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A Modest Proposal: Apple Should Buy Hollywood

Friday, January 27th, 2012

As Erick Schonfeld notes in TechCrunch, instead of constantly dealing with Hollywood for programming content, why doesn’t Apple just buy the studios, and take control of the entire process from top to bottom?

We’ve already had one example of this, when NBC bought Universal rather than pay the licensing fees for the Law and Order franchise; this is the next logical, if somewhat dispiriting, step in the process — and, of course, majority control of NBC/Universal was subsequently acquired by Comcast. And Apple certainly has pockets deep enough to do this: they have $96.7 billion in cash just lying around, piling up interest, waiting to be put to use.

As Schonfeld writes, “Apple wants to bring Hollywood into people’s homes in an entirely new way. Hence all the chatter lately of a real Apple TV in the works. However, before TVs can become more than a hobby for Apple, there is a major roadblock it must get past. The reluctance of Hollywood to license its best movies and TV shows at the price Apple wants to pay.

In that light, all the cash Apple has been hoarding and building up for years now becomes more intriguing. Its staggering piles of money now total $97.6 billion, to be precise. What are they going to do with all that cash?

One thing they could do is buy their way into Hollywood. Think about it for a second. Today, Apple could literally buy Time Warner ($38 billion market cap), Viacom ($29 billion), and Dreamworks ($1.6 billion) combined, and still have $30 billion left over. If it waits a few more quarters it could snap up News Corp ($49 billion) as well. Only Disney, which is worth $70 billion, would take a while longer to save up for.”

Well, this could certainly happen, but I shudder to think of the consequences if it does. Certainly, the conglomerization of the studios in the 21st century as mere ancillary arms to tech giants is nothing new, as Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and I documented in our new book, 21st Century Hollywood: Movies in the Era of Transformation, and the studios long ago ceased to be independent entities, run by creative despots who viewed the cinema as both a business and an art form.

The studios today are run by disinterested business people, make programming to order, prefer pre-sold projects to original ideas, and keep an eye relentlessly on the bottom line. The days when the legendary head of production Irving G. Thalberg of MGM could suggest that certain films should be done simply for art’s sake, as loss leaders for more commercial projects, are long gone.

A world in which only mainstream, multiplex movies exist would be death of individual thought, and the ultimate, hegemonic triumph of Adolph Zukor’s grand dream of vertical integration, where everything from production, to distribution, and exhibition, is controlled by a single entity, as Tim Wu details so trenchantly in his brilliant book The Master Switch.

But it seems the logical step for Apple. With that much money to fool around with, why not? From a business point of view, of course. As for a creative enterprise, well, that’s going to be left for the DIYers at the margin, as it always has been, and always will be — the people who effect real change, and create new work in the face of corporate control.

You can read Erick Schonfeld’s entire essay by clicking here, or on the image at the top of this page.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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