time Warner. Two days after the ruling, the sale was complete, and we have heard the last of the Time Warner name.

Now the floodgates are open.

I want to focus on a giant company that has been flying below the radar and has only made relatively small acquisitions. It’s a company that is as big and significant as all the studios and the telcos, and has yet to develop, or at least announce, a media strategy. That company is Verizon.  (more)

Why did Amazon build a studio rather than buy one?

June 6 — “How do you become a millionaire in Hollywood?” asks one of the great fables of the entertainment industry. The answer is simple: “You start out as a billionaire.” For generations, real estate magnates, oil tycoons and other exceedingly rich people have been attracted to the excitement of Hollywood and have invested to become studio owners.

Amazon could have bought just about any of the Hollywood studios. The most valuable of the six is less than 25 percent the size of Amazon. So why did Amazon decide to build its own studio rather than sweep in and buy an established brand? (more)

The great deal of digital media

May 22 — In my last column, I looked at how the Internet has unexpectedly become the best “de-clutterer” we have ever seen. Today, the content that we used to collect and store has all moved to digital where it takes up no space in our lives. We also have access to far more content than we ever thought possible, and it is easily transportable.

In this column, I want to look beyond the space we save by looking at the money we free up by not maintaining physical media. The total saved is quite impressive.  (more)

De-cluttering: the real digital revolution

May 9 — Our job at the Center for the Digital Future is to track the expected and, more importantly, unexpected change that comes from digital technology. After 18 years of tracking digital impact, the unexpected change continues to arrive from the most interesting and surprising places.

In this column, I want to track how digital has freed up an enormous amount of physical room in our lives.  (more)

Why you need a friend when you turn 50

April 28 — On the day of your 50th birthday (not the day before or after), you will receive an invitation to join the American Association of Retired People (AARP).

You will need a new friend on that day, because the day before, your lifelong friends — the advertising and media industries — will have just abandoned you. (more)

Amazon Go: the end of traditional retail

April 11 — For the past few years, I have been briefing just about anyone who listen about the Amazon Go Market. Even though when I started talking about Go it was still at least two years away, it was clear that it would be a game changer on many different levels.

The Amazon Go market model is unstoppable. It will unalterably transform retail shopping. (more)

Uber’s accident won’t stop driverless cars for long

March 28 — In a previous column, I talked about how driverless cars will be the most important development over the next thirty years. Despite my vision for how driverless cars will change the world, it was obvious the road to complete autonomy would be a long one with many bumps.  On March 18, driverless cars hit a major crisis when a pedestrian was killed in Arizona by an Uber driverless car. Beyond the lessons that we will learn from the Tempe accident, there are some immediate things we should consider about driverless cars: (more)

Two guys in a garage: where will the next disruptive company come from?

March 21 — The big four — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — have changed the world in too many ways to count. They simplified processes that before their existence were more complex and less successful.  If these four companies could emerge in 20 years, then how could we possibly believe there will not be another four bigger or more radical companies that emerge over the next 20 years? (more)

Five years later: the prediction on the end of printed newspapers

March 7 — In 2013, the Center predicted that most printed newspapers had five years of life left. Their survival turns out to be more delayed than we thought. Thirty years ago, teenagers did not read print newspapers, but started to when they got into their 20s. Today, teenagers don’t read newspapers, and the evidence is clear that they never will. Many critics argue teenagers have no interest beyond anything they read on Instagram or Snapchat. Nothing could be further from the truth; polling shows that teenagers today are more interested in news than any previous teenage generation.  But they aren’t going to newspapers for that information. (more)

A 2005 prediction 13 years later: teenagers
and social networks

February 21 — The Center has been tracking digital use in 35 countries for the past 18 years. In that time, we have discerned some powerful trends and made some wide-reaching predictions. Happily, our predictive success rate has been very high — that has come from the quality of our data. In this column and the next, I will look at two of my most controversial predictions and see what time has said about them. This week: teenagers and social networks. (more)

Cinematic staring contest: MoviePass vs. movie theaters

February 7 — In a recent column, I wrote about my experiences with MoviePass. For $9.95 a month, I got to see one movie a day (except for IMAX or 3D films). Several movie theater chains, especially AMC, strongly oppose MoviePass because they feel it devalues the movie-going experience. And, if MoviePass proves unsustainable and disappears, movie fans will be less likely to go back to paying $12 to 16 to see a movie.

A lot has changed in the past four weeks. . . (more)

As the movie studios consolidate, which one goes next?

January 25 — As Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox moves slowly towards government approval, what does it mean for the rest of the major movie studios?

Of the six major studios — Warner Bros., Sony (Columbia), Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Fox — only three will be beefed up and ready to compete into the next generation.  The remaining studios will have to seek partners, mergers, or acquisitions. . .(more)

Subscription models move to the movie theater

January 11 — Over the holidays, I bought a MoviePass, partly to see if it really worked as advertised and partly because there were many new movies that I wanted to see.  With MoviePass, for $9.99 a month (or $89.99 a year at Costco) I can go to one movie a day at almost any theater.

The Center’s work shows that 2017 was the first time we can see the direct impact of Netflix (and Amazon and Hulu) on the theatrical business. A film in the theaters for as much as $16 becomes a risky venture compared to $10 for a month of Netflix. Theaters used to have the strong advantages of better content with bigger stars and a much higher-quality screen. No longer. Dinner and a movie has become Netflix and Uber Eats. . .(more)


How regulation is used to stifle competition

December 7 — Almost no one would argue that some government regulation is not only necessary, but in many instances desirable.  Even the most rigid limited-government conservative would not fly on an airplane that is not regulated.

What concerns me is not too little or too much regulation, but, rather, when regulation is used to stifle competition and innovation.  These regulations are usually encouraged by established businesses trying to protect their industries and keep more innovative newcomers out. . .(more)

E-nuff Already!

November 17 — No one wants to give up the internet. But we are tired of the internet defining our lives. We want to take advantage of all the extraordinary things the web brings to our lives without having to deal with all the negatives surrounding its use. In short, we want to take control of our use of the internet rather than having it control us.

We have given a name to this phenomenon. . .(more)

Will banks do anything about the disruption coming their way?

November 2 — Companies facing intense disruption almost never turn themselves around when they are profitable. Disrupting short-term profits to make the changes necessary to transform the direction of the company is too painful and strongly inhibited by shareholders’ immediate interests.

Banks know this is coming, but they will not do anything about it until it is too late.  (more)

The battle for the consumer’s wallet

October 19 — This is the year that cord-cutting and cord-shaving have shifted into high gear as reliable alternatives to a full cable or satellite bill for many television viewers.

Years ago, before Over-the-Top (OTT) services were available, the cable companies argued that, if they allowed a la carte selection for channels, the customer would suffer, because at the end of the process they would spend the same amount of money monthly, but receive far fewer channels. These questions of how much money we spend, how much may be freed up if we unbundle, and where that money may go are of intense interest to us at the Center.  (more)

What really happened to this summer’s box office

October 4 — This summer, Hollywood reported the worst box office in 25 years. At the film studios, panic began to set in. Studio executives wondered if this was the beginning of the end for large audiences going out to the movies.

What was the cause of the 2017 movie meltdown? Was it Netflix, HBO, Hulu and Amazon, or was it bad movies in the theaters, or both? With so much great content on television, would audiences still make the effort to go to the movies and pay as much as $16 a film?  (more)

“Incremental” is not what Apple fans were waiting for

(Update to “Apple’s future hangs in the balance” from August 17)

September 13 — In one of the most anticipated products launches ever, Apple has introduced its new lineup of iPhones.

In my earlier column, I made the case that what Apple fans really wanted to see was Tim Cook in a pair of jeans coming to the end of his presentation and, almost as if he forgot, saying, “Oh, and one more thing.” Then Cook would introduce the phone that would change their lives.

Cook got everything right — except the game changer. . . (more)

“Implantables” and the war between convenience and privacy

August 31 — It sounds like a particularly chilling episode of Netflix’s future-phobic series, Black Mirror: as of August 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in River Falls, Wisconsin, can choose to have a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice implanted in their fingers.  On the first day, 50 of the company’s 80 employees had the implant.

Technologically, chipping is a utopia. Privacy-wise, it is either the beginning of a secure, frictionless world or the beginning of a nightmare. . .(more)

Apple’s future hangs in the balance

August 17 — You would have to dive deep into business books to find a CEO at any company at any time in history who has faced a bigger challenge than Tim Cook at Apple faces right now.

Last fall, Cook announced the introduction of the iPhone 7. Fans learned that it would have a slightly better camera and a slightly improved processor, and they were profoundly disappointed. In fact, the iPhone 7 was an impressive incremental improvement, but that’s all it was. . . (more)

How driverless cars change everything

August 3 — I have been talking about driverless cars for about ten years and ridiculed for most of that time. I was just getting used to seeing audiences’ eyes roll and glaze over as they thought I was pitching a Twilight Zone episode.

Then something interesting happened: people began to believe it wasn’t just a view of the future as experienced by The Jetsons. Driverless cars are here, and even the biggest skeptics can now see that something of compelling importance is about to happen. . . (more)

Amazon, sports, and the future of the broadcast networks

July 13 — For years, analysts have been predicting the demise of the broadcast networks.

Even before Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller created the Fox Network in the 1980s, observers argued the economy was not strong enough for three networks — let alone a new fourth.

The networks have turned out to be more durable than most people thought. . . (more)

See all columns from the Center.

To learn more about the Center — and how it provides actionable guidance about trends for companies, governments, and other organizations — please reach out via email at [email protected] or by phone at (310) 235-4444.