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Words I will never forget…

I will confess to being a bit naive when I came to launch a career in Hollywood back in 1991. I started in the mailroom of UTA (United Talent Agency), with other post-grads looking to make copies and messenger scripts in hopes of landing on an agent’s desk. I also started reading scripts voraciously, and had a blast doing so.

But one of the most important things I learned was in a book by famed screenwriter William Goldman (“The Sting,” “The Princess Bride,” and many, many others) titled Adventures In The Screen Trade. Many old-timers will know this, but it is repeated throughout the book:

“Nobody knows anything.”

Simply put, he means that no single person can say with any certainty what will and won’t succeed. Every time a movie or series is proposed with a seemingly can’t-fail cast, director, premise, whatever, a few go down in flames.

Which brings me to “Batman v Superman.” Iconic comic heroes in a effects-laden extravaganza would appear to be a no-brainer. Yet, after a very impressive opening weekend, it seems that Warner Brothers may be changing its tune. For every one of these, there’s a “Sixth Sense,” “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding,” etc. Thus proving William Goldman’s prophetic phrase.

Words I will never forget… and neither should you.

Is this the new normal for content?

I am, unabashedly, a fan of “The Walking Dead” and its offspring, “The Talking Dead” (not to be confused with its spinoff, “Fear The Walking Dead,” which I also watch). And I’ve followed with great interest the success of an inexpensive show that piggybacks on the success of the original, in “The Talking  Dead.”

But when I read this article about “Game Of Thrones” having a new discussion show that will stream instead of air on television, it made me think. Is this the new normal for a successful television series? And will it eventually apply to other forms of content? I can easily envisage a multi-platform universe that entails print (text), video, film, etc., that is the  equivalent of a book club, but based on subject instead of format.

AMC is currently attempting a similar effort with “Better Call Saul,” and I think the jury is still out. I was skeptical when I first heard about it, but perhaps I was wrong. It does beg the question, however, as to what constitutes the conditions necessary to build profit off an existing property. Is “Empire” next? How about “Batman V. Superman”?

No man is an island, but will every creator be a channel?

I recall the time back in 2000 that I reached out to David Kelley (creator of “Ally McBeal” and others) about his interest in writing for an internet site, as opposed to his studio at 20th Century Fox TV. In retrospect, I realize how silly that suggestion must have sounded, but it goes to an idea that I am starting to see in every corner of the digital media universe.

In reading this item from Mashable (Kevin Hart, Lionsgate team up for ‘Laugh Out Loud’ streaming service), I thought that there are now creators who have achieved a certain level of distinction which might warrant venturing out on one’s own. Sure, I had thought David Kelley had reached it back in 2000, but now folks like  Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell have launched web channels that stand alone. And it’s not just comedy – there is FiveThirtyEight from polling wunderkind Nate Silver, Nerdist from Chris Hardwick, and so on.

This begs the question, what is the measure of notoriety that would inspire someone to launch their own channel? One interesting microcosm is YouTube. As certain YouTube stars reach incredible numbers of subscribers, I have to ask when they might decide they can do better on their own – with their own video platform, advertising sales force, production facilities, etc. – than relying on YouTube. Certainly, FunnyOrDie is one example, and perhaps PewDiePie will be next (43 million YouTube subscribers and counting).

It seems that Kevin Hart has decided to let Lionsgate handle some of these duties, but the trend of sports leagues illustrates the perils of becoming too reliant on a creator (or copyright holder) for content, when that person or group may decide going it alone is too profitable to ignore. Just look as ESPN’s effect on Disney’s stock price recently. That seems to be the direction that Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are going. I suppose we’ll see…

What kind of customer are you?

When I first entered the entertainment industry – specifically, the television business – I was introduced to the concept that programming was just the fluff between the commercials. The financial model was relatively simple: Make programs that people want to see, then pay for them with commercials that will hopefully entice those same people to purchase the items being advertised. You had a product, then exposed people to it via commercials, then people bought (or didn’t) buy the product.

But in reading this article from AdAge about the traditional “sales funnel” – and all you marketing folks will know that term – you might be inclined to agree with this:

“The sales funnel isn’t changing — it’s completely and utterly dead.”

But I’m not so sure. It is certainly in a state of flux, but the concept is still grounded in the scientific method. You create a model, test it, repeat it, and decide if the results are reliable. What I think we’re learning is that consumers have individual, but identifiable, traits and behaviors that help categorize their buying process. The author has one that is likely a result of his past experience with purchasing, and the ensuing sense of satisfaction he had with it. But I find that people have a “communication disposition” which reflects many aspects of their personality. If a person is uncomfortable with contemporaneous speaking, he/she may prefer a chat or email exchange. Some may prefer to use a big screen or small screen. Others may need to touch the product, or see it in action.

We are getting increasingly identified by our habits that reflect our comfort zone. This will be an important consideration in how marketers find and influence their target market. Exactly how is a work-in-progress.

Are there gay zombies?

As reported in the Los Angeles Times this morning, a few entertainment companies are getting anxious about a new anti-gay law that is awaiting the governor’s signature. Being a die-hard “The Walking Dead” fan, my first thought was about the existence of gay zombies.

AMC Networks — the New York owner of several cable channels, including AMC, and IFC Films — called on Deal to veto the Free Exercise Protection Act. AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead” is filmed mainly in Georgia.

But my second thought was a little more serious. This is exhibit A for where policy meets reality in real America. And there are actual consequences for some of the extreme laws that get passed, especially on a local level. And I would hope that there are more shoes to drop. If you’re a foreign car maker with plants in the South, you might be wary about expanding there if your gay employees might face government-sanctioned discrimination.

This is not really anything about digital media, but it does illustrate how American politics can infect other industries, for good or ill.

I respectfully disagree with J.J. Abrams…

J.J. Abrams was at SXSW and reflected on the democratization of filmmaking through technology. I read that and thought about my days as an agent for filmmakers and television producers, and I have a different perspective to relate.

Yes, as costs are reduced and the financial barriers to entry are dismantled, it is easier to make films than ever before. But this is a bit of a red herring, in that consumer-level technology, from Super 8 cameras and projectors, to affordable film stock and mail-in processing, meant that anyone with a few extra bucks and a passion could be their own mini Otto Preminger. That’s what I did for years as a teenager, but what really made all the difference in the world was having no means of distribution. Sure, I could show it to my friends and family, but there was no YouTube or Vimeo that would make these little epics available around the globe.

In some respect, yes, J.J. Abrams is right about the technology, but it isn’t the smaller, cheaper equipment. It is all about the access to distribution. In my agent days, you either sold to a studio or network, or tried to get some traction as an independent producer, but these were very limited. Today, my advice would be for aspiring filmmakers to eschew the great spec script in favor of a killer short film. If you get the right people to share it on Facebook or another popular social network, it is much easier to get the industry’s attention if you can point to millions of views. At the very least, it will be a less steep climb to send it around if it just entails emailing a link.

I suppose that the way I look at it is, while filmmaking technology makes the process of putting a script on-screen, the internet represents a true paradigm shift in distribution, which any producer will tell you, that’s what it’s all about. Don’t you remember about the tree falling in a forest, but no one is around to hear it?

Is this the next must-have for every big company?

Ever since the emergence of YouTube as a video platform, I wondered why more entities couldn’t just take control of distributing their own content. Well, we’re definitely seeing that with major sports leagues, and even big publications. But now, here’s an article about Comic-Con streaming not just their conference, but a whole host of sci-fi properties, in conjunction with Lionsgate Entertainment. It’s a complementary arrangement, since the well-attended convention is not able to sustain a permanent presence on the web, they team with someone who has content that will easily fill the empty spaces. Sounds  like a win-win to me.

But it also begs the question – why wouldn’t every major corporation have a streaming service to call their own? I suspect that, much like having a Twitter or Instagram account is now de rigueur for marketing, a video delivery channel will be a necessity.

ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and… Facebook & Twitter?

As mentioned in this AdAge article, Facebook is now streaming shows from other networks (in this case, E!), and thus begs the question: Will every streaming service soon occupy a place in your television ecosystem, alongside the familiar favorites? And in the midst of writing this post, I saw this article from the NY Post about Twitter joining the battle for streaming viewers.

I’ve been saying for years that other digital content providers – usually newspapers – would eventually compete with broadcast news, especially as the tools for producing such video content was simple, compact and portable. But with any service that promises a mass audience, will content producers look increasingly to the likes of Facebook and Twitter to stream their content? If the NFL is any indication, there will be a healthy marketplace for popular content, especially if it is live. And if selling the rights to content presents a conflict for the owner, then it may be more valuable to keep it in-house.

Changes are happening so fast that I can barely keep up with developments, but if you are looking to advertise, monetize or capitalize on these new formats, then you best keep tabs on the latest news, and try to guess what might come next.

Where will apps fit into the digital (r)evolution?

First with phones, and now with desktop browsers, apps are continuing to make inroads into our daily digital lives. But reading this article about the success of the NCAA tournament streaming app, it made me wonder how apps will ultimately fare in this evolving ecosystem.

I distinctly recall an event at the AFI in Hollywood back in 2001 (or so) when CBS was touting the integration of CSI (the original one) into a digital component that would augment the TV series. I was curious who was making money off the ads that shared space in the browser window, how that money was allocated, and who controlled the real estate on the page.

Likewise, now that apps are proving to be popular for video and music, what role do the stakeholders, such as sports leagues, telecoms, broadcasters, etc. have in determining how they are managed, especially in terms of who can buy and sell advertising, who gets a piece of the action, and so on? And the more interesting question is whether this will be just a phase in the evolution of digital media distribution. I suspect that there are other technologies on the horizon poised to supplant the popularity of apps. One thing I’ve learned from watching MySpace, Sony, Blackberry, BitTorrent, Digital Audio Tapes (DAT), etc. is that, when it comes to technology, the consumer is both fickle and flighty. Loyalty is not to be counted on.

In particular, I continue to be underwhelmed by the advances in connected televisions. I would have thought that their central position, both physically and figuratively, in most Americans lives, would have them be more interactive, more connected, and largely essential to the consumer. What I also find interesting is the appeal of Amazon’s Echo, which may be the next big thing. It is slow catching on, but that may be more a matter of Amazon taking a cautious approach to its rollout. But the possibilities are breathtaking, and may just be the first of the alternatives to the app – at least, as we know of it today.

Watch this space!

ala carte programming is dead… long live “multiple online subscription services!”


As I’ve discussed before, the trend toward ala carte programming seems to be proceeding apace, but some of the legacy media companies are exploring new ways to keep customers AND give them options that more closely resemble what they actually want to watch.

Is the concept of ala carte programming morphing into something different? This article is strong evidence that perhaps ala carte will go the way of 8-track tapes in lieu of controlling multiple streams with the programs you want. Or is this simply ala carte in disguise? What do you think?

Turner Plans To Launch Multiple Online Subscription Services This Year