“It feels weird to conduct business as usual. How can we focus on make-believe stories when the real world seems to need so much help?”
That quote, shared with The Hollywood Reporter by an anonymous movie producer, just about sums up how most people who work in the film and TV industry seem to be feeling right now as they, like the rest of us, brace for life under President Tru…[suddenly throw up in my mouth].
Sorry. President Tru…[again throw up in my mouth].
Nope. I can’t bring myself to say it. Let’s call him President Biff Tannen for now.
But business will eventually go back to normal. Hollywood will return to focusing on “make-believe stories.” There will likely be a rise in activist documentary filmmaking over the next 4 years, but for the most part Hollywood will continue on as it always has. Trump’s not going to do something crazy like deport all the famous celebrities who endorsed Clinton (which is pretty much every famous celebrity everywhere except for the likes of Scott Baio and Ted Nugent), or somehow force NBC to cancel Saturday Night Live. There are, after all, limits on what a President can actually do.
Here’s the thing: we don’t really know what to expect. As Seth Meyers pointed out on Late Night, Donald Trump has taken nearly every possible position on every major issue throughout his time as a public figure. As such, we don’t know how much he genuinely believes in anything he said on the campaign trail. However, we do know he rode a wave of working class distrust of the so-called elites and biased media into The White House while also exploiting the whites’ outrage over lost manufacturing jobs and discomfort with a culture which has progressed too far too fast.
As we now enter a more nationalist period in our history where does that leave a film industry which is progressively more reliant on the forces of globalization, has already been outsourcing jobs to Vancouver for years and is immensely eager to get even further in bed with China now that the world’s No. 2 film market will soon have the world’s finest film production facility and most generous tax rebate policy? Trump wants to make America great again by demonizing the “other” and bringing back jobs which are never realistically coming back, and here’s China’s richest man, Wanda CEO Wang Jianlin, pledging to spend billions to essentially take over Hollywood, with everyone just counting the days until Jianlin manages to buy one of the major studios. Jianlin is not alone, though. Chinese companies like Tencent, Alibaba, Huayi Brothers and Honi are all heavily invested in American entertainment companies right now.
To Trump and his supporters, from a business and cultural standpoint Hollywood is probably the embodiment of everything which is perceived to be wrong with the country, a seemingly ironic reality considering how deeply indepted Trump is to Hollywood for granting him a national platform through reality TV and thus kickstarted his political career. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean Trump will wage any kind of war against Hollywood. He has bigger fish to fry (and literal walls to build). It is very likely, though, that many of his economic policies will impact Hollywood.
Deadline ran it down for us, listing the following among the potential media losers during a Trump presidency:
Media dealmakers: Part 1. In addition to his opposition to AT&T’s agreement to buy Time Warner, Trump said that mergers like Comcast’s with NBCUniversal “destroy democracy.” It’s hard to imagine what big deals might pass muster with the Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and the FCC if appointees to the agencies share that general view.
Media dealmakers: Part 2. Overseas companies including China’s Wanda Group and France’s Altice have been among the biggest investors in U.S. content producers and distributors. But non-U.S. companies may find it hard to keep spending here if a Trump administration ditches agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership and launches trade wars. If China retaliates, then it could be especially hard on the Hollywood companies looking for cash — and to forge alliances and other agreements to help their works reach the film industry’s No. 2 market.
Media dealmakers: Part 3. Trump has criticized Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates “artificially low,” resulting in a “false economy.” If that changes, and interest rates rise, then “it’ll be harder to do deals,” says long time media analyst Hal Vogel. “They’ve had a free ride, and this will slow it down. M&A will be more difficult to finance.”
Broadcasters: Part 1. If interest rates go up, then it could also depress auto sales — hitting the manufacturers who are also the biggest source of TV ad dollars. On top of that, advertisers generally typically pull back their spending when they’re uncertain about the prospects for the economy.
On the plus side, not all of that is necessarily bad. For example, a Time Warner-AT&T merger could indeed be bad for the average consumer in the long term. Maybe that does need to be stopped. Maybe not. Either way, blocking such a merger is not an unreasonable position to take.
Some in the media actually stand to benefit from Trump’s presidency:
Internet service providers. Trump hasn’t spoken out about FCC issues, but has decried regulations that he believes don’t result in concrete economic benefits. That could make him receptive to the arguments of companies including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast that oppose the FCC’s new net neutrality rules, and privacy protections for consumer data.
Relatedly, Variety reports the incoming Trump administration might seek to repeal net neutrality, which could lead to us paying more for internet and to services like Netflix being forced to raise their prices to offset the increased fees they’ll be paying to internet service providers.
It’s the pending trade war with China which could seriously upend things.
Stanley Rosen, a USC political science professor who is also on the advisory board of the Chinese American Film Festival, told Deadline:
If Trump were to follow through on some of his tax proposals, it would at a minimum bring back a lot of offshore money to the U.S., thereby strengthening the American dollar and depressing the Chinese currency to a certain extent. That should lead either to more Chinese money leaving China to escape the devaluation or less Chinese money invested in Hollywood because it would take more of it to buy whatever they wanted to buy. It would depend, of course, on how much they already have in U.S. dollars vs. RMB.
In short, it’s really too early to tell what this will mean. Trump has had a history of going back and forth on policy as it suited his business interests. He ‘loved’ the Clintons when Bill was in power and Trump was a Democrat, and he doesn’t agree with a good deal of standard Republican policy, so it’s hard to predict what he will do. I think it most likely that he would forge an alliance across party lines, which will be needed to fund his massive infrastructure projects, among other campaign promises. In the end, Hollywood will continue to do business with anyone.
The key takeaway? It really is too early to tell what any of this will mean. At the very least, Hollywood will continue to offer up escapist entertainment, and we’ll likely need it more than ever.