The New Broadcast

In a post a few days ago I made the statement, “The Web Is The New Broadcast.”

The more I think on this, the more research I’m doing, and the more the numbers support this.

Wired News recent article on the “meganiche” paints a whole new picture for the world of IP and Internet based entertainment, specifically where it concerns video.

Allow me to give an example.

In the US, the Networks use the (admittedly flawed) Nielsen ratings to determine the success or failure of a television show and it’s commensurate portion of demand of the ad upfront dollars each year.

For example of a “hit” show, we’ll use last Monday’s airing of “Hereos” which had a 6.7/16 rating.

The 6.7 means approximately 7.3 million households watched (for reasons that are as muddy as Alabama roads after a good rain, 6.7 rating doesn’t mean 6.7 million seperate people watching, but number of households in which a television is tuned to a broadcast… 1 ratings point is approximately 1.1 million households – strange, but true.)

The 16 number means that approximately 16% of the total viewing audience (of households watching television at that time) watched the show.

Which when boiled out means that approximately 40 million households watched TV during Primetime on Monday night.

For comparison, YouTube on any given day, will stream 100 million videos, and up.

Take a good look at that math folks.

Let’s put that in context of YouTube. If 16% of YouTube’s daily streams were of a single show, that would result in an audience of 16 MILLION. Or more than double the number that watched it in the US alone according to Nielson. We can all pretty much count on that number continuing to go up… way up.

That my friends, changes everything about the Broadcast business.

Now, here’s the next component of the Great Broadcast Shift; people still like being programmed TO. Not all of us want to spend our time clicking on endless links to this that or the other thing. Especially not when it’s ten links to the same damn video.

We certainly all get emails from acquaintances of ours telling us to click on a link for something “good” or something funny. What’s the first thing most of us do when we get these links? Delete? Oh no, the very first thing we all do is we consider the source.

WHO sent it to us? If it’s someone who thinks like we do, we’re very likely to click on that link or watch the video (or read the email). If it’s not someone who’s tastes we’ve found are very similar to our own, we usually delete without a second thought. And the question of “WHO” is distinctly individual and human (as opposed to a Network sending me a link, as a faceless, committee driven corporation).

Therein lies the key to the new broadcast.

People themselves will become the new Networks. People who are passionate about certain types of shows will blog, and program their own RSS feeds of content that will include their favorite shows (and maybe even in HD!), and talk about them, and get them watched by numbers of people that Network broadcast could never even dream of reaching without massive ad budgets.

I think that the only way Networks could survive this shift, is for them to find their own unique programming voices, and program feeds to work with those voices. I think people are tired of being programmed to by a nameless, faceless committee of Network Executives. In more general terms, I think people are sick of having large corporations decide what “the audience” wants to see. (Case in point, Fox’s cancellation of Firefly in 2005, and the subsequent drumming Fox got from the online community).

If the audience can find voices that they relate to, understand and can have dialogues with, and they happen to program their own video channels, I believe these will replace traditional corporate broadcast networks.

For example, if Mark Cuban suddenly decided to start programming his favorite (HD please!) videos into a “channel” that I could tune into and stream, or segments of on-demand (and of course, Mark would basically syndicate the content from the owner, and both would share in ad revenues, or subscription fees, etc.) you can bet that I would put that on my list of feeds (channels) to watch, because I’m interested in the way Mark thinks, and God bless the guy for having the time to program stuff that he likes, because I just don’t have the time to wade through all the crap programs out there. I would know that Mark has standards that I think are acceptable. I would know I’m probably not going to get feeds of Flava Dave.

We are already starting to see a fair amount of this kind of programming with people doing their own webcasts/podcasts of (usually unsigned) music where the rights allow. (An aside, I think the music biz would benefit immensely if they syndicated their content to whoever wanted to stream it, if they were guaranteed parts of the ad sales of the programming and there was a backend that could handle that). This is similar in concept to Pandora and their Music Genome Project. I think this is truly the direction of the future, especially when you consider that a succesful Podcast has it’s own “little niche market” and those niche markets can be well north of a million people with a very specific set of tastes.

It’s coming for video and I certainly hope someone figures out how to effectively monetize this new economy, so that selfish old me can just keep finding ways to make stuff:)

YouTube & The New World

Continuing the train of thought from last nights post, as the new world of YouTube and IPTV emerge, the changes in the media industry landscape are as inevitable as the falling needle on my gas gauge as I schlep from the Valley to Beverly Hills and back each day.

Many, many more people find themselves with the tools and the opportunities and the channels to tell their own stories and show off their own talents to a global audience – I think Wired summed it up thus: “Blood will flow in the gutters of Hollywood.”

There is a palpable fear here in Hollywood these days. It swells up from the many ranks of the mediocre, and those interested in protecting their high-overhead salaries and it is rippling across many of those in the ranks of the largest and smallest of companies.

The more I think about this situation, and whether or not I should be trying to protect my very hard-won position in Hollywood, and all these new opportunities… there is a bigger question than protectionism that looms large.

How in the hell do we now create compelling, exciting, and entertaining content in this brave New World that series like LonelyGirl has created? No more is the web a simple (or even complex) place to put “added value” materials all angled towards driving people back to a Network Broadcast.

The Web Is the Broadcast.

And we should be striving as content producers and creatives to design new forms of content from the ground up around it. LonelyGirl worked not only because of good writing and producing, but they successfully created an entire character and world for the show. They had staff answering emails written to the characters, and they were writing back IN CHARACTER. When people had comments about things happening in her life, or things she’d said and giving advice to her character, the producers listened and let those things become elements of the story.

In essence, they created the world of a Game, where a user can immediately affect change and reactions, and wedded it to what used to be a passive medium.

This is the new benchmark of television entertainment. It demands a whole new way of thinking about story, about audience, and audience interaction, and about the levels of character you as the storyteller must create. No longer is it just lines in a script, and a conversation with your actors over dinner about their hypothetical “backstories.” You must have all of that in your head and then let it inform the audience and the characters through script, through your directing, through the blog entries, the emails, the MySpace pages of your characters, whatever it is, it has to work on a lot of different levels.

And we, as creatives and technical professionals should all be excited, EXCITED!! by these challenges to push us way out of our envelopes and into something new… and yes, we should be scared too. Because if we sit around and keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll find ourselves usurped by the next generation of storytellers who don’t take very well to being spoon-fed their entertainment.

Now is the time for those of us already working and living in the industry to take a good hard look at all our premises of character and storytelling and figure out how to tell great stories as a whole, and part of those stories I’m sure will be video/film, but there will be much more to it than that. Look at game shows and reality shows and documentaries and figure out how to invest your audience as quickly as you can… and we’ll find ways to create amazingly successful shows that may or may not ever be seen on the old Networks. (Though I for one, would love to launch a YouTube or Revver based show, never intended for broadcast and just buy commercial time on the Networks to tell people to go watch a show on YouTube…. just for the hell of it! That time is coming:).

Good luck to us all.

LonelyGirl & The New World

Once in a while, I do get tired of finding a million different ways to say “things sure are interesting right now” in my business.

In reading the latest installment of Wired Magazine and their series of articles about YouTube and LonelyGirl15 and all the buzz and phenomenon of User-Generated Content, it’s hard as a media professional to not see the writing on the wall anymore.

While Hollywood for a long time has been THE place to go to become a television or film producer, director, writer or actor, and we have always prided ourselves on picking out talent and paying them handsomely, many of us face a sudden onslaught of competition not just from the other people who have struggled long enough to prove to the world (the “world” meaning to Hollywood:) that they should be paid well to be creative, but from any person who picks up a camera and has Internet access…

There is, however, one part of this equation that a lot of people are leaving out. The person with the camera and Internet access still has to have talent.

They have to be people with unique voices and experiences, AND enough technical knowledge that they can craft compelling characters and stories.

We all seem to forget that well before film & television, there were plays and storytellers and dramatists throughout ancient societies. Anyone who opened their mouth and could speak, could tell a story to people. But as with any other talent, there were those, such as Aeschylus
who could captivate and weave stories and characters that resonated with their audiences.

The mediums of film & television, from the technological standpoint, in essence created an entirely new set of opportunities (that of telling stories to a mass audience) but it also created an entirely new set of obstacles to those who would wish to tell stories. If you were not fortunate enough to have some film school pedigree, or the money to finance your own (well done) short film or calling card, or knew someone “in the biz” – you were very likely to toil for many years in obscurity before giving up and getting “a real job.”

What this has done for the last three-quarters of a century, has been to create an economy of scarcity of talent, when in fact, it’s highly possible there isn’t a scarcity of talent.

Digital, Schmigital

I absolutley love being in the middle of an industry full of upheaval and change, and trying to figure out how to create new economics of production and whatnot, especially in my new role at Endemol.

As of October 1, I’ve been made the new Director of Production, Digital Media for Endemol. Which is really damn cool.

In fact, our CFO gave me a great opportunity to pretty much build a new digital studio from the ground up. We are hard at work setting ourselves up to be the fastest turnaround, highest margin digital production company in the area and it’s exciting to be able to play a large role in that.

At the same time, I keep coming back to debate this great “everything should be free because it now it doesn’t cost anything to distribute it” thing.

I think we need to draw a clear distinction between the pieces of art (or commerce) that can be created by one person, and therefore very low or no cost, and those pieces of art that are commerce that cannot be created by just one person or as a hobby.

A painting, a drawing, a jam session with a band, all hobbies. All things that can be done in spare time.

Creating compelling stories of quality on video, film, or otherwise, all take very long days, from many people, over a period of dedicated time to create. Even the smallest of small short films I worked on where *everybody* worked for FREE and we only paid for the permits and equipment necessary to create “quality” film (properly lit, etc.) cost $5,000 and that was with a ton of donations. The next smallest short film I did was $70,000. A single episode for Discovery Channel I produced with a 4 person crew, over 4 weeks plus editing and travel? $300,000 – and no one was making *that* much money on that show either.

These are not costs that can be recouped on “The Long Tail,” because by the time we make the money back on onesie and twosie sales, we’ve been bankrupt for 10 years already. The inital outlays of capital it takes to make this stuff has to be recouped somehow.

For those that say “by advertising” I’d like to point out there is NO upfront market for any other distribution platforms except Network Television – and therein lies the rub.

Perhaps if there were an upfront auction for windows of advertising attached to properties *before* they are released, that could change the economics. Or, perhaps content producers could do a deal where a digital distributor pays an upfront for a certain number of downloads and streams – enough to where the content producer can afford to keep making content.

The world of digital is changing things rapidly, but there are a lot of questions regarding what the viable model is for all this. It’s out there, but I don’t think anyone has hit on it yet.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out. In the meantime, I’m busy working on making productions themselves as streamlined and as efficient as it can be so that when the models DO start making sense, that we make enough to make a living, and enough to keep telling the stories, and creating the entertainment that people enjoy.