Throughout the week, Billboard will be publishing pieces from our staff writers, each an outstanding authority on their specific area of coverage. From Nashville to Miami, the industry at large, publishing and retail, and the year in touring, we’ll be taking comprehensive looks at the biggest stories — good, bad and in between — from 2014. Today, we continue with the analysis of senior correspondent Phil Gallo, in charge of staying on top of the film and television industries.
FROZEN, THE FRANCHISE
Not only is The Industry in 2014: Digital Is the New Mainstream, Despite Taylor’s Protestations
THE RETURN OF BIOPICS
After a few years of only minor music biopics being made, 2014 saw Get On Up, Jersey Boys and Jimi: All Is By My Side released theatrically. The James Brown film hit the box office with a $30.7 million gross, according to boxofficemojo.com, a tally that neither causes producers to reconsider nor embrace the genre. Looking ahead, Lionsgate purchased the Brian Wilson film Love & Mercy in Toronto and has it pegged for a June release with a soundtrack on Capitol; production has began on films about Hank Williams and N.W.A, the later looking at an October release. On television, Lifetime tackled the story of Aaliyah, which posted reasonable viewing numbers — 3.2 million watched the premiere — but was trashed critically and in social media. They’ll try again with a Whitney Houston film on Jan. 17.
20 FEET FROM STARDOM WINS THE OSCAR
For only the second time in the Academy Awards’ 86 years, two films about musicians won the documentary Oscar in successive years — 20 Feet from Stardom and Searching for Sugar Man. Their successes leads to more music-oriented films getting theatrical releases, among them James Keach’s Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, the Clark Terry story Keep On Keepin’ On, Revenge of the Mekons, NAS: Time is Illmatic, the multi-generational Memphis music doc Take Me to the River and Alex Gibney’s Finding Fela. Keep On Keepin’ On is the only one on the Oscar documentary short list of 15 films.
Billboard’s 2014 Year In Music
SINGING COMPETITION BURNOUT
While The Voice helped NBC win its first full season in 10 years, other music competitions hit flat notes. Fox bailed on The X Factor, canceling Simon Cowell’s show after three seasons; ABC’s summer series Rising Star lost viewers weekly through nearly all of its run; and American Idol, which returns Jan. 7, is will have a reduced presence on the Fox schedule. While The Voice was able to tout in November the fact that it crossed the 20 million downloads of on-show performances sold, none of the shows’ finalists have made a significant impact on any charts in the last three years. On a positive note, singing shows are doing a solid job producing marquee names for Broadway.
YA ADAPTATIONS: THE ONLY SOUNDTRACKS THAT SELL
They’re not Twilight, but Divergent, Fault in Our Stars and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 are leaders among the top-selling soundtracks released this year. Mockingjay landed actress Jennifer Lawrence her first Billboard 100 hit with “The Hanging Tree,” selling 200,000 downloads in its first week of release.
TGIT AND THE MUSICAL TASTE OF SHONDA RHIMES
ABC has made Thursdays the most musical three-hour block of prime time scripted network programming with three Rhimes shows: Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and Gray’s Anatomy. New Mary J. Blige and Banks songs were featured on Gray’s; Scandal has revived ‘60s and ‘70s R&B; and Murder is going indie heavy with multiple synchs for IAMX and Mogwai.
FILM MUSICALS: A MIXED BAG
Jersey Boys got stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel making the transition from stage to screen while Disney and Sony hope the holiday season has moviegoers in the mood for Into the Woods and the revamped Annie. NBC followed its immensely popular Sound of Music Live with Peter Pan on Dec. 4, which pulled in 9.2 million viewers, half the audience that watched Carrie Underwood in Sound of Music. Getting ahead of NBC as it becomes hopelessly devoted to this idea, Fox will mount Grease next year and its likely NBC will go for musical during the holiday season again. ABC, meanwhile, has a musical series on tap, Galavant, from Alan Menken (of The Little Mermaid and a litany of other Disney musicals).
HAPPY AND THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY MIXTAPE
They only belong on the same line because they were two events that will not be repeated any time soon. Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” the No. 1 Hot 100 song of 2014, was written for Despicable Me 2, a summer film that had run its full course in theaters and on DVD before radio started to embrace the track and Columbia wound up using it to set up his album Girl. It sold 6.4 million in 2014. The film, ostensibly, had nothing to do with the single’s success, but Universal Pictures certainly benefitted from owning a share of the publishing. The Guardians of the Galaxy, meanwhile, became the only soundtrack of all previously released material to ever top the Billboard 200, selling more than 600,000 copies in 2014, according to Nielsen Music. It doesn’t matter how much Disney gets hooked on that feeling, a second mixtape is unlikely to generate a similar consumer response.
INDUSTRY INNER-WORKINGS ON SCREEN
Fox premieres the story of a hip-hop mogul, Empire, on Jan. 7; HBO has given the greenlight to Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger’s untitled rock ‘n’ roll project set in the 1970s; and Zac Efron portrays a DJ looking for his big break in L.A.’s EDM scene in We Are Your Friends, which Warners acquired in November for a 2015 release. Fictionalized industry shows are often a tough sell — anyone remember CBS’s Love Monkey? — the latest being the pop-star saga Beyond the Lights. It featured a new Rita Ora song and earned a middling $12.8 million at the box office in its first three weeks of release. Fox is pushing Empire heavily this fall, and January should see Columbia Records attempting to break songs through the series.