Technology|The Future of Streaming (According to the Moguls Figuring It Out)

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The Future of Streaming (According to the Moguls Figuring It Out)

Credit…Illustration by Smlxl Company

Who will survive? Die? Thrive? And how? We talked to nearly a dozen top media executives and asked them to predict what lies ahead.

When the media titans Brian Roberts, John Malone and Barry Diller cast off in early February on Mr. Diller’s 156-foot, two-masted yacht, named Arriva, the waters off the coast of Jupiter, Fla., were placid.

The same could not be said for their sprawling entertainment businesses.

The three men meet occasionally to discuss the state of the industry, and lively disagreements have a been a staple of their discussions. But by the time they met on the yacht, they had all agreed that the money-losing status quo in the streaming business was unsustainable. The old cable model was a melting ice cube.

But what will take its place?

“There was peace in the valley for a period of time,” Mr. Malone mused in a rare recent interview, recalling the days before video-streaming upended the lucrative cable business. “Now, it’s quite chaotic.”

That is likely an understatement: The once-mighty Paramount, which owns the famed Paramount studio, CBS and a bevy of cable channels, recently replaced its chief executive and failed to sell itself after months of negotiations. Warner Bros. Discovery is frantically paying down its $43 billion in debt. Disney laid off thousands of workers and pushed out its chief executive as streaming losses mounted, and had to fend off a proxy contest from the activist investor Nelson Peltz.

The stocks of legacy media companies are a fraction of their former highs: Paramount is near $10 a share and Warner Bros. Discovery is hovering around $7, both down drastically from levels reached during the past year. Even Disney, at about $102, is down more than 16 percent from the price reached in March.

No wonder: Paramount, the media empire controlled by Shari Redstone, lost $1.6 billion on streaming last year. Comcast lost $2.7 billion on its Peacock streaming service. Disney lost about $2.6 billion on its services, which include Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Warner Bros. Discovery says its Max streaming service eked out a profit last year, but only by including HBO sales through cable distributors.

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