Famed Hollywood super agent Ari Emanuel (the model for Jeremy Piven's character in Entourage
, and the brother of Chicago mayor/former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel) doesn't have a particularly good history when it comes to his understanding of how technology and policy will develop. Two years ago, he insisted that he was talking to President Obama
about getting a three strikes law in place in the US. Last year, of course, he was excited about
new laws like SOPA/PIPA. That was at the AllThingsD conference, in which he chided a reporter at one point by saying that the reporter needs a history lesson and "the business of the movie business is DVDs."
This year, at the very same conference, he's changed his tune, but not his attitude or ignorance of technology. This year, he told the crowd that "the DVD business is gone"
and everything was about TV, TV, TV. Except, once again, he appears to be ignorant or (more likely) in complete denial:
Emanuel: Cord-cutting's not happening.
Walt: But cord-never is happening.
Emanuel: I don’t think so. I think when people get to a certain age, they pay. Somebody’s got to pay for this, or you’re not going to get premium content, and I think that’s more valuable than "two dogs doing whatever they’re doing on a couch."
Some of this appears to be just plain old wishful thinking and some of it is ignorance. The actual numbers
show that cord cutting is very, very real. Also, I'm getting pretty sick of the condescending ridiculousness where people insist that either we stick with the old model or all we have left are amateur animal videos (usually cat videos, but Ari went to the dogs). That's not just elitist. It's wrong. There's plenty of quality content that get produced outside of the traditional model, and the amount is growing. And, of course, the "somebody's got to pay for this" argument is a complete tangent. First of all, no, no one has
to pay for anything, but more importantly, there are all sorts of interesting business models developing that don't require people paying for a jacked up cable subscription. Second, just because you want
someone "to pay" for the content which pays your hefty salary, that has absolutely nothing
to do with the reality of cord cutting. It's like the CEO of a horse buggy manufacturer insisting that no one's buying automobiles because "someone's got to pay" for all those horse buggies.
A little tidbit from history: it was the guy
who left the horse & buggy business
and went on to found both GM and Chevrolet (despite being fearful of those "dangerous" machines) who ended up being successful. Not the guys who clung to selling horse and buggies.
Emanuel pays some lip service to technology innovation (he even seems to like the idea of crowdfunding), and talks about how involved he is in digital projects. But he still comes at it from the perspective of "how can these new technologies protect my old way of doing business?" And there, apparently, every problem is Google's fault, because they haven't created the magic "stop piracy" button. He repeatedly mentioned Google, and how they had to "stop helping people steal my clients' content." When asked how, he admitted he has no idea. When asked if he wants them to censor search results, he responded:
I don’t want them to censor results, but they have a bunch of smart guys there that can figure this stuff out.
You see? Magic "stop piracy" button.
Josh Topolsky, from The Verge, apparently challenged him on this point, asking: "Aren’t you saying that the road is responsible for the fact that someone drove on it before they robbed my house?" Emanuel didn't like this analogy:
That’s a stupid example. Look, Google can filter and does filter for child pornography. They do that already. So stealing is a bad thing, and child pornography is a bad thing.
Of course, this once again displays his ignorance. Child porn is easily identifiable by anyone
who sees it. There is no "legal" child porn. There is no "authorized" child porn. There is no "fair use" child porn. There is no condition under which that content is legal and there are no legal questions to be answered in filtering it. Copyright is entirely different. You can't just "know" if the content is infringing. As we saw in the Viacom case, companies upload authorized stuff all the time, and it's often impossible to distinguish from unauthorized content. Separately, you can't create an algorithm that detects fair use. Or the public domain. Point being: it's not that easy and it's silly to claim otherwise.
Emanuel, like many people, also seems to have a blindness for how the situation he's in is no different than the situation others have faced. He talks about how the music industry should have embraced Napster when it came along -- but when he's asked about embracing similar platforms for TV, he immediately says that's ridiculous, because "these things cost lots of money." Again, we're in "wishful thinking" land, where because the producers of content do little to keep down costs, old and obsolete business models must stay in place, and new and innovative platforms must be censored.
The comment that really sums up his worldview is when he's asked about changing market behavior, whereby people mutlitask while watching TV. He says:
“I’m okay with a little bit of disruption, and let’s see what happens. I dunno. I’m good with it.”
This is the common viewpoint of the legacy player about to be disrupted in a big, bad way. They always
insist that they're okay with disruption -- but in moderation. There are two really funny things about this quote. The first is the idea that disruption comes in bite-sized increments. That's not how it works. Disruption comes in massive waves that are unstoppable. And that leads to the second funny thing: he seems to think that his opinion on disruption and whether or not he's "good with it" matters to whether or not it will actually happen.
The disruption is already underway. And, for now, it looks like Emanuel's still hanging on to his cash-cow horse buggy business, while insisting that the road pavers really need to "do something" about those dangerous "automobile" things.