In the old days, content was king. He who owned the content could control the platforms that delivered it. This is how Hollywood got rich. But content is not a fixed thing. It is more like a flow. It was therefore not enough, for example, to own one TV show to have any control over TV as a platform. But if one could own a flow of TV shows over time, one could exert tremendous influence. Ditto for movies, sports and even music. That tremendous influence came close to injecting meaning into the lives of millions.
So for us budding entrepreneurial platform designers, eager to take over the universe, the billion dollar question is how does one control a flow of content? When there was a shortage of media outlets, this meant owning the talent. In Hollywood, for example, it was no accident that stars were “under contract” to studios. And even after the stars rebelled, the studios still owned or controlled the production talent.
Fast forward to the internet era. One hears these days that the above business model is breaking down because the internet has, or is in the process of, balkanizing content creation and distribution. The great gatekeepers of yore no longer can lock down content. The content cat is out of the licensing deal bag, so to speak. This is true to a certain extent. The internet has opened the doors to anyone who has access, ambition and talent to gain a following. But so far, this has not destroyed the gatekeeping business. Hollywood still does its thing pretty much the way it always has. It still is the preeminent manager of content flow. And it maintains this status despite the near universal sense that most of what Hollywood does is not very good. Weird, non?
Why does Hollywood still exist when content gatekeeping should be a relic of the past? The answer is that not all content is equal. There is quality content (that audiences crave) and there is the other stuff (that struggles to attract eyeballs). While we may deride Hollywood, we should also admit that it still knows how to manage the flow of quality content better than anyone else. And I mean this in a relative sense — quality content need only be good enough to lock down our eyeballs for a limited time. Who cares, for example, whether Batman is high art if it has no more engaging rival?
This is a problem that internet disruption has yet to solve. We might put it this way — the rest of us are not very good at understanding, let alone producing and distributing quality content. So, for example, this blog and thousands and thousands of other blogs do not keep Hollywood execs up at night. Ditto for tweets and Facebooks posts. Or as Mr. Scott-Herron said, “the revolution will not be televised”. The reason is simple, if a bit humbling. It is not engaging enough.
But what if the rest of us could learn how to create and manage flows of quality content? That would be something new. It would require a permanent start up mentality (because each module of content needs individual attention). And it would require re-dedication to the creative process of content generation. Hmmm … and we would need a way to pool talent that comes together and disperses as teams are needed. Nice idea?
This is where things get interesting. To recap - we are focused on managing a flow of quality content. As a process, this includes generating ideas for what is next, turning them into products, distributing them and getting paid for it. Note that I converted content vehicles (movies, TV shows, songs, etc.) into a more abstract category (products). When you strip it down to this level of abstraction, the process looks like it could be mastered. Indeed, isn’t this pretty much the same sort of process Jobs et al have been working on the tech business in order to speed up the flow of developing new devices and software? And, btw Jobs was very good at this. Hmmm …
So, drum roll please! Time to move from abstraction back to reality. If the great and mighty in the tech world are so good at this type of process, why doesn’t the tech industry move beyond just making new and better devices and software? Let us be blunt. Why hasn’t the tech industry taken over Hollywood? Hint - it is not due to a lack of capital or desire.
This is a pretty interesting question. And in case you are wondering, there are signs that tech giants are thinking hard about this as they try to move computing from the office to the living room (where Hollywood is still king) and beyond (where no one is king yet). In a recent series of posts, Cringely addresses why Silicon Valley has not succeeded yet in taking over Hollywood. I won’t steal Cringey’s thunder here. But I would recommend that you check out his three part series. Part One. Part Two and Part Three. It is a good read — and a good starting point to think further about managing flows of quality content. Something that I think about quite a bit.
And if you are interested in Hollywood, you might check out this fun story about how Hollywood “works”. Yes, it is the magic moment to dive into a great story!