Friday, October 16, 2009

Hollywood: Are Things Really That Bad?

Earlier this week, I was listening to my favorite business podcast - The Business, hosted by Kim Masters. Let me preface this by saying that I am not picking on TB or Kim. In fact, I am a huge fan of both. I think Kim is seriously one of the very best entertainment reporters I've seen, heard or read.

With that said, I have to complain about the negative tone of some of her recent reports. This week's show had a trio of wonderful, articulate writers talking about how terrible the business is and how bad it is out there for writers and how CBS doesn't buy as many pilots anymore and how big writers are competing for small jobs and on and on and on... I had to turn it off. And that's the first time I've ever turned off that podcast before the final sign-off.

And of course, this is not the only place that negative reports are showing up. They are everywhere. It seems that reporters can't wait to jump on the next indicator of doom and gloom in the entertainment business.

I'm not buying it. Maybe it's my Taoist bent, but I believe there is good and bad in every set of circumstances, and you need to report on both. And if you're in those circumstances, you need to be able to see it from both sides, and then chase positive results.

In the music business, starting several years ago, the shrinking power of the major labels and distributors also resulted in a wide range of artists and genres gaining a level of success that they could never achieve when the industry was controlled by a handful of companies. As any industry changes, the companies that are dominating under the old model will lose power. Kodak and Polaroid were dominant players when snapshots were shot on film. In the digital world, they struggle to compete. Xerox almost went out of business thinking it was selling copiers, while its competitors made great strides focusing on information and document management. A different spin on the same business; but it's your point of view that makes all the difference. There are countless other examples.

In film and television, as broadband delivery takes hold, Blockbuster struggles to compete in home video where it once dominated. The television networks struggle to get the attention of viewers they once had all to themselves. Studios struggle to make money as technology levels the playing field - first in production, then in marketing and soon in distribution. This is the nature of business. The cheese moves (another reference to one of my favorite business books).

But as the established players lose power, other new and nimble players gain opportunities. There are new independent distributors popping up. There are new marketing models. And to Kim's credit, she has been all over the Paranormal Activity story. (Who makes a movie for less than the cost of a nice motorcycle and gets it released by Paramount to the tune of $70,000+ per screen in its first week of limited release?!!) That story would not exist under the old model dominated by the big players.

Writers should stop lamenting and start writing. If you have talent, figure out where to put it to best use under the new rules. Good stories are good stories. Don't complain because you can't sell another one to the same guys who bought the last six -- just figure out where the money is going to come from for the next six. And the same goes for everyone who was making money under the old system and is now making less. You are creative people. Get creative in your business practices and figure out where the new opportunities are. People are still going to the movies. They are playing games and watching videos and amusing themselves in any number of ways. They want to be entertained. Entertain them.

Am I naive? Maybe. But I don't think anyone can see an opportunity that they don't believe exists. Yeah, maybe I'm naive, but I don't think I'm wrong. You tell me.


Nick. said...

Nice piece of journalism,my friend.(Google Jan Moir for a recent example of How Not To Do It).I agree,there will always be people with a gripe but I'm still happy with what's getting made.An example would be; Farscape got cancelled by Sci-Fi,I rallied and raged,Sci-Fi spent the money on Stargate Atlantis,I loved it.There is always good news.Is that Taoist?

Anonymous said...

all nice and cuddly.keep writing and decide who will buy your next piece of wont be long before all consumers decide that all entertainment should be free.they already do with music,generations of people who want music but dont want to pay for it.the tv and film industry will be following careful of remaining simply creative while you watch technology destroy any chance you may have of making a living out of your work.

Roger Goff said...

Nick, I think there is always news. Things change. What's good for one person might be bad for another. The key is to position yourself so that the change benefits you.

Anonymous, I completely understand and appreciate your point of view. But if that change is going to occur anyway, then the real question is what you're going to do about it. I'm not saying that it's right or that I like it. It just is what it is. You really should read "Who Moved My Cheese" and tell me what you think about it.

Steve Woolf said...

Hi Roger. Funny you should write about that podcast, because Zadi and I were remarking how depressing it was to listen to the other night.

Things are in a huge state of change, and the days of multi-million dollar deals are probably over for good. Small, nimble, and fast is the best way to operate these days. I think a lot of people are scared that the quality of entertainment is going to suffer, but I think it's entertainment itself that will change. The immersion of the viewer is now the goal, as is taking advantage of new technologies. While everyone is worried about Facebook and Twitter, the real pioneers are exploring the use of things like Augmented Reality as interaction components.

Interesting times ahead. Rocky, but interesting. :)

david geertz said...

I think that content producers need to step back and ask themselves this question: Who am I actually making this for? If the answer is me, the almighty auteur then good luck shucking salad at Baja Fresh. If you make content with an audience in mind, why not ask them what they want. The beauty of this little device known as the internet is that it allows creative people to build networks based in ideas in advance and use those networks as a litmus test for market indicators.

I mean, if you want to produce a gay western sci fi musical romp...perhaps the network might advise you that this is really not a good idea. OR you may be surprised that there is a viral niche in your idea and that you have a cult following of 1,000,000 fans in some far off place.

The times are changing...try and keep up or get out your salad tongs!

Roger Goff said...

Steve - I'm glad I wasn't the only one who felt that way about that podcast. As usual, your vision and thoughts are extremely forward-looking and accurate. That's why you and Zadi hold the place you do in the new media hierarchy. Thanks for chiming in.

David - You are exactly right and your expression of the concept is brilliant and funny. I'm glad you and I are on the same side of this issue. Thanks for your support and contribution to the discussion.

The Future Of Movies said...

Someone has definitely moved the cheese and some are getting left behind, still sniffing around for the old cheese. Great reference to a great book!

Plenty of people are talking about the down side of things, but it is good to see someone else offering solutions, or at least making a call to action telling people they should be looking for a solution.

Change creates opportunity. Let's find it.