Sunday, December 28, 2008

Traditional Media Deck Chair Shuffle

It's bee an interesting morning. Two cups of Joe into it, I read two separate posts by two respected friends / creators that really illuminate the problems with traditional media today:

1) That the business model of television broadcast and feature film exhibition is eroding...

2) That people are trying to push breaking into this eroded infrastructure as if this were a rock-solid career choice. (And no it never has been, but it's never been this bad before either)

First off is Denis McGrath's post regarding Heather Havrilesky's rant in Salon:

Let's not mince words here: The TV industry is badly run, and there's far too much big money flashed around every corner for sustainable efforts to take root. The shows that maintained their quality over several seasons -- "The Sopranos," "Six Feet Under," "The Shield," "The Wire," "Deadwood" -- were all run by stubborn, outspoken eccentrics who 1) set the bar high for themselves, year after year, 2) believed in their creation above all others and placed that belief above the big money they were offered elsewhere, 3) had faith in the network that supported and embraced their creation (in most cases, HBO), and knew that the show would never have found such a welcome home elsewhere, and 4) had no interest in drawing out their stories indefinitely, "ER"-style, past the point where hey should naturally conclude.
Heather has some harsh words for TeeVee, and they are well-deserved. The traditional model for TV is screwed up. When Warner Bros. has to sue CBS for $49+ million for TWO AND A HALF MEN - it IS SCREWED UP. That sort of deficit financing is not sustainable.

Denis follows up Heather's sharp tongue with some lashes of his own for the Canadian TV biz:

Why is this so scary?

Because I work in Canada. And in Canada, they haven't even mastered the art of listening to or managing talent at any level. In Canada, the discussions about how to extend the life of the broadcast TV model don't go much farther than "go to the CRTC and see if they'll give you free money from cable subscribers."

The changes that have come down the pike in the last year -- the speed of them -- is truly astounding, and the simple, shit-scary fact is that Canadian broadcast business does not have their traditional two or three year window to dick around and figure out how they're going to cherry pick a solution.

Then we have Alex Epstein's post regarding Chad Gerwich's blog and book SMALL SCREEN BIG PICTURE regarding his experience in TeeVee, and how you too can break into the industry. There was one element of Chad's comments that speak volumes about where the future of entertainment is going and how traditional media types are going to be (have already been?) left behind:
There’s nothing wrong, creatively, with dreaming up telenovelas and limited series—and I am NOT saying this to discourage people from thinking outside the box—but I often hear young writers pitch ideas that don’t seem to illustrate a competent understanding of how TV stories work. The ideas themselves may be perfectly fine—outstanding, even—but they’re not TV ideas. They’re novel ideas or short stories or web ideas or SOMETHING… but not TV.
So let me put this out there:

We have a traditional media eroding away, not only from a monetary standpoint, but a creative one as well. People ARE NOT watching TV they way they have been...and it's only going to get worse. People are going to be working a lot more, using their DVR's a lot more and using the web a lot more to interact with their entertainments. You do not have destination TeeVee anymore.

In addition, we have a whole generation who aren't married to doing it the traditional TV way anymore. They WANT MORE from their media...and from the creation of their media. That's part of the reason why Chad gets so many pitches that aren't traditional (beyond what he thinks is just lack of industry awareness by newb writers) - TeeVee as it is traditionally understood is no longer as important as other media-distribution methods.

And three years from now? While folks are figuring out how to break into TeeVee, the iceberg will have hit. There will be a big implosion. Don't get caught rearranging the deck chairs, make your way to the lifeboats now.

Don't count on the ship being unsinkable.

8 comments:

deepstructure said...

i feel pointing to dr horrible as a signpost for the next generation of storytellers is just as misguided as pointing them towards traditional television. dr horrible is like an ice-berg. the visual success is just the tip of the unseen built-in market power juggernaut underneath. it's no bellwether for online webisobes which don't share that.

Cunningham said...

All right then, if you think Dr. Horrible has the stench of "Joss Whedon uber-creator" over it, let's point to ASK A NINJA, GOODNIGHT BURBANK, or GEMINI DIVISION -- all financially profitable on the web.

All unknowns financed outside the normal financial channels. Produced outside the normal production channels, and distributed outside traditional media (though they get magazine, TV and newspaper attention).

And when I was pointing to Dr. Horrible I was pointing to methodology... because let's face it you ARE going to be your own creative team AND Marketing and Distribution team in the future. Especially as you are starting out.

Cunningham said...

and while we are at it, understand that the web is only going to get stronger and stronger as the Tee Vee gets weaker and weaker.

More opportunities will come as will more tools to do it yourself.

deepstructure said...

and interestingly, ask a ninja is profitable in the old fashioned way - advertising/licensing/merchandising revenue.

i'm still very curious to see a new model arise.

Cunningham said...

What NEW model?

There's nothing NEW in terms of the business: you make a product, you replicate and sell a product. You license out that product. That's exactly what Dr. Horrible is doing too.

The internet has REFINED the model is all:

It has taken all of the marketing costs - all those associated with connecting with consumers - and pared it down to just the actual cost of having someone managing the networking and connecting. The physical aspects (materials, design, labor) are now gone. It has also put that refined marketing structure directly in your hands so you don't have to go to a distributor for all of those functions anymore.

It also means you don't have to produce and distribute something in mass quantities with a slight profit per unit, and then wait for returns. You can produce material to order saving on inventory and other sales related costs. That way you get a greater per unit profit and you don't have to sell as many units to make the project a financial success.

Some folks here on the internet have been saying that now is the "Death of the indie film."

They are absolutely 100% wrong.

Now is the time of the "Rebirth of the Truly Indie Film."

deepstructure said...

thank for you giving a clear definition of how the internet is working for artists. that's about the most succinct explanation i've heard yet.

so i understand that. BUT, i still find myself asking, is that it?

it's hard to believe the entertainment juggernaut of tv and film is going to be replaced by 4min videoboxes of askaninja-types or godforbid, rosario dawson-jawing-at-a-screen-types.

surely there's got to be more to this revolutionary new medium than just a refining of the old process?

Jon Molly said...

It's not about content - it's about distribution. The fundamentals of good cinematography and interesting story telling remain unchanged. Dramatic story telling and quality presentation will still trump askaninja clones and cute-girls-jawing-at-the-screen.

But the process of getting your content in front of eyeballs is changing. As a result, the process of extracting cash as a by-product of having your content in front of eyeballs is also evolving.

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