Patrick Goldstein has a great article up in the Los Angeles Times in which he foresees a not-too-distant future where writes-producers realize they don’t actually need the studios to bankroll their visions. Instead, he predicts, they will find the freedom of internet distribution alluring and create their own media brands (much like bloggers of all stripes already have) and bring content directly to consumers.
This model is already in place on a small scale with sites like FunnyorDie, which serves as an outlet for all the smaller, more experimental things some celebrities just want to throw out there to see what sticks. And Ed Burns is releasing his movie Purple Flowers through iTunes, a move he says is kind of necessary considering the sad state of arthouse cinema in 2007, where movies are dying that would have succeeded much more in the mid-90s.
Goldstein rightly surmises that real change in the entertainment industry is going to come from people trying new things and seeing what succeeds and not from trying to squeeze money out of the studios. He points to Silicon Valley as an example of the mindset that’s needed since it’s full of cases where instead of trying to change the culture or business model of, say, Microsoft, people set out on their own and built the web as we know it today.
Steve Bryant takes Goldstein’s thesis and says that while his argument is spot on for distribution the issue of marketing the content is still a significant one. Without the financial resources of a large corporation this sort of self-generated content won’t be able to find an audience.
I both agree and disagree with Bryant’s concerns. On the one hand he’s right that big campaigns are needed to support any sort of mass scale production. On the other, I think it’s just a matter of time before niche studios or individual creators find a way to connect with the potential audience using things like Flickr, Ning, blogging and other social media tools. It’s not that hard, especially not if you spend a little bit of time creating relationships beforehand with the online audience.
Personally I don’t think it’s the individual talent that will decide to ditch the studios first. I think instead it will be the production houses that will realize they don’t need distribution partners but can instead sell their shows and movies directly to consumers online. Why sell the movie to a studio who’s going to flub the marketing and distribution when the production entity can go straight to the audience?
When that happens you’ll start to see some innovative marketing that has to be both low-cost and niche-targeted since that’s how survival will be achieved. You’ll also start to see the same sort of pricing that’s currently in place on Amazon, where the production house isn’t concerned with selling 20,000 downloads of one product but with selling 2,000 downloads of 20 products.
And it’s when that happens that you’ll start to see studios get a lot more accommodating with what they offer talent in the form of compensation.