TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: On the topic of rising unemployment, there’s a wave of layoffs sweeping through Hollywood. Just yesterday Universal Pictures canned its top two executives. Last month, the longtime head of the Disney studios got his walking papers. All three were replaced not by movie makers but by marketers. Cynthia Littleton is the deputy editor of Daily Variety. Good to have you with us.
CYNTHIA LITTLETON: Thanks.
Ryssdal: How much of what’s going on at the top of some of these studios is just the nature of the way Hollywood works. And then how much is sort of the recession really changing things?
LITTLETON: You know, there’s no question that this incredible double-whammy of an executive shuffle that we saw at two of Hollywood’s major film studios is driven in part by the recession and the general slowdown in consumer spending that we’ve seen over the past year. But it also really speaks to bigger structural, fundamental changes that are happening in the entire show business arena, and it’s really quite a dramatic reaction to that.
Ryssdal: Enlighten me. Other than DVD sales falling off the cliff, and us doing other things with our time, what else is going on?
LITTLETON: Well, I think consumers doing other things with their leisure time and their entertainment dollar is a big issue. In a truly multi-platform, gazillion-channel world, it’s just increasingly hard for movies to break through with the key younger audiences that they need to reach. And as people are also consuming movies and television shows in different ways — they watch them on their computer, there’s a growing video on demand market. That’s changing the fundamental economics of movies that used to start at the box office and then go through a couple of stops — paid TV, the home video window. And that was a pretty clear, steady way of making money for studios. That’s all really kind of being challenged right now.
Ryssdal: Well, in this gazillion-channel universe, how much difference does it really make who is on top of the studio, then?
LITTLETON: You’re seeing in both cases of Universal and Disney, you saw people that were tapped for these jobs have very strong backgrounds and success rates in branding, in taking a property. That’s particularly important for Disney, is to take a property and have it not just live and be successful in the box office, but work on television and home video and inspire spin-offs, and again, for Disney, T-shirts and lunch boxes, and key chains, and perhaps even its own online realm.
Ryssdal: So you gotta sell, baby, sell, right?
LITTLETON: When it works for them like a “Hannah Montana,” or “Wizards of Waverly Place,” which is becoming their buzz bin hit. The star of that show is Selena Gomez. She’s a singer, she has her own line of clothing, you can see her, probably she’ll graduate to movies at some point. I mean that’s the kind of franchise and grooming that the executive Rich Ross, who was just named head of the studio, was known for. And that’s the kind of business that Disney is looking at. It’s not so much the old business of let’s put Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts into a movie.
Ryssdal: Is that because Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts can’t really open a movie anymore, to use the lingo, or is just the studios realize they need other revenue streams?
LITTLETON: It’s a mixture of both. But there’s no question that for the big Hollywood studios, the kind of traditional adult-orientated dramas and star vehicles are challenged right now. People are thinking twice before committing $150 million to a caper thriller these days.
Ryssdal: Cynthia Littleton at Daily Variety. Thanks so much.
LITTLETON: Thank you.
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