And it follows other expressions of discontent during the past year, as top actors and directors have chafed against studios prioritizing streaming in a way that threatens the theatrical model, and the way that actors traditionally shared in revenue from major hits. Unlike box-office totals, it’s more difficult to cleanly measure that in relation to streaming-service subscriptions.
The lawsuit comes at a pivotal moment for Hollywood — as the industry faces a moment that asks how audiences watch entertainment in the future, and how those who create it be compensated.
“We’re in a bit of a transitional period where the contracts that were struck did not anticipate this type of change in strategy,” Michael Nathanson, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, told CNN Business. “I would think going forward from this point on every new contract will have to include language that figures out a way to compensate the talent for the potential of a direct-to-video, a direct-to-streaming watch.”
A topsy turvy Hollywood
“It’s been a tumultuous year since theaters reopened, and with day-and-date obliterating release windows, and in some cases shattering them beyond repair, the state of Hollywood present and Hollywood future has never been more topsy- turvy,” Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at entertainment research firm Exhibitor Relations, told CNN Business.
Studios have argued that they need latitude to survive a changing business — a process seriously exacerbated and accelerated when the pandemic closed theaters in 2020 and virtually shut off entire streams of revenue.
Disney’s statement in response to Johansson’s lawsuit suggests that the company doesn’t intend to roll over in this fight. The company responded on Thursday saying that it has fully complied with her contract and that there is “no merit whatsoever to this filing.”
But historically, major players tend to reach some kind of accommodation.
The nature of the changes, however, have implications that go well beyond just top stars, and could affect the relationships between studios and the major guilds that represent actors, writers and directors.
Talent vs. Studios: a tale as old as time
The history of Hollywood shows that these kinds of disputes frequently wind up in court.
Two decades later, questions about profits in such instances persist.
The problem, as studio executives have pivoted to prioritize streaming, is that it’s not always clear how to measure success: studios have been less than transparent about publicly sharing data that would indicate how much money they make from their releases and how many people are watching them.
Do subscribers sign up for Disney+ because they want to see “Black Widow,” given the array of content that’s available on the service? It’s hard to know precisely.
“As talent and a talent representative, how do you measure and how do you monetize success?” Nathanson said. “The metrics have to change… Box office is an easy metric. The data comes out. It’s really hard with streaming to actually know what’s a success or not.”