Tuesday, September 29, 2009

forest and trees, part 1

Are we missing a larger point here?

Exhibit A: in its post-mortem on the summer season, the NYT outlined how the top earners have lost their luster at the box office.
A-list movie stars have long been measured by their ability to fill theaters on opening weekend. But never have so many failed to deliver, resulting in some rare soul-searching by motion picture studios about why the old formula isn’t working — and a great deal of anxiety among stars (and agents) about the potential vaporization of their $20 million paychecks.
Exhibit B: A few weeks later, the Times recounted how Hollywood studios are mounting a legal battle against Redbox, a kiosk DVD rental service:
Redbox’s growth — it started with 12 kiosks in 2004 and now processes about 80 transactions a second on Friday nights — has Hollywood’s blood boiling. Furious about a potential cannibalization of DVD sales and a broader price devaluation of their product, three studios (20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers and Universal) are refusing to sell DVDs to Redbox until at least 28 days after they arrive in stores.

Redbox is suing them on antitrust grounds. Leery of waging their own battles, two other studios, Sony Pictures and Paramount Pictures, have signed distribution deals with the vending company. Walt Disney permits third-party distributors to sell to Redbox but has so far shunned a direct relationship.
This confused reaction on part of movie studios -- blaming the old models for not working anymore, and seeking to swash anything new and unknown -- indicate more clearly than ever that they have no idea what to do. Moreover, rather than learn from the still-dying recording industry's mistakes, they're intent to follow in their disastrous footsteps.
“These machines are to the video industry what the Internet was to the music business — disaster,” said Ted Engen, president of the Video Buyers Group, a trade organization for 1,700 local rental stores.
People sitting atop the tottering business models of entertainment distribution still don't get that The Internet Is Not The Enemy: it is merely emblematic of a huge shift in the distribution of information. It is no more or less threatening than the shift from vinyl to tape, or tape to CD.

The task at hand is not to put the business model in stasis, it's a matter of figuring out how to monetize the new technology. But as soon as new profits don't fit into the existing model (or at the existing levels), those with the most to lose from the demise of the outdated model scream that it's the end of civilization as they know it.

Their half-assed compromise is as sad as it is fruitless:
Analysts also see a threat to studios in Redbox’s practice of selling about half of its DVDs into the used market (after renting them about 15 times at an average of $2 a transaction). By signing deals with Redbox, Paramount and Sony got the kiosk operator to agree to destroy their discs rather than resell them.
With no better strategy, studios are paying to burn their crops, which is simply insane -- unless you're a three-year-old, breaking your toy because the other kids won't obey your rules for playing with it.

As always, there is a webcomic that explains it better than I have.

Even though the television and film industries share the same distribution channels (and same technological crisis) as the recording industry, the reaction of the former has been to go all-in with big bets, while shutting down its lower-overhead but lower return "indie" shingles; for their part, the major labels have watched as act after act has let their contracts expire, only to continue to release over the internet, or strike new types of distribution deals with touring companies.

For performers and writers, is there something we're missing? Are we racing for position on the the deck of the Titanic? Perhaps television and movies aren't in quite as dire straits as recording labels --at least not yet; but then again, we just got five hours a week of Jay Leno because it's cheaper than scripted television.

Why haven't we learned anything from indie bands using the internet to build a following? Hell, as painful as it is to write this, why haven't we learned anything from Dane Cook?

Where is the serious outlet for dramatic work online -- outside of yesterdays distribution channels masquerading as something new?

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