What Happens After We Kill Big Media?
Few topics unite the denizens of technology like attacking big media. With righteous indignation, we accuse them of greed, fault them for failing to adapt, make concerted efforts to bring about their demise, and blame them for trying to break the internet -- all while we share their files and scrape their content.
There’s been endless debate about who’s right and who’s wrong, but let’s move past that and assume their downfall is inevitable. Regardless of big media’s efforts, legal or otherwise, I suspect the Internet will eventually win. So what happens then? And do we really want to live in a world where Hollywood is dead?
I like movies, and judging by the Tweets during the Oscars, the tributes to Star Wars, and the anticipation of the next Batman film, most of you like them too. But movies are expensive to make, each one costing the equivalent of a series-D Facebook funding round. Up until now, the lack of bandwidth has been the only thing that has prevented Hollywood from collapsing like the music business. But as bandwidth increases, that too will change.
In a post-Hollywood world of leaner budgets, there would be no "Lord of The Rings," no "The Dark Knight," and no "Moneyball." On TV, there would be no "Mad Men" and no "Lost." Disruption of Hollywood revenue streams would result in a new economic reality that would dictate expensive shows being replaced by cheaper programs like "The Jersey Shore." Consider a future where this is the norm, and ask yourself if this is really the desired outcome.
As much as I would hate to lose movies, the demise of newspapers is an even more frightening prospect. Investigative journalism, the kind that uncovered Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, costs money. And as newspapers have been forced to cut staff, so too has their ability to perform this type of work.
Some suggest that newspapers will be replaced by citizen journalism. But social media is largely a distribution tool. The BBC, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post account for 80% of the links from bloggers. What happens when the source material (these four properties) can no longer afford to provide the reporting? Does anyone really think a Huffington Post Top 10 list is a replacement for the NY Times? Who will act as the Fourth Estate, and what credibility will they have when they are more obligated to self-promotion than journalistic integrity?
One area of Hollywood’s importance that people rarely consider is its role as America’s greatest ambassador. Even in nations generally hostile to the United States, American-produced movies and music reign supreme. The value of this influence cannot be underestimated.
Hollywood has been far more effective at spreading American culture, ideals and aspirations than any war or formal propaganda effort. Because of this, American companies often enjoy pre-existing acceptance in foreign markets. Brands like Nike, Coke, and Apple are seen as part of an aspirational American culture that provide an inherent competitive advantage across the world.
While the Internet helps spread Hollywood content, international preferences for consuming that content will only continue for as long as it is superior. If our studios are forced to cut budgets to Bollywood levels and the global population no longer embraces American entertainment, our brands, even our culture, loses an immeasurable advantage in the global marketplace.
My intention is not to debate the morality or legality of copyright law and, like most of you, I agree that SOPA was not the answer. But I do believe that the end of big media will have negative ramifications that we have not considered, while we rashly call for its downfall.
The Internet will ultimately win, and we can take solace in knowing that there is no stopping the march toward that future. So instead of simply attacking big media for being the enemy, we should consider what our world would look like if they fail. The distribution models of the Internet are only valuable as long as there is content worth consuming.
In that light, instead of “disrupting” Hollywood without regard and calling for its demise, perhaps -- like Apple and Amazon -- we should look for ways to ensure that they can continue to produce the media that we now take for granted.