From Sony to Snapchat: When Old Hollywood Meets New Media

By  · Published on January 18th, 2017

What ex-Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton’s transition to Snapchat could mean for movies and new media.

Snap Inc., the technology and social media company whose products include Snapchat and Spectacles, is welcoming a Hollywood executive into its ranks. Last week, Michael Lynton announced that he would be stepping down from his position as CEO of Sony Entertainment, the film, television and music conglomerate, for a new post as board chairman for Snap Inc. Lynton is the last of the old Sony guard to depart since the infamous Sony hack which produced an email leak scandal that led to the ousting of former studio chief Amy Pascal. (Pascal is now a producer on Spider-Man: Homecoming and Barbie.)

Rumors abound regarding what will happen next at Sony Pictures, whose string of major flops including Passengers and Ghostbusters led to the studio’s 5th-place finish in 2016 studio market share, just a notch above Paramount Pictures. Lynton’s departure ends a chapter of the studio’s rich Hollywood legacy, which included successful installments of the James Bond franchise and a slew of critically acclaimed Best Picture nominees including The Social Network, Moneyball, Captain Phillips, American Hustle and Zero Dark Thirty. His tenure was also marred by events revolving around the release the Seth Rogen North Korea movie The Interview and the not-so-impressive reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man. Lynton’s move to a social media post is yet another sign of the shifting dynamics between old school Hollywood and the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Michael Lynton, Brad Pitt and Amy Pascal at a premiere for Moneyball.

Lynton’s involvement with Snap Inc. began when his wife, Jamie, was amazed by the addiction to Snapchat displayed by children. After she invited Spiegel over for dinner in 2012, she and Lynton became early investors. At the time, Snapchat was a service that allowed users to share disappearing messages. Today, Snapchat messages last for 24 hours or can be stored into Memories. Instead of simply sending messages to friends, a user can add photos and videos to My Story or a collection of a user’s photos and videos that lasts up to 24 hours. Lastly, the service provides a Discover section with various channels featuring bite-size content produced by major media outlets like Buzzfeed, Tastemade and Vice.

Hollywood executives have invested in new media companies in the past. Former TV executive and Paramount chief Barry Diller is the Chairman and Senior Executive for IAC and Expedia, Inc. Former Sony Pictures Vice Chairman Jeff Blake is a stakeholder and consultant for Sean Parker’s Screening Room service, which boasts a list of supporters including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard. These moves represent the Hollywood community’s slow yet steady recognition of technological and social media advances influencing the future of content production and distribution. It’s a sign of good faith, or perhaps even approval, in the tech world’s undeniable influence on the entertainment industry.

The tech world is interested in creating their own content too. Snapchat is following along the footsteps of fellow entertainment tech leaders Netflix and Apple in launching its own original series. In 2017, the company will release several Snapchat Shows which are described as “character- or format-driven single-narrative video productions.” The first series, currently available on Discover, is a watch-party aftershow for ABC’s The Bachelor. The series includes short video segments with commentators discussing scenes, with some footage from the show playing side-by-side with video of the commentators. The videos are geared toward The Bachelor crowd, but it shows potential for inventive ways to connect new audiences to traditional media.

The pairing of a traditional media executive with a young upstart social media company is a strategic one. Lynton has experience leading legacy media brands. Snap’s young, secretive leader Spiegel has a vision for the future. By their powers combined, they could turn Snap into a mass media destination for younger audiences that includes social media sharing, original content and wearable technology in the form of Spectacles. Contrary to its predecessor Google Glass, Spectacles is marketed as a stylish and fun camera device in the form of sunglasses. Spectacle doesn’t just want to be an app or platform – it wants to become a part of your hip, everyday life. (See: hip trailer above.)

It’s still too early to tell what Lynton’s involvement on Snap’s board will lead to. With the company planning to go public very soon, he is surely at the right place at the right time. As for Sony Pictures, THR has a list of potential possibilities about its future including a possible sale to CBS Films. Regardless, the studio could take this new chapter as an excuse to reinvent itself in the new media environment and finally take advantage of its parent company’s gaming properties. The upcoming film The Last of Us could prove a turning point for the studio. Its television arm is also producing successful shows like Better Call Saul and The Blacklist. The movie division could take a cue from the inventive and strategic programming their TV side is producing. In today’s constantly evolving media landscape, they’re going to need more than a boardgame reboot, another Smurfs installment and emojis to stay competitive.

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Writer. Audio/Creative Producer. Columnist, Film School Rejects.