The Content Club
Savvy observers have started to wonder what will happen in a year or two when the novelty of the new screens wears off and users actually want to be entertained. After all, lame content doesn't get any better just because it's on a cool two-inch screen. It's this challenge that inevitably is teaching digital players that, in order to have a seat at the table, they must begin courting proven Hollywood talent.
Unfortunately, digital executives find that you can't just pick up the phone and expect to talk to Tom Hanks's agent. If accessing experienced film and TV talent were easy, everyone would do it. It seems that, believe it or not, most studios have yet to learn that just because someone knows how to encode video doesn't mean that person's the right one to run a studio's digital content group.
"Traditional Hollywood is a business closely resembling the political world in Washington D.C., where the rules are only truly known by those on the inside, and relationships mean everything," says Brad Mendelsohn, a partner at Hollywood talent management powerhouse Industry Entertainment. "Outsiders rarely gain admittance." And—for now at least— people who spend their days marketing websites are definitely outsiders.
If their digital strategies are to succeed, the Hollywood machines must now court leaders and executives who can both lead their digital charges and also bridge the precarious gap between Hollywood talent and digital loyalists. Ultimately, the best digital decisions will be made by people who have proven that they know how to create entertaining film and TV content and who are likewise capable of writing an entirely new rulebook for the special considerations of digital mediums. It's a rare combination.
If content owners can clearly see that the new screens are entirely new mediums, then they'll ultimately discover that one is not just a substitute for the other; they will be complementary. You may watch TV when you're on your couch, but your cell phone when you're stuck in an airport. The game then, for a content owner, becomes about not just substituting one medium for the other, but about extending a viewer's experience for longer durations and across platforms.
While technology companies seem to be doing their part by getting more mobile handsets and other devices to consumers, Hollywood content owners must start pushing the envelope. Studios and networks need to start experimenting to figure out how to harness all of the different screens—broadcast, broadband, mobile, and beyond—and how to use them to aggregate audiences in ways that service the unique rules of each medium. And they must bring in decision makers who understand not just technology, but content as well.
Even though it may go against their traditional mindsets, studios must look at broadband and mobile as niche-oriented, on-demand mediums that are simply different from the one-stop-shopping experience of television. The scale needed to make money for these big content companies will come once some of them start aggregating all of the niche content channels. Just think of the milestones that will be surpassed when your television becomes able to access the internet and the rest of the screens show further signs of linking themselves together.
We're far beyond the days when the studios tried to stop VCR makers in court. No, Hollywood is not scared of the screens this time. Instead, it's procrastinating. The next 24 months will be pivotal for mapping the digital distribution frontier. Rest assured that—much like Apple did with iTunes—when one company is the first to harness the power of the screens, the rest of the herd will come stampeding.
Podcast Ready, Inc.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.