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Hollywood is gearing up for a new age of austerity after streaming

“Without you, we’d just be Netflix,” Fox Sports chief executive Eric Shanks told advertisers in Lower Manhattan this week, where a number of Fox executives were promoting their programs — and attacking the video-streaming pioneer.

Shanks’ joke spoke of a dramatic turnaround for Netflix as once-rapid subscriber growth reverses and its stock price plummets. An untouchable Hollywood disruptor had been turned into a punch line.

Wall Street’s change of heart over Netflix is ​​now radiating uncertainty across Hollywood. A new age of austerity could emerge in the streaming wars.

“The world suddenly woke up and said, ‘No, you have to make money,'” said the former CEO of a major television network. “Now it’s like, ‘I can’t just spend $15 billion on content and say we build 3 million subscribers in Indonesia and let The Street add another $50 billion to your market cap?'”

Netflix last week updated its corporate culture principles to include “You spend our members’ money wisely,” marking the first time it’s codified a notion of cost control. Industry giant Warner Bros Discovery has also announced plans to cut billions from its budget.

Spencer Neumann, Netflix’s chief financial officer, said the company will “pull back” spending growth over the next two years as it strives to keep its operating profit margin at around 20 percent.

The company declined to say where it plans to find cost savings, but Netflix said Tuesday it had laid off about 150 employees, including executives at its original US television series unit. The company also laid off contractors working on its social media channels and made cuts in its animation department that would affect up to 70 employees, according to a representative. Some of these workers may be reassigned to other shows.

Netflix earlier this month fired a few dozen writers it hired for Tudum, a project aimed at creating a fan website for Netflix shows.

Line chart of $ per share showing Netflix falls

Warner Bros Discovery, one of the largest entertainment studios and owner of HBO and CNN, has provided more details about planned cost reductions since WarnerMedia formed a $43 billion merger with Discovery in April. Chief Executive David Zaslav promised investors he would find $3 billion in cuts while posting $14 billion in annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. The company has $55 billion in debt.

Zaslav’s first company town hall on April 14 indicated the task ahead. He invited Oprah Winfrey for an interview and declared the merger “our rendezvous with destiny”.

Later that “bright and shiny day” — as Zaslav had described it — he and his deputies decided to scrap CNN Plus — an ambitious news-streaming project that had started just a month earlier.

Now Zaslav and his team, led by CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels, are in the midst of another unpopular task: reviewing Warner-Discovery’s spending to see where it can cut.

Wiedenfels, a former McKinsey consultant from Germany, has gained a reputation for his ability to slash expenses and turn a profit after joining Discovery in 2017. Under Wiedenfels, some Discovery show producers were forced to take out loans to finance production.

Peering under the hood at Warner in recent weeks, Wiedenfels was frustrated with decisions made by his predecessors, telling colleagues that WarnerMedia’s former management and its former owner, AT&T, didn’t bother to calculate the return on their various investments, according to People who are familiar with the matter.

A culture of “spend and ask for permission later” doesn’t fit Wiedenfels, these people said.

That issue was at the heart of the CNN Plus debacle, in which outgoing CEO Jason Kilar ordered CNN executives to move ahead with a $350 million investment to build the streaming service without asking if the new owners would support the project, people said, are familiar with the matter.

Wiedenfels wants to squeeze as much money as possible out of the company’s intellectual property, a strategy he pursued at Discovery, where the company sliced ​​and diced the broadcast rights for Premiere content on traditional television and streaming platforms, while also giving it to others licensed company.

For now, Wiedenfels has protected the content – the lifeblood of the company – from the cuts. Warner Bros Discovery is spending $22 billion on TV and film this year. But Zaslav’s team is closely monitoring the economic environment, and if it faces a severe recession – as some economists warn – Wiedenfels could change course, people familiar with the matter said.

With Netflix reporting a sudden drop in subscriber growth, producers and studio execs are still optimistic the content boom will continue. They point to the outstanding presence of Apple and Amazon, which do not have to make money from television and films.

Jason Cloth, founder of financier Creative Wealth Media, says Apple recently significantly outbid him on recent deals like the Martin Scorsese film Killer of the Flower Moon and emancipation, an action film directed by Will Smith. His company, alongside MGM, put forward “what we think is an incredibly strong offer Murderer“.

“If [Netflix] stops bidding on projects, then their demise will be accelerated,” argues Cloth, while other streamers continue to spend money.

Cloth points out That Toronto man, an action-comedy co-financed by Kevin Hart with Sony that was recently sold to Netflix for more than $100 million. “These deals are out there,” he says, adding that he hasn’t seen the price of content drop.

Additional reporting by Christopher Grimes in Los Angeles

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