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After a grueling 2023, here are 4 predictions for media in 2024

The numeral 2024 in Times Square in New York City on Dec. 20. 2023, after traveling across the country, beginning in Los Angeles.
David Dee Delgado
/
Getty Images
The numeral 2024 in Times Square in New York City on Dec. 20. 2023, after traveling across the country, beginning in Los Angeles.

Given how turbulent 2023 turned out, saying it was a challenging year for media feels like the understatement of the decade.

Here's what we survived: Two lengthy strikes by Hollywood writers and performers that paralyzed new production, crippling the business in ways we're just beginning to fathom. Layoffs in the media sector totaling more than 20,000 positions, according to one study. Hikes in subscription fees, which hit consumers of almost every major streaming service, including Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Apple TV+, and confrontations between media companies and cable providers leading to questions on whether cable TV can even survive in the streaming era.

But experience has taught me that, when it comes to the media business, things are rarely as bad – or as good – as they initially seem. So, my predictions for media in 2024 may sound negative — based mostly on a growing cynicism about the abilities of those leading our biggest media companies to meet a historically challenging moment. But I'm also, oddly, a bit optimistic.

In other words, as clueless or greedy as media executives get, this critic remains convinced talented creators, journalists and performers will find a way to excel.

We'll probably have fewer TV/streaming series. But that will likely be a good thing.

One minute, analysts were complaining about the glut of TV and streaming programming at the beginning of 2023 — offering too much material for anyone to keep tabs on — before the cancellation of shows and the tactic of completely removing titles from streaming services as tax write-offs drew howls of criticism as the year wore on.

Unfortunately, the numbers won't get much better in 2024. I fear the economic hit media companies likely took from the strikes and the added costs incurred by new contract terms will result in fewer shows getting made and even more shows getting the ax in the new year. But the silver lining here: given that 2022 saw nearly 600 separate series available to viewers, the industry was long overdue for serious shearing, anyway.

The key to bringing the glut of TV down to a manageable level for the average consumer is ensuring the right programs survive – including shows featuring marginalized groups and cultures. After a year in which programs like A Black Lady Sketch Show, Reservation Dogs, the LGBTQ-centered reboot of A League of Their Own and the Black-centered revival of The Wonder Years all went away, the industry must work overtime to ensure diversity doesn't decline along with the number of TV series.

Streamers will cost more. But you'll have even more subscription options.

One of the sneakiest media trends in 2023 was all the different techniques streaming services used to squeeze additional revenue from subscribers. Amazon announced, for example, that Prime Video subscribers will begin to see ads in their streaming content on Jan. 29, but customers can pay an additional $2.99 for ad-free content. Netflix eliminated its cheapest ad-free tiermonths ago, forcing those who wanted to avoid ads to buy the pricier, premium subscription. And lots of services cracked down on password sharing while boosting prices.

Still, streaming services' drive for profit also creates more opportunities for consumers. Some platforms have worked out limited deals to share content with other services, bringing select HBO titles to Netflix. Streamers are also bundling services, with Disney offering Disney+ and ESPN+ to Charter cable customers for a single price, while Verizon has brought together Max and Netflix. We're back to the future as companies and consumers rediscover the cost savings of advertisements and bundling that were always hallmarks of cable TV.

I also think we're going to see a landscape where there is a small number of giant streaming services and a bunch of boutique specialty platforms, with midlevel players like Peacock and Paramount+ facing increasing economic pressure to join bigger companies (hence the rumors about Warner Bros. Discovery talking about merging with Paramount Global and rumors that Comcast might also benefit from buying Paramount.)

Journalists took a serious hit in 2023. But the fight against misinformation is only beginning.

One bright spot for journalism in 2023 was the gigantic settlement Fox News paid for airing and repeating lies about the last presidential election and the dethroning of the news channel's biggest star, Tucker Carlson. What remains astonishing is how little those moves have curbed similar rhetoric on other media platforms about the election or the continued influence of toxic ideologues like Carlson and Megyn Kelly.

Expect that fight to only grow more intense in 2024, as the presidential season unfolds and people actually begin voting in primaries (I'm still upset by news items that say a given candidate is "ahead" when no one has voted yet, and we're only talking about poll results.) Kudos to news outlets that have adopted journalism professor Jay Rosen's admonition to avoid "horse race"-style reporting to cover "the stakes" for the next election, particularly The Atlantic's entire issue devoted to the possible consequences if Donald Trump wins a second term as president.

Still, in addition to the job losses, the media's addiction to toxic but buzzy personalities remains a serious flaw. Too many supposedly serious news platforms refuse to accept that the worst outcome for shameless attention addicts like George Santos isn't breathless coverage denouncing his lies, but no coverage at all. No more updates on certain people's Cameo posts or social media outbursts — yes, NPR has covered such things, too — the real solution to handling some awful public figures is to deprive them of the media oxygen they need to survive.

Late night television and cable TV will continue to decline. But they will also survive.

I've said and written this a few times: New media doesn't kill old media. It just forces it to change.

The scariest media moments of 2023 involved watching Internet-led disruption come for familiar forms of media, like late night TV and cable systems. Big names like The Late Late Show's James Corden and The Daily Show's Trevor Noah and Roy Wood Jr. left the late night genre, only to be replaced by a game show and... nothing, yet.

CBS might yet find a hit with After Midnight, the sort of game show it tapped to replace Corden's program, and Comedy Central may yet conclude its yearlong spasm of guest hosts by finding the one person ready to take The Daily Show into the future. But it feels more like a sector of media that produced an awful lot of modern comedy stars is on the ropes with no clear way back to the top.

Similarly, accelerated cord-cutting and homogeneity of content – cue the jokes about how ridiculous MTV's marathon airings of Ridiculousness have become – threaten to permanently hobble the industry that gave us modern-day quality TV in HBO, CNN and ESPN.

Because I'm also an optimist, I'm hopeful both these corners of media will find new directions in 2024, led by innovators we may not even know yet. But they're likely to be in a much-reduced form, a bracing reminder that change eventually comes for us all in media.

And, sometimes, what's left is a shadow of what once was.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.