10 media execs, under the cloak of anonymity, predict 2022’s industry-shaking events

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Chairman of Disney Michael Iger arrives for the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 06, 2021 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

New year prediction pieces are a journalism standard. But instead of giving my own projections, I asked 10 media executives, with the promise of anonymity, to give me their best guesses on what’s going to happen in 2022.

The rules were simple: The prediction could be anything related to the media and entertainment business, but it had to be significant and couldn’t be obvious.

Here’s what they told me.

I’ll revisit the predictions at this time next year to see how they turned out, and then poll 10 new executives for their 2023 predictions.

Executive No.1: Roku buys Lionsgate’s studio

One executive said Roku will buy Lionsgate’s film and TV production studio.

Roku has been beefing up its original content in the Roku Channel, buying Quibi’s content library and “This Old House” in 2021. Founder and CEO Anthony Wood told CNBC in June he’s devoting most of his time charting out a content strategy for the company.

“This reminds me so much of Netflix in its early days,” media analyst Michael Nathanson told CNBC earlier this year. “I used to interview [Netflix Co-CEO] Ted Sarandos at conferences 10 years ago, and he’d say, ‘Oh, we’re happy with just one or two original shows.’ Meanwhile, they’d be laddering up into better content.”

Lionsgate has already signaled to the investment world it plans to either spin off or sell Starz, the premium streaming service and cable network it owns. That would leave the rest of the company — Lionsgate’s film and TV production studio — primed to find a buyer as well.

While traditional content companies such as Comcast’s NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, Netflix and Disney are all looking to add more content to their streaming services, Roku is a wild-card buyer that has the market valuation — nearly $30 billion — to make a move.

Still, Roku shares have fallen by more than 50% since reaching an all-time high in late July. Buying Lionsgate’s studio may get investors to take its content ambitions more seriously.

Executive No. 2: Bob Iger returns to Disney as CEO

It hasn’t even been two years since Bob Chapek took over as Disney’s CEO. But one executive told CNBC there are already internal wagers at Disney about Iger returning.

Iger, 70, repeatedly extended his contract after planning to retire in 2015, 2016 and 2018 before abruptly stepping down in 2020. He’s still Disney’s executive chairman until the end of the year.

It’s unclear if Iger wants to return. He’s already working on a second book, according to The Hollywood Reporter, after publishing one in 2019.

But Disney shares have stumbled this year, down nearly 20% year to date. Iger owns a lot of those shares. The board and Iger may get restless if Disney+ growth stagnates and the company continues to have turf tensions between executives.

Executives No. 3 and 4: ViacomCBS will merge or sell

Shari Redstone, president of National Amusements and Vice Chairman, CBS and Viacom, speaks at the WSJTECH live conference in Laguna Beach, California, October 21, 2019.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Executive No. 5: The ‘free radicals’ will sell

It was back in 2015 when billionaire media mogul John Malone coined the term “free radicals” to define pure-play content companies that don’t have the scale to compete for top-notch movies and TV shows against media behemoths such as Netflix, Disney, Amazon and Apple.

Some of those free radicals have already consolidated. Viacom and CBS have merged. WarnerMedia and Discovery agreed to merge. Amazon is awaiting regulatory approval to buy MGM Studios.

But others, such as Lionsgate, AMC Networks and Fox, continue to exist. This executive predicts none will be solo after 2022, either selling to larger competitors or merging with each other.

Executive No. 6: Vice will sell itself in pieces

Shane Smith, co-founder of Vice.

CNBC

Executive No. 7: Vox Media will go public

Executive No. 8: A major sports betting company will go bankrupt or sell for ‘peanuts’

Executive No. 9: Apple will buy a movie/TV studio

Apple’s streaming video ambitions have been muted, given the company’s enormous size. “Ted Lasso” is a hit for Apple TV+, but the service has operated largely on the periphery of the streaming wars.

That’s likely to change, said this executive, in 2022, and it will be driven by the acquisition of a content studio. A fresh team of people who can create hit shows won’t just make Apple a more serious player churning out original content. It will also give Apple a library of TV shows and movies it can offer to customers. That’s something Apple doesn’t own yet, but it’s probably essential to serious long-term streaming ambitions.

Ted Lasso on Apple TV+

Source: Apple Inc.

Executive No. 10: Free advertising-supported streaming services will consolidate

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