Saturday, 16 December 2006

Hollywood's view of the Web: Through a glass, strangely

The LA Times is a wonderful place to watch the entertainment industry try to figure out the Internet. Some issues that aren't a big deal in Silicon Valley fascinate them endlessly, while other things that Silicon Valley thinks are important are completely ignored.

A great example of this process is the newspaper's recap of 2006 on the Web, "Ten moments the web shook the world."

"This was the year wishful thinking -- that this Internet phenomenon might just go away -- evaporated, and those media companies still standing began to seek anything that might see them through the deluge."

So what made up the deluge, according to the Times? Some highlights:

Snakes on a Plane is described as the first time that the Web took control of the production of a movie. Most folks in the blogosphere viewed Snakes as a cool example of participatory marketing, but if you view it through the eyes of a Hollywood producer, it's a threat to power.

LonelyGirl15. This mysterious personality on MySpace was the subject of endless coverage and speculation in the Times throughout the summer. They analyzed it with the same intensity that many websites reserved for Britney Spears' underwear. I think the idea of someone using the Web to launch an acting career blew their minds.

The rise of celebrity websites. The Times viewed this as the year in which celebrity-focused websites first started to drive (read: debase) the standards of what constitutes a celebrity. People like Paris Hilton (and our gal Britney) proved to be willing to do just about anything to get a little online attention.

The common theme in all of these cases is the loss of power by parts of the traditional entertainment industry: producers, agents, and journalists. For years the Web has been eating away at power structures in lots of industries, but this was apparently the year in which Hollywood first really felt the impact.

The Times asks: "As traditional media interact with new media and vice versa, whose values will infect whom? Will old media arrive like the cavalry on the scene, Good Book in hand, to lift up the Web rabble with the promise of Bedrock Standards and High Production Values? Or when the drawbridge is lowered just a little bit, will the masses simply storm the castle and repaint it electric blue and pink?"

That's easy to answer. I heard the same questions almost 20 years ago when desktop publishing started to challenge the printing industry. The answer is that you'll get both -- the high-standard material will coexist side by side with amateur hour. People will prove to be very accepting of poor production values if the material is compelling in some other way (YouTube already demonstrates this, where we cheerfully watch video of such poor quality that you'd call the cable company and complain if it came over your TV).

There will always be a market for the best productions, but in the future I think it'll be much harder to get away with charging high-quality production prices for shows or movies that aren't truly entertaining, because people will have a cheap alternative. The threat isn't to HBO, it's to the CW.

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