So imagine you’re a major media mogul, a captain of the film and television business, a shaper of global culture, one of the anointed few who can green-light major entertainment projects.
You’re faced with a massive, once-in-a-lifetime shift in mainstream consumer behavior from traditional mass media, including film and television, to new activities that you do not control: the Internet, social networking, user-generated content, mobile services, video games. It’s been snowballing since the mid 90’s, for like 12 years — 12 years of denial and obfuscation — but it’s really rolling fast now.
Many of your current lifeblood properties are not growing anymore or are in outright decline, and you don’t own enough of the vital new properties to offset that, nor are you certain how you would make money with the new properties even if you did own them. And the consumers you rely upon for revenue are so frustrated with your company’s inability to supply them with what they want, when they want it, that digital piracy of your content has become mainstream and socially acceptable behavior practically overnight, and all of your efforts to stop it seem to only make it worse.
And your company’s culture is not prepared to deal with the shift. Your company was founded 50 or 80 or 100 or 150 years ago by different people in a different time, and the overwhelming majority of your people now — smart and well-meaning managers and bureaucrats, but still managers and bureaucrats — have to be retrained and reoriented toward entrepreneurial thinking in a viciously dynamic and startlingly fast-changing world not of your, or their, creation.
Is this really the right time to pick a fight with the writers over royalties from DVD and Internet sales, leading to an industry-wide shutdown and massive economic pain for all sides in the world of traditional scripted film and television content?
The truth is, the web – that thing that brings us email and MySpace and cats playing the piano on YouTube – has a kind of Wal*Mart effect on the entertainment choices offered to the audience: there’s a lot more to choose from, most of it’s pretty awful, and all of it is going to be a lot cheaper. When you combine the digitization of content with unlimited bandwidth, what you get is a cheaper, more efficient system. And Brentwood was not built on cheap, or efficient. This town – and all of us who work here – all of us, writers, agents, actors, lawyers, studio executives, all of us here in the second grade classroom called Hollywood – have a stake in preserving this great big slushy inefficient mess of a system, that makes pilots that never get aired, buys scripts that never get produced, makes movies that no one sees, produces series that get cancelled.
I feel like we’re all hanging out in the hardware store on Main Street, bickering, while they’re building the SuperWalMart out where the interstate meets the state highway. To the writers – to my colleague – I say, the web is going to force us to radically alter our expectations about residuals. We will probably end up getting less. That’s what market efficiencies do. Let’s figure out how to adjust to that.