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The Rise and Fall of MGM (And Why It’s Still Important)

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On July 29, MGM will release their first film since being acquired by Amazon earlier this year. Thirteen Lives, a Ron Howard drama about the 2018 Thai cave rescue, is getting a limited theatrical run before it heads to Amazon Prime on August 5.

It’s a sorry state of affairs for a studio that was one of the original “Big Five.” While MGM still has a decent slate of pictures on the horizon, the impression that they represent something—beyond a fancy lion title card—is long gone.

While the Amazon buyout reflects the growing consolidation of the film industry, it’s worth noting that MGM has essentially been in freefall for the better part of a century. How did we get here? What can today’s big studios learn from it? Let’s take a look.

The origins of MGM: When Metro-Goldwyn met Mayer

MGM logos courtesy of the Closing Logo Group wiki

Prior to the Supreme Court’s 1948 U.S. v. Paramount decision, most movie theaters were owned by Hollywood studios, or vice versa. This arrangement made it almost impossible for independent films to get distributed, and pushed theaters to screen low-effort studio releases.

In the case of MGM, the studio was cobbled together by Marcus Loew of Loew’s theaters. He bought Metro Pictures in 1920 to get a steady supply of films for his theaters. Next, he purchased Goldwyn Pictures to supplement the catalog, and struck a deal with Louis B. Mayer to oversee the film operation. Thus, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was born.

Mayer was an icon of the Old Hollywood era. He was a founder of the Academy, a true believer in the magic of Hollywood glamor. Under his leadership, MGM claimed to house “more stars than there are in heaven.”

The golden years: When the lion was king

MGM hit the ground running, producing hundreds of films in its first few years. One of their first hits was the silent epic Ben-Hur (1925). Their stable of stars included new stars like Greta Garbo, established names like Buster Keaton, and big directors like King Vidor.

Their streak of success continued clear through to the end of the 1930s, when they shattered all records with their all-time hit, Gone with the Wind. That same year, they got widespread acclaim for a big-budget film that failed to turn a profit: The Wizard of Oz.

Despite the ravages of the Great Depression, MGM was the only studio that never lost money. They kept this annual streak running all the way into 1957. What happened in 1957? Well…

The 1940s: Troubled waters

For all the allure of MGM’s glamorous image, it also came with a sense of stagnation. While MGM was among the first studios to employ Technicolor, it was the last to shift to sound. They were equally unprepared for the advances of the late 1940s, such as television and the Paramount ruling.

By the time Paramount was handed down, MGM was already flailing. They had decreased their output from 50 movies a year to 25, relying increasingly on “safe” crowd-pleasers with few outsized hits.

Faced with dire circumstances, they brought a hot new producer on board, Dore Schary. Schary and Mayer clashed over films like Battleground (1949), but as Schary’s picks succeeded, MGM’s investors went with him.

Beginning of the end: Mayer gets fired

In 1951, Louis B. Mayer was removed from his position at MGM, replaced by Dore Schary. While this change may have been needed, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Loew’s and MGM were both in dire straits as they split in response to the Paramount ruling.

Schary’s reign saw a few hits (Singin’ in the Rain), but just as many flops (Brigadoon). He pinched pennies by cutting contracts (including Judy Garland), but after one too many big budget disasters, he, too, was removed.

1956-7 is probably the year that MGM was well and truly dead. Schary, studio chief Nicholas Schenck, and general manager Eddie Mannix all departed in ‘56. Louis B. Mayer died in 1957, the same year that the studio shuttered its animation department. All their contract players were let go by 1960.

Back from the dead: Why we still know MGM today

By all accounts, MGM should’ve gone the way of RKO. How did it maintain enough cultural relevance to be worth $8.5 billion to Amazon?

Well, the studio made another big move in 1956. They started MGM Television, a division aimed at selling the TV rights to their back catalog. Their big swing: selling The Wizard of Oz to CBS. In 1957, it became the first Hollywood film ever to be screened in full on prime time TV.

It’s hard to overstate how crucial this new, annual tradition of screening Oz was for keeping MGM relevant. They continued to have hits like Ben-Hur and 2001 throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, but their lasting, stable impact came from practically every American seeing The Wizard of Oz.

1995 photo of the MGM Grand Hotel, from Structurae

The other big move happened in 1969: billionaire hotelier Kirk Kerkorian acquired a majority stake in MGM. He attached the studio’s legacy of glamor to his Vegas hotels, launching the luxury MGM Grand brand.

By 1979, Kerkorian declared that MGM was now primarily a hotel company. Business as usual continued in the film division, with a rotating cast of producers creating a mixed bag of films. MGM never stopped producing, but their brand identity was already gone.

Lessons learned: what the MGM story means for Hollywood

There are plenty of wild stories from the ensuing decades of MGM. They hired a known embezzler as president of the studio. Kerkorian sold the studio and bought it back twice. They gave Sony the rights to Spider-Man in exchange for the one James Bond story they didn’t own.

But throughout all that, the MGM label has been just that: a label. Up to and beyond their 2010 bankruptcy filing, nostalgia for MGM has gone from longing for old-school Hollywood glamor to fond memories of seeing a lion roar for a few seconds.

Old Hollywood and the streaming wars

In 2020, a federal judge overturned the Paramount decrees, ruling that the conditions of that time couldn’t be replicated in today’s industry. While that may be true, the streaming wars open up a similar conflict.

When theaters were shuttered during the pandemic, streaming services were the principal film distributors. Amazon, owners of one of the major streamers, also bought a big-name studio. While little has come of it, they’ve also flirted with owning theaters, including AMC and Landmark.

The Old Hollywood studio system was undone by SCOTUS, but also by changing trends. Audiences turned to television, and established names like Mayer became out of touch. If streamers are the new studios, they’re left with the same question: what happens when audiences get tired of the same old slop?

The slippery slope of brand identity

Perhaps the closest modern analog to Mayer is Kevin Feige, the famously hands-on head of Marvel Studios. Like Mayer, Feige has a penchant for glamor, big stars, and consistent studio identity.

Marvel now finds itself in a similar rut to MGM at the turn of the ‘40s. Fresh off their biggest blockbuster, it’s not clear where they’ll go from here. Suddenly, all their biggest stars are gone or stepping away. They’re losing their iron grip on a fickle market. Three of their last four movies were critical and commercial disappointments.

According to reports, Feige himself is growing fatigued with overseeing a consistent style and timeline for the MCU. In these current conditions, does Marvel stick around for ten years? Do they pivot to hotels? Or do they end up like the current MGM lion, a clout-heavy label to be put on whatever the current investors see fit?

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Entertainment

How Diddy Turned a Nothing Vodka Into a Success

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You remember the early 2000s, right? All about the flip phones, rented tapes from Blockbuster, those low-rise jeans I could never pull off, and of course, a music revolution. 

Pretty much every decade had its unique flavor of popular music. But from 2000 to 2010, while garage rock was making a comeback, we also saw the uprise in amazing hip-hop tracks. One of the big artists from that era was Sean Combs. Better known as  P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Love, or whatever you wanna call him. 

Diddy; you’ve probably heard of him. He’s responsible for the hit tracks such as Bad Boys for Life, I’ll Be Missing You, and I Need A Girl (Parts 1 and 2). He’s also known for being the face of a well-known vodka company.  Although Ciroc is one of the most coveted beverage brands, things weren’t always so easy for them.   You might be surprised to learn that Diddy is the sole reason you know the name in the first place.

About Ciroc

From the Spruce Eats

 Ciroc is a French brand that produces alcoholic beverages.  Established in 2003, it mainly creates different flavors of vodka. But it also sells brandy as well. Ciroc is different from other vodkas in that it sources its alcohol from grapes rather than grain or potatoes. Its quality is, well, questionable. Well, it generally has good reviews some have claimed otherwise. According to Wine experts, the fruit used for Ciroc and many other beverages is Trebbiano grapes. They’re known as an unsophisticated grape; the type that doesn’t cost much and tends to produce undistinguished alcohol. 

Well, wine experts, I hate to break it to you, but most people don’t care. As long as the alcohol tastes good and does its job, then people will buy it. The success of alcohol depends mainly on marketing. And nothing is better proof of this than Ciroc. 

At first, Ciroc had a stupidly tough time establishing itself within the American markets. For a while, they collaborated with some no-name athletes. Earl Little was one of the first to promote it. They soon introduced Ciroc to various nightclubs with minimal success. Still, they were the 50th-ranked premium vodka. They were struggling just to sell 40000 cases. Something needed to change; they needed to do something drastic in order to become a success. 

How Diddy Elevated It

From Fortune

In 2007, Diddy was recruited to be a spokesperson for Ciroc. He was sort of a last resort, as the company decided they didn’t have much to lose. In typical Diddy fashion, he took this unknown brand and made it really cool. He took over Ciroc’s marketing in the United States, applying his unique salesmanship to it. And by that I mean, he was shocking. 

Here’s a good example. In the early 2000s, one of the key events of the decade was Obama’s run for president. Meanwhile, Diddy began calling himself  “Ciroc Obama,” basing much of his promotion on that one pun. 

Aside from the jokes, Diddy would also give the company free product placement and his music videos. He went on to create endless flavors for Ciroc Vodka, promoting it whenever he had the chance. His advertisements emphasized the “sexiness” of using grapes as the source of alcohol. He made it clear that no other vodka was like it. Over time, Diddy’s name became intrinsically tied to the brand. Within a few years, Ciroc skyrocketed to #2 on the premium vodka listings.

Nowadays, Diddy still creates flavors and promotes Ciroc in his own unorthodox way.

Featured image from Rolling Stone

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Is The “Death” Of Choco Taco A Marketing Ploy?

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Guys, I have bad news. On July 25, 2022, Klondike made a devastating announcement:

Over the past two years, we have experienced an unprecedented spike in demand across our portfolio and have had to make very tough decisions to ensure availability of our full portfolio nationwide.

“A necessary part of this process is that we sometimes must discontinue products, 

“even a beloved item like Choco Taco.

“We know this may be very disappointing, but we hope you’ll try one of our other great products, including–

Shut up! I don’t care about your other lame products! We want Choco Taco!

I don’t get it, Klondike. You’ll drop Choco Taco but keep Klondike Shakes?! This is the saddest ice cream news since Coldstone Creamery insisted on making their employees sing as a means to distract consumers from their inadequate business model. 

But I digress…

This Doesn’t Make Sense

What’s this about, Klondike? Why discontinue an ice cream truck staple? Were sales really lagging that much? Why do you have to make room for other products? You have, like, four other things. You can’t hang onto the iconic Choco Taco?

None of this makes sense. Unless, of course, it’s all a marketing scheme. 

After the announcement, Twitter had an eruption of expletives (what’s new?). 

Why would the Klondike brand make a decision like this? Either this is a marketing scheme to create surge profits down the line. Or Klondike is being run by a bunch of morons. 

The Klondike brand is owned by Good Humor-Breyers Corp. which is owned by Unilever, a British multinational consumer goods company. Fun fact: Unilever is the largest producer of soap in the world. 

We have ice cream decisions being made by a bunch of limey soap-hawking suits. 

Unilever’s YTD stock is down, though they’ve had a teeny tiny upward trend in the last month. Could this giant international conglomerate be faking the discontinuation of a beloved summer treat in order to regain profit? Unlikely.

Still, one has to wonder whether the discontinuation of Choco Taco is a simple marketing ploy to increase sales. Why not? 

There’s a Precedent for Bringing Back Discontinued Products

Plenty of products have been discontinued only for them to later return. Notable products include Dunkaroos, Waffle Crisp, 3D Doritos, and Crystal Pepsi. Planters, known for their immortal mascot, brought back their Cheez Balls after a public campaign for their return

Perhaps the most famous of these is the McDonald’s McRib. The irresistible boneless pork sandwich molded into the shape of ribs was first introduced in 1981 but discontinued in 1985 only to be brought back later that year and discontinued again in 2005. Now the McRib is available here and there as a limited edition option

It’s the “limited edition” that makes consumers salivate the most, isn’t it? The very idea that something could only be available only for a short while increases desire. A sudden sense of exclusivity or rarity makes something immediately valuable. It’s a classic supply-and-demand tactic. We want what we cannot have. 

We see you, Klondike/Good Humor-Breyers/Unilever. 

Will Choco Taco Return?

Maybe one day. For now, there will be ice cream fiends hoarding and rationing out Choco Tacos, trading them like currency in an increasingly dystopian society. 

Reddit user FilthyGunger eloquently wrote

I thought it would be here forever, and I always told myself I’ll have one later but later is here and a choco taco is not.

“It’s [sic] like losing a dog, but instead of a loving animal, it’s an ice cream-filled taco topped with chocolate and nuts. 

“Honestly, if there was anything I could say about its passing, I would say that the world didn’t just lose an ice cream taco, it lost its way.

RIP Choco Taco. For now.

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Top Sports Franchises in History

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sports logos

Investors look for the most stable business opportunities that will transcend unpredictability. And for this reason, they tend to look beyond retail, food and beverage, hospitality industries, and eye sports franchises. Why? It’s simple. Sports is perpetual as long as there are raving fans who support their favorite sports teams. And mind you, this can be REALLY good business. So if you’re wondering what the top sports franchises in history are, read on. 

What are sports franchises? 

Sports franchises are investing or buying sports teams in a professional sports league like NFL, MBL, or NBA. These major sports leagues consist of various teams that are considered private entities and sold to investors. 

Although sports franchises are lucrative, analyst Lee Corso from ESPN said it’s also as volatile as traditional businesses. But you’d be surprised to know that sports franchises have become multi-billion-dollar industries. Yes, you read that right. 

These investors earn from different revenue pipelines every season and even off-season. For instance, the NBA lures in revenue from television by signing million-dollar contracts with big networks. It also gets revenue from tickets in every game, which amasses around 150,000 attendees at $70 per ticket. 

Also, NBA teams enjoy the revenue from Jersey Patch, wherein teams promote brands by wearing their logos on their jerseys. Finally, NBA teams get contracts with industry giants by signing deals and sponsorship that cost millions or billions. But does this cover the team expenses? You wouldn’t have enjoyed watching your favorite sports league every year if it didn’t!

The advantage of sports franchising is that teams strike an emotional chord with their audiences. And this gives them a loyal base of followers, which is the reason for the team’s success. 

Unfortunately, sports franchises aren’t immune to economic downfalls. The success will also depend on factors such as the pandemic, which prevented major sports leagues from organizing sports events. Another reason this business could be volatile is the sales could rely on the attendees’ income or life situation. 

However, sports is good entertainment, which means people will support it no matter what. The operating expenses for sports leagues include the players’ salaries, which vary from season to season. And while this impacts profitability, major sports leagues still generate profits yearly. And this is why we will cover the top sports franchises in the next section.

7 Top sports franchises in history

Let’s take a look at the top sports franchises that’ll make you want a sports team of your own!

1. Dallas Cowboys (NFL) – $6.5 billion

dallas cowboys logo

The Dallas Cowboys has been the NFL’s most valuable team for 15 consecutive years. It is worth $6.5 billion, as rated in Forbes’s annual rating for the richest sports leagues worldwide. Its biggest revenue increase in the last five years was from different streams like media rights deals, investments, and partnerships.

2. New York Yankees (MLB) – $6 billion

new york yankees logo

The New York Yankees are where they should be — on top and loving it! This sports league team is one of baseball’s top sports franchises, valued at $6 billion. They sit behind the Dallas Cowboys but are thriving financially. Although they are enjoying their well-deserved second-place spot, the team aims to stay below the MBL luxury tax for years. Considered the biggest spender in international baseball, the projected payroll in 2022 is around $239 million.

3. New York Knicks (NBA) – $5.8 billion

new york knicks logo

The New York Knicks has received an exemplary following from millions of fans worldwide, which is why they’re the most valued team in the NBA. Add to that success is the geographical location. New York is one of the U.S. states with the most population at around 19 million in 2022. And let’s not forget the New York Knicks consistently enjoying a good regular season. 

After the 2020 season, the New York Knicks made it to the top three most successful franchises in the history of the NBA. This valuation at $5.8 billion is up 16 percent from the previous year. 

4. Golden State Warriors (NBA) – $5.6 billion

golden state warriors logo

The Golden State Warriors put the Boston Celtics to shame within seven years during its fourth NBA championship. That winning streak is responsible for the Golden State Warriors’ high valuation at $5.6 billion. 

A little fun fact is that Peter Gruber and Joe Lacob bought this team in 2010 for a whopping $450 million! The team even paid the luxury tax this year, around $184 million. A luxury tax is paid when team players are paid exorbitant salaries. But guess what? The team’s value has increased tenfold today. 

5. Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) – $5.5 billion

los angeles lakers logo

Snatching the third spot in the top sports franchises in professional basketball is the Los Angeles Lakers. Since the Lakers sold a minority stake to the LA Dodgers owner, it created a ripple effect that increased the team’s valuation to $5.5 billion. 

6. New England Patriots (NFL) – $5 billion

new england patriots logo

The New England Patriots have endured losses in 20 years and played an entire season without a huge fan welcome in the Gillette Stadium. However, they’re still the second-most valuable team in the NFL. The New England Patriots are worth $5 billion, which is up by 14 percent from last year. 

7. New York Giants (NFL) – $4.85 billion

new york giants logo

The New York Giants enjoy its spot as the third-most valuable NFL team, valued at $4.85 billion. While this NFL legend is hoping to increase revenue both on and off the field, the Giants still enjoy a 13 percent boost in evaluation from 2020. The new leadership, under head coach Joe Judge, also saw an annualized change, which grew by 12 percent. 

Conclusion

Fans worldwide always anticipate the next baseball, football, or basketball season. This is why sports franchising is an excellent business to invest in if you have millions to burn. And while investors enjoy their revenue, global sports fans can also enjoy watching on television or sitting on stadium seats and cheering on their favorite teams. So it’s a win-win for everyone. 

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