Once Again, It’s About Balls, Not Strikes

If there was any sure sign that, at least on some levels, things were returning to “normal” around Hollywood, yesterday morning we had yet another pre-dawn press conference timed for the East Coast-based morning news shows to breathlessly announce the nominees for an upcoming awards show.   Because of the truncation of these events that were necessitated by the dual strikes of 2023, yesterday morning’s Golden Globes will be the first of a flurry that will hit in the coming weeks, and will pretty much dominate the first quarter of 2024.  Which, given how many actual new movies and series will actually become available at that time, the news cycle will desperately need in order to maintain some sort of relevance.

The fact that there are even Golden Globes nominations at all is some sort of a Christmas miracle, as THE WRAP’s Steve Pond was quick to point out mere minutes after the presser that announced who will be vying for the medium’s answer to participation trophies concluded:

So this was the Golden Globes’ plan for making everybody happy: Expand the number of nominees in every category from five to six.

It’s not a sneaky plan by any means – the Critics Choice Awards, among others, have been doing it for years – but it gives you so much more breathing room when you’re putting together a slate of nominations designed to get the studios, networks and streamers back on your side, which is something the Golden Globes need badly.

And in this morning’s CYNOPSIS, the peppy recap that newsletter offers sure gives a bunch of otherwise maligned publicists something to cut and paste and drop into their own internal recaps to warm the cockles of their bosses’ hearts as they contemplate exactly what tax writeoffs they will employ to shield themselves from too much taxing of their bonuses:

TV nominees for the 81st Annual Golden Globes Awards include Paramount+’s “1923,” Netflix’s “The Crown” and “The Diplomat,” Max’s “The Last of Us” and “Succession,” and Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” for Best Drama. Up for Best Comedy are ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” Max’s “Barry,” FX’s “The Bear,” Amazon Freevee’s “Jury Duty,” Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” and Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso.” Of note: “Succession” Meryl Streep scored a record 33rd nomination (breaking her own record of 32), for “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Succession” and “The Bear” were nominated in every category they were eligible for, with “Succession” breaking the record for TV nominations with nine. Warner Bros. Discovery was the most-nominated media company, with 35 nods across HBO, Max, Warner Bros. Television and Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group. The ceremony airs Sunday, January 7 at 8p on CBS.

As someone who has been the source of those obsessive counting up in categories looking for some sort of spin to satisfy the needs of some journalist on deadline, let alone my colleagues tasked with feeding them chum to service their assignments, I can identify with the energy and enthusiasm that likely reverberated through the halls of the content providers–or at least the offices of those working from home–that took place in the wake of these announcements.

But as the ever-astute Rick Ellis was quick to point out on his ALLYOURSCREENS.com site, more than ever, this has become a self-serving loop for both the studios and the monolithic company that now owns the Globes:

If you’re talking about the Hollywood entertainment press, the chief nut squeezer is Jay Penske’s Penske Media Corporation, which in the past 15 years has rolled up an impressively evil collection of iconic Hollywood entertainment news outlets. 

Thanks to a combination of money from private equity, hedge funds and a Saudi Investment fund, PMC has done what most investment fund supported businesses do when confronted with a vertical business niche that has a lot of undervalued and/or undercapitalized companies. It rolled them up into one massive co-mingled near monopoly in hopes of giving it leverage over its customers. Which in this case means the studios and their still-substantial advertising budgets.

So now PMC owns (or controls through the partnership Penske Media Eldridge) Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, TV Line, Rolling Stone, Vibe, IndieWire, Gold Derby and a raft of smaller publications.

Through PME, it owns Dick Clark Productions (DCP), which operates the American Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, The Academy of Country Music Awards and the internet-focused Streamy Awards. DCP also produces the Fox series So You Think You Can Dance.

All of these assets together provide PMC with an unsettling amount of leverage in the industry. Editorially, they use their weight to wrestle exclusive stories from rivals and offer impossible-to-ignore invitations to stars for their live events. They aggressively pursue studio advertising, especially for the lucrative FYC ads which dominate entertainment news sites during awards season.

Ellis also pointedly notes that it was in the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER itself that the heroic story of just how these awards were saved occurred:

The Golden Globes have always been weird. Before a Los Angeles Times exposé on its very white, very small and allegedly morally questionable voting body briefly had it fall out of favor, the Golden Globe Awards and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association hosted the quirky kudos best known for their starry, intimate and incredibly well-timed party. Its place on the awards calendar, particularly in relation to the Oscar race, made it relevant simply for the attention it received. A Golden Globe nomination meant and still means at least a little momentum for many hopefuls by its sheer proximity to other voting windows, even if the sanctity of the award itself has never been held in the highest regard.  Over the last nine months, the show has endured an unprecedented makeover. The group of international journalists who vote for the Golden Globes grew to 300 individuals in October. The embattled HFPA no longer oversees the ceremony, as the show is now owned by producers Dick Clark Productions, which is owned by Penske Media Eldridge, the joint venture between Penske Media Corporation and Eldridge that also owns The Hollywood Reporter. Come Jan. 7, the show won’t air on its longtime home of NBC but on CBS — per a new broadcast contract. The Golden Globes, as we knew them, are dead.

So as to optimize the appeal for a network as broad as CBS, it’s understandable that this year’s nominees now include populist as well as esoteric choices.  And Pond, who just happens to write for one of the few trade outlets that Penske doesn’t own, was very quick to point that out:

(T)here’s the new Cinematic and Box Office Achievement category, which to be honest feels a little desperate. Documentaries are specifically excluded from eligibility for the Globes, and so, specifically, are recordings of live performances, but why stick to those old rules (3a and 3b in the rulebook) when you can nominate Taylor Freakin’ Swift for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which may well have just become the first doc ever nominated for a Golden Globe?

Desperate? Well, yeah. But times are tough for “Hollywood’s party of the year” ™, so why not? The salvage project has begun.

Yet both Pond and Ellis seemed to gloss over one burning question that got little attention or detail:

Exactly how little did CBS pay–or, better still–how much did PMC pay TO CBS–to supply them with a glossy gala, star-studded ball, with dozens of ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-ready stories both pre and post, to give them something to run against Sunday Night Football other than reruns of YELLOWSTONE?

Not that THE WRAP is all that unfamiliar with pay-to-play journalism.  They continue to publish stories about series and streamers based on intent to view metrics from Parrot Analytics and allow their staffers bylines to spew what has absolutely nothing to do with consumption or monetization as something that actually matters.

And considering that amidst all of this anticipation CBS’ parent company all but gutted one of its research staffs. and that its owner is “tire-kicking” with potential investors, all at the same time that its storied Showtime brand has officially been relegated to the right side of the ubiquitous “+” in their obsessive rebrand of all of its assets to Paramount-centric, it’s all a grim reminder that awards have almost never translated to true halo effects of ticket sales, subscriptions or viewers.

It’s almost been forgotten exactly how well-received–not–last year’s Globes were, based on those so-outdated and pesky metrics from that needless objective arbiter called Nielsen.  The NEW YORK POST’s Lauren Samer summed it well at the time:

The 2023 Golden Globes on Tuesday night hit a historic low in viewership numbers, bringing in just 6.3 million people, according to data from Nielsen. For comparison, at the height of the pandemic, in 2021, the broadcast drew 6.9 million, while 2020 boasted 18.3 million viewers.

To be fair, that’s somewhat better than what YELLOWSTONE reruns have been delivering of late.  But not by leaps and bounds.

So would it be unfair to say that perhaps the least interested parties in these news cycles might just be the people who will ultimately determine whether these shows and movies, or, for that matter, the jobs of those touting all of this will continue?

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s Joey Nolfi provided an exhaustive list of what’s going down in the coming weeks.  Plenty for him to write about too, even for a site that isn’t PMC-controlled.

Plenty of parties, too.  Gala balls.  Lots of photo ops.  Glam.  Swag. Start those New Year’s resolutions right now, starlets and executives.  There’s not enough Ozempic in the city to accommodate all of you when you might need it most.

More power to the creatives to whom things like those do matter.  But let’s not kid ourselves that this will make the odds of them getting any more work than they otherwise were on pace to get in an environment in a self-induced death spiral of escalating costs and inability to connect with audiences any better.  And focusing more on a world of accolade while pushing to the side so many of us who provide actual context–except when demanded in tense negotiations to goose one side of an argument–isn’t gonna help.

Ellis was relatively reserved in referencing the Penske Media circle of life.

I tend to think of it in more inclusive terms.  A circle jerk.

Until next time…

 

 

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