Ten Things That Won't Happen in 2008


Pundits are eager to provide their predictions for the new year. Here's something a little different

'Tis the season to prognosticate. It seems just about every reporter with a computer has rushed to provide his vision of the future with a laundry list of assorted projections for 2008. Rupert will buy this, so-and-so will get bounced from a top job, or that technology will be the hottest thing since the invention of the curling iron. So, I'm gonna go in a slightly different direction for no reason other than, well, this is my column. And I can.

For those who aren't already punch-drunk with prediction lists, here's a list of the Top 10 Things That Won't Happen in 2008:

1. The writers won't win the current strike. Considering that I'm a writer, I'd really love to see the guys with the ideas get their due, not to mention a hefty stake in the new media riches (are ya listening BusinessWeek editors?). But frankly, the Writers Guild of America has handled the current eight-week strike as poorly as one can imagine, especially by throwing in the red herring issue of demanding to represent reality-show writers not already under contract with them. This is a strike that legitimately should be about whether writers can get a chunk of residuals from the streaming of TV shows on the Net and other kinds of digital distribution. But the studio owners have stockpiled movies that take them through 2009 and are already making noises that they'll save money by airing reruns on the tube, shifting shows from cable channels (that they already just happen to own), and likely ending expensive producer deals. The result? When the studios settle with the much less demanding directors' guild —maybe in the next month—the writers will get the crumbs: a small piece of the digital action.

2. DreamWorks isn't going to leave Paramount after all. O.K, so I was among the first to write that Steven Spielberg was unhappy with his deal to make movies for Paramount, and might bolt. And he can, by late in 2008. But I've got the feeling that Spielberg's business partner, the endlessly imaginative David Geffen, may just have another game plan in mind. Sure, he'll take meetings with NBC (he's already had a very public dinner with Jeff Immelt, CEO of NBC parent General Electric (GE)). But pique is really a Geffen ploy to bring Paramount parent Viacom (VIA) and its chairman Sumner Redstone back to the table and maybe to get him to buy the other piece of DreamWorks (DWA), its animation studio, that Redstone didn't buy in 2005.

3. Apple won't reinvent TV viewing. Not that Steve Jobs won't try. But the buzz is that Apple (AAPL) will revamp its weak Apple TV this fall, giving folks a more elegant way to download movies directly from the Internet to TVs. And Jobs is lining up much of Hollywood to give him their first-run movies. So far only Disney (DIS), among the major studios, does that. If you're gonna bet on one guy to figure out how to merge TV and the computer it would be the bearded one. But, Steve, get used to the fact that folks aren't clamoring for unlimited access to movies and TV shows from the Net. That's what they make cable TV for.

4. Juno won't win an Academy Award. Anyone who has seen the small-budget comedy about a teenage pregnancy knows that I'm talking about. It's got warmth, soul, and a heart as large as star Ellen Page. Made for a very un-Hollywood-sized budget of under $25 million, the Jason Reitman-directed film is everything you'd want in a movie, especially that it is over-the-moon entertaining. But Academy voters often vote on the basis of heft, as in Lord of the Rings, or star power, and this film has neither. Last year's Little Miss Sunshine may show that fun little films can get nominated, and Juno already has a Golden Globes nomination, so maybe I'm wrong. Then again, maybe everyone will watch an overblown saga like American Gangster waltz away this year, just as Warner Bros.' (TWX) The Departed did last year.

5. Google (GOOG) won't buy a media company. The hot buzz for months has the Internet search giant using its hyperinflated stock and mountains of cash to buy a media company, perhaps a movie studio like MGM or another company with a treasure trove of content that Google can monetize with its newfound ability to sell advertising. The big question: Why? Google already has the pick of all the content it could ever want; it gets more eyeballs than any company on earth. Why mess it up with content companies that, frankly, are just as likely to lose money on new TV shows or movies than make it? Google is too smart for that.

6. Indiana Jones won't be the biggest film of 2008. Hard to bet against an American classic, brought back again this year after a 19-year hiatus by box-office magnets Steven Spielberg and George Lucas? O.K., so it will make beaucoup box office bucks. Maybe $200 million. But next year is chockablock with potential blockbusters, including Disney's next Chronicles of Narnia sequel and Paramount's first Marvel-made franchise, Iron Man. With Spielberg, Lucas, and Harrison Ford all back, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull will get plenty of promo power when it's released on May 22. But Harrison Ford may not be the only one that's starting to look a little old.

7. Katie Couric won't quit. The boo-birds are already out, hissing that the former Today Show host has pulled CBS's evening news—now an ugly third—even further into the rear. Some of it isn't her fault: The show's new set is, well, just plain unattractive and the show's stilted format doesn't suit Katie's natural talents as a lively, almost bubbly TV persona. On top of that, CBS (CBS) CEO Leslie Moonves hates to lose and hates to admit defeat even more. Katie will hang around till Leslie can't stand it any longer. Maybe 2009.

8. The Disney-Pixar deal won't implode, Part Three. Critics of Disney CEO Bob Iger have been waiting since Iger's $7 billion acquisition of Steve Jobs' Pixar Animation studio in 2006 for the pricey deal to hit a brick wall. Last year was supposed to be that year, when Ratatouille arrived with a very un-Pixar opening. But the film has picked up steam, and has serious legs, having stuck around theaters for six months and raked in $200 million at the U.S. box office and more than $600 million worldwide. This year's Pixar offering, Wall-E, about a robot, is from Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton. Say no more.

9. Fox Business News won't close shop. O.K., so it's only been up and operating for three months. The word among analysts is that it's getting waxed by CNBC, and that Murdoch & Co., are already getting nervous that its losing more money than expected. Losing money? Murdoch worry? Ha! The News-ites figured it would cost $300 million or more to take on CNBC, and still only have roughly half the numbers of subscribers of its larger rival. But Murdoch loves a good challenge, and he has one here. Expect him to line up more cable operators this year, uncover an explosive new hire or two, and fulfill his destiny: to take on the entrenched. Remember when CNN used to clean Fox News' clock?

10. MGM won't be the first Hollywood studio to get sold. MGM isn't on the block yet, but it will be. It's owned by private equity funds, who have installed empire-builder (and seller) Harry Sloan to spiff it up and find it a new home. That's likely to be cable giant Comcast (CMCSA), which already owns a 20% stake and is desperate to find a new business that doesn't rely on luring subscribers from satellite or phone companies. But Sloan likely won't be ready to sell it for another year, or so. Until then, look for Lionsgate (LGF) to come on the market. Its collection franchises, which include the Saw movies and a link to Tyler Perry, make it a low-price buy for someone who values the content of a library with more than 8,100 movies.


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