Hollywood Faces A Swarm Of New Competitors

from the video-startups dept

A lot of people seemed to be interpreting my post about the writer's strike a couple of weeks ago as taking the studios' side. That wasn't really my point. I don't know enough about the details of writers' compensations structures to have any opinion about which side is being more unreasonable in the dispute. Rather, my point was that a protracted strike is going to hurt everyone in Hollywood—studios and writers alike. There's a very real risk that a protracted strike will create an opening for outsiders to attract viewers who would otherwise be watching Hollywood fare, and that at the end of the strike a lot of those viewers might never come back. That would hurt the studios the most, obviously, but it wouldn't be good for the writers either.

Two recent stories illustrate the sort of threats Hollywood is facing. First, the New York Times profiles some of the many online video startups that have sprung up in the last couple of years. These sites develop a variety of different types of content and are built on a variety of different business models. Some are producing "webisodes": scripted, episodic video programs. Others are creating low-budget comedy clips to spread virally. For example, this silly clip of Will Farrell arguing with a 2-year-old has apparently racked up nearly 50 million views. At the opposite extreme, TechCrunch reports on Blowtorch, which has raised $50 million in venture capital to launch a new low-budget movie studio. The company plans to produce movies for about $5 million each, and has lined up 600 theaters near college campuses to show their movies. They're planning to solicit short films on their websites, and show the best short films on the big screen before their movies. It is, as TechCrunch puts it, "a movie company that is thinking like a cable channel": providing users with content whenever and whereever they want it, instead of trying to force users to watch content on the studio's schedule.

Now, it should be emphasized that it's far from certain that any given company will succeed. A lot of the content on these sites isn't that great. But with so many companies trying so many different approaches, it seems likely that some of them will create some hits. And if the flow of new content from Hollywood dries up, that's obviously going to create a huge opening for these sites. And once one of these companies creates a loyal following, Hollywood is going to find it awfully difficult to lure them back.



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    Haywood, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 6:16am

    Low budget doesn't have to suck

    Think; "Phone Booth". That movie had to be low budget, 1 primary set where well over 90% of it was shot, and it was a phone booth + the surrounding street scene. A few cop cars, a few uniforms, props didn't wear them out, wages had to be the biggest expense. Had that been shot with unknown actors, it could have been done practically for free. Thing is, it wasn't all that bad, a lot more has been spent on a lot worse films.

     

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      grapeshot, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 7:29am

      But Low Budget Often Does Suck

      Low budget doesn't have to suck, but it too often does. Most of the time it sucks not because the creators had no access to technology or distribution, but because they have no compelling story. At the heart of any good show is a good story, which takes the viewer on an emotional journey.

      While it is true that trolling through YouTube reveals millions of individual creative efforts, one also sees a depressing amount of self-indulgent, amateur garbage. Furthermore, all of it is small and intimate, suitable for viewing on a small computer screen. But what is there on-line that can fit our giant, big screen TVs with the 5.1 surround sound systems? I don't always want to be peering at a 4" by 3" little square on my computer screen.

      I am by no means an advocate for the media conglomerates. I agree with the premise of this post, that there is a revolution happening about the way stories get told to an audience, and the conglomerates can't seem to "get" it. BUT, I also see value in the studio system of culling, sifting, and shaping stories so that it is accessible to the broadest possible audience. (By the way, that's an audience that ranges from the simplest viewers to the most discerning and sophisticated ones.) This system, at its best, can create a "Braveheart" or TV shows such as "Lost" or "24", which no student with a videocam can easily create. Everybody notices the vast amount of "crap" that comes out of the Hollywood system, but no one remarks on how much great stuff that same system produces.

      At this point in the upcoming media revolution if I had to depend solely on whatever original content is on YouTube for my entertainment, it would be an awfully sad experience.

       

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        Kevin, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 8:25am

        Re: But Low Budget Often Does Suck

        By the same argument:

        Big budget doesn't have to suck, but it too often does. Most of the time it sucks because the creators had easy access to technology and distribution, and no compelling story. At the heart of any good show is a good story, which takes the viewer on an emotional journey.

         

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        chris (profile), Nov 19th, 2007 @ 11:04am

        Re: But Low Budget Often Does Suck

        I also see value in the studio system of culling, sifting, and shaping stories so that it is accessible to the broadest possible audience. (By the way, that's an audience that ranges from the simplest viewers to the most discerning and sophisticated ones.) This system, at its best, can create a "Braveheart" or TV shows such as "Lost" or "24", which no student with a videocam can easily create.

        yeah, that "lowest common denominator" stuff works up to a certain point, and we passed that point years ago. braveheart was original, but "the patriot" was not. "the rundown" was great, but "the marine" was terrible. for every original franchise (lord of the rings) there are several lackluster knockoffs (eragon) and sequels (spiderman 3).

        the problem is that for each jewel, there are a lot of rocks, and those rocks make the hollywood moneymen scared to back something that isn't a guarantee.

        TV is even worse. how many medical dramas and cop shows do we need to see in a given week? there are so many permutations of CSI and law and order on the air i can't wait for their writers to start plundering anime for new ideas (CSI mecha universe anyone? how about law and order: magical martial arts unit?) how many times do we need to see someone voted off the metaphorical island before TV can move on?

        if hollywood is feeling the heat from video games, indy media, and the web, i say "it's about time".

         

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    VX, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 6:40am

    Doesn't matter

    Hollywood still has a lot of money. The first successful startup to make any real impact will immediately be bought by one of the larger studios who will then systematically suck out any creative content. This is the same scenario played out every year when a newly successful or seemingly promising video game developer is bought out by Electronic Arts.

     

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    JC Weatherby, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 7:04am

    50M Drop in the Bucket

    $50M is not enough to compete with Hollywood. Roughly a third to half of this will have to be spent on marketing. They'll be lucky to have one breakout hit which puts them on the map. Part of their business plan should be to license distribution to the majors, who are in a much better position to get them "over the hump." They can then use this heightened profile to leverage their content across web and mobile platforms.

     

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    Eliot, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 7:04am

    I disagree...

    I, for one, don't have that great of internet and I'm not planning on viewing all my stuff on the internet. I think that Hollywood is going to change their methods ... but I think thats unrelated to the strike. As you point to, media is becoming an individualistic process.

    The strike may be bad for everyone involved, but I think it will be good (eventually) for the greater populace at large. It will hopefully weed out some of the weaklings.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 9:23am

    Sounds to me like this is only bad for the major studios. Good content needs writers, the writers will be okay in the end if they just keep doing what they are doing.

     

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    Max Powers, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 9:29am

    Low Budget - Big Hit

    I can't help but think of some low budget movies that became big hits. The writing was brilliant, the directing was right on and the actors became stars.

    Breakfast Club
    Dog Day Afternoon
    Twelve Angry Men

    to name few.

     

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    Bob Jonkman (profile), Nov 19th, 2007 @ 9:42am

    Parallel the Musician's Strike in the '40s

    The current writer's strike reminds me of the Musician's strike in the 1940's -- the orchestras of the big bands and backups for vocal stars argued with the record labels about royalties for recordings. While they were quibbling, the law of unintended consequences took effect, and small, individual bands took over where the large orchestras used to be. Rock'n'Roll was born, and no-one really listens to big band music any more.

     

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      Tim Lee, Nov 19th, 2007 @ 10:14am

      Re: Parallel the Musician's Strike in the '40s

      That's very interesting! Do you know of a source that fleshes out the connection to the rise of the modern recording industry? The Wikipedia article doesn't say much about that aspect of it.

       

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        Bob Jonkman (profile), Nov 19th, 2007 @ 10:39am

        Re: Parallel the Musician's Strike in the '40s

        I'm not sure I can find this online. I listen to a local jazz station JAZZ.FM91, and one of the hosts, Glen Woodcock mentioned this many years ago -- at least, that's where I think I heard it. You may need to contact him for primary source material...

        --Bob.

         

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    sonypinto, Apr 6th, 2009 @ 12:20am

    freenewmovies.com

     

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