From the NBC/Hulu partnership to the fact that former Disney exec Michael Eisner is spending his time post-mouse investing in the online video site Vuguru, it seems like everyone wants to be the Internet's date to the prom. The problem with this lies in the punchline of the joke told by head of the UCLA Screenwriting Program Richard Walter during the Hollywood 2.0 panel which took place yesterday at the Anderson School of Business: “How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?” to which the hypothetical screenwriter responds, horrified,”CHANGE!?!”
Precisely. If you substitute “screenwriters” with “most execs in Hollywood” you get to the root of our present situation — while the all-access distribution mechanism provided by the social Web enables content providers to bypass the peer review system and get their creative product directly to its most receptive market, it also fragments the audience. And without an Amazon-like business model for taking advantage of Chris Anderson's long tail, it leaves the creative industries experiencing this media transition period in a precarious position, walking a fiscal tightrope without a net.
The crux behind the Hollywood 2.0 panel was to facilitate a dialogue between the members of Old Hollywood and New Media. Panelists included the aforementioned Walter, CEO of Break Media Keith Richman, co-host of Revision3's uncannily popular Diggnation and creator of Project Lore Alex Albrecht, head of digital for Endeavor Talent Agency Chris Jacquemin, and UCLA Entertainment Media Management professor Sanjay Sood. Organized by Scripped.com, a nascent screenwriting community site founded by former Anderson MBA Sunil Rajaraman, Harvard/MIT MBA student Ryan Buckley, USC Peter Stark MFAZak Freer, and Josh Smith, the audience at the Korn Hall event was primarily MBAs, aspiring screenwriters and a smattering of die-hard new media fanatics.
As many industry players still haven't quite grasped the concept of Twitter @ replies, it is not far-fetched to predict that “incorporating 2.0 into Hollywood's business model is a long ways off,” as Scripped CFO Buckley put it. Tinseltown studios essentially share the same “portfolio” or “big investment/big hit” business model as venture capitalists, so it should not be such a brain strain to integrate new media strategies and entertainment. However, although the long tail makes it really easy to find people to watch your World of Warcraft podcast, as of yet the Hollywood distribution system has not found a way to aggregate this fragmented online viewership into some kind of profitable and sustainable model.
Evangelizing from the creative side, panelist Albrecht was hopeful that “it will be fun when the creators and the business people come to a like mind,” a tipping point that even he admitted was a “few years off.” To prove this point, Albrecht described the paradox of meetings with studio execs which went along the lines of him asking how to make money in the studio system while the studios simultaneously attempted to probe him for ways to make money online: “They wanted me to switch my garage for their garage.”
In an attempt to parse this infinitely frustrating media communication chasm, no one took a more positive spin on it than Break CEO Richman: “It doesn't cost anything to make a movie, [which means] infinitely more opportunities for creative people to get creative – a 'win win' across the board.”
Richman went on to point out that “if you think of what your audience wants to see instead of what you want to make, you'd be surprised how easy it is to find audience.” Or as Endeavor agent Chris Jacquemin succinctly put it: “The Internet is the new cable.” He then, in accordance with panelist Sanjay Snood, hinted that the movie industry was immune to the failures of the newspaper industry because people will never give up the “communal aspect of watching a film on the big screen.”
While Jacquemin point is reinforced by the fact that box office attendance was up in 2009, at least one major revenue stream for the film industry, DVD distribution, is slowly heading the way of VHS; panelist Richman described debating whether to teach his toddler daughter the word “DVD” and eventually deciding against it, citing that by the time she'll care the “form will be obsolete.”
Alex Albrecht offered a solution to this problem when he offered the sage advice, “get your content out there in as many platforms as you can.” Albrecht's show Diggnation has an audience of over 250k per episode and might have hit the sweet spot that Richman described as “the line where we [as new media content producers] and the ability to monetize intersect” as it nets at least one advertiser 10 dollars for every one dollar spent. In a notable display of foresight, Albrecht, who recently made a crossover appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, mused, “I want to see the next movie [come] from someone in the new media.”
When asked after the panel what this “wish-list” movie would be, he proposed a “Hard Day's Night-type mockumentary” documenting the mob-inducing adventures of himself and Diggnation co-host Kevin Rose,” a sort of nerd tribute to the Beatles movie where the fab foursome get chased all over Britain by legions of their screaming fans. As I watched one panel attendee gushingly ask Albrecht to autograph her laptop (!) it reinforced his assertion that “everybody's hot for online” – when anyone can make a movie in their garage then we all have the chance to play a small part in mass change.