The 2019-2020 NBA-to-Entertainment Translator: The Update

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Basketball, in my opinion, is a great testing ground for theories on strategy, valuing assets and data analysis. That’s why I developed my ownValue Over Replacement Executive” theory last fall. Or why I used the NBA to explain the misleading statistics here. Or compared overall deals to NBA trades here. Or why I’ll roll out the “four factors of streaming video” in a few weeks. 

It works because basketball—and really all sports—are a controlled environment, with standardized statistics and clear winners and losers. That makes it a great laboratory to test out a lot of theories. The challenge for entertainment executives is understanding that the data is a lot messier in business than sport.

My favorite basketball-inspired series was from last fall where I rolled out my “NBA-to-Entertainment” translator, comparing each NBA team to its analogue in the crazy world of the Hollywood. I did this in three articles:

Part I: The Eastern Conference

Part II: The Western Conference

Part III: The Rest

In honor of the return of America’s 2nd (or 3rd) biggest sport, I’m going to take a gander back at what I wrote last year. I won’t hit every team/company, but will call out some of the biggest hits, misses or just fun teams/companies to write about. 

(By the way, this is an exercise in narrative building fun, not an accurate, data-crunched analysis. With essentially each “input”—either team or company—being filled with thousands of variables over the course of a year, I can pick and choose to build mostly any narrative I desire. Which makes for a fun read, but should be a sneaky lesson for those of us crafting strategies.)

The Walt Disney Company is…The Los Angeles Lakers

Call: Biggest miss

Let’s not pull punches, fellow Lakers fans. While Disney was having arguably the greatest year in theatrical performance in its history—Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Toy Story 4, The Lion King—the Los Angeles Lakers were tanking. It wasn’t the worst season in team history, but it wasn’t great. And we had Lebron James on the roster!

Lebron—who I also called the “Marvel Studios” of entertainment—was still Lebron. And the same way that Disney put together superstar studios (Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel), the Lakers added Anthony Davis in the off season. That’s why I have to keep this pairing for now. The Lakers added a superstar and Disney is about to add Disney+. Plus, cynically, both Lebron and Disney have ongoing China business that clouds their moral judgement, so that feels appropriate.

Netflix is…The Golden State Warriors

Call: Biggest hit

Wow, does anything capture Netflix’s last year—continued global subscriber growth, but one earnings miss tanked their stock price—than Golden State making the finals, but losing to Toronto? Emotionally, those feel identical. Other similarities: Golden State lost Kevin Durant, and Netflix is losing all the Disney movies. 

As we gaze towards the future, both Netflix and the Dubs face competing, viable visions of the future. In optimism, Golden State gets back Klay Thompson, De’Angelo Russell becomes a super star, and by next year they’re competing for championships. In pessimism, it all falls apart. In optimism, Netflix gets its costs under control, keeps growing globally, and takes over the world. In pessimism, it all falls apart.

This is a fun one to keep watching.

Amazon Prime/Video/Studios is…The Toronto Raptors

Call: Close miss

One could squint and make the case that Amazon crushed it in 2019. An Emmy win for Fleabag, the super hot Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (also winning awards) and then you have The Boys being a sneaky popular series! Amazon has the hardware and so too do the Raptors.

But it doesn’t quite capture Amazon’s year. For all the TV success, Amazon had a string of movie misses from Booksmart to Brittany Runs a Marathon. Those misses feel like not re-signing Kawhi Leonard. Most importantly, for all its talk about 100 million global subscribers, no analysts really think that the Prime Video service has taken the crown from Netflix. As for Twitch, it’s huge. But how huge? We don’t know.

HBO is…The Houston Rockets

Call: Hit

How can you have the biggest show on television, and feel like your company is falling apart? By having every executive leave and your corporate parent trying to change who you are. The Rockets have the greatest scorer in the NBA, but they didn’t make the Western Conference finals because of a poor regular season, sort of how HBO’s slate outside of GoT is very “okay”. 

The future isn’t terrible, with another polarizing superstar—Russell Westbrook aka The Watchmen—joining the crew, but definitely filled with question marks. (Will the GoT prequel live up to the hype? Will Westbrook and Harden co-exist? Will HBO Max ruin the HBO brand? Will Harden come through in the playoffs?)

While we’re here, we may as well knock out the rest of the AT&T/Time-Warner conglomerate.

Warner Bros is…The Milwaukee Bucks
AT&T/Time Warner is…The Los Angeles Clippers
Dallas Mavericks is…Turner (CNN/TNT/TBS)

Call: Too close, a miss and a hit

Milwaukee made the Eastern Conference finals on the backs of an MVP, which is about what Warner Bros. accomplished in 2019. WB’s biggest success was the surprise break out of Aquaman, but then mostly disappointment as their biggest potential franchise (Fantastic Beasts) is barely treading water, sort of like Eric Bledsoe on the Bucks. That said, the Bucks still had a great season and the start of 2019 has been pretty bad for Warners, up until the Joker. Honestly, I’m debating making Milwaukee “Hulu” since the Disney bundle is likely to do very well, and the Minnesota Timberwolves (my pick from last year) are not.

With a floundering TV studio and a potentially confusing streaming offering, there aren’t a ton of fans of AT&T now. Which is the exact opposite of the Clippers. No one had a better offseason than the Clippers, who added two superstars, while no one had a worse off season than AT&T between investor trouble, lack of big movies, HBOMaxodus and a generally incoherent strategy. This is a clear miss, but I still think the Clippers brand in LA is about what AT&T’s brand in LA is, so it stays the same.

As for the Dallas Mavericks as Turner…sure. Dallas has some bright spots in their line up and so does Turner, until it turns into HBO Max too. Call this a hit.

MoviePass was…The Oklahoma City Thunder 

Call: Hit
Switching to: Discovery/Scripps.

MoviePass no longer exists, and the Big Three Thunder (Kevin Durant, James Harden and now Russell Westbrook) are all gone too. In other words, this analogy worked. (At least Oklahoma City made the playoffs last season, all MoviePass has is debt and lawsuits.)

I needed to switch OKC to a new entertainment company. I picked a middle America cable programmer Discovery/Scripps for a middle America team. Discovery doesn’t have a ton of flashy stars, but a lot of decent role players, which is how OKC looks with its hoarded assets. 

Viacom is…The Cleveland Cavaliers
CBS is…The San Antonio Spurs

Call: Hit
Switching: The Cleveland Cavaliers become 21st Century Fox.

Viacom still doesn’t have a great plan, and CBS is still winning the ratings, though in less impressive ways each season, sort of like San Antonio still making the playoffs every single year. The challenge with this list is that teams can’t just merge, so SuperCBS’s move forced a reshuffling. Cleveland has about as many assets remaining as the acquired 21st Century Fox—which caused Disney some headaches already—so they’ll take that place holder for this season.

MGM is…The New York Knicks
Paramount is…The Detroit Piston

Call: Miss.
Switching: These two for each other.

It’s not that MGM is a power house of creative film making, but at least they produce TV shows that make money. Paramount maybe kinda does that? Depending on how you look at it? But with all the IP they own, they should do better. Much better. Like the Knicks. So Paramount is now The Knicks of New York. Meanwhile, MGM in TV does consistently better than I would guess, so I like them as the Detroit Piston, who made the play offs last year.

Well, that’s it for today’s update. I skipped a few calls to keep this readable (Are the Indiana Pacers still ABC? Are the Phoenix Suns still AMC Networks? Who should be Hulu?) so let me know if you have any comments on Twitter or down below.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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