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Let’s Decentralize the Entertainment Industry

Written by on 29/03/2005

Ted Turner has railed for decades about the negative impact centralization and giant mergers have had on the media, especially the news media. He spoke eloquently about this in the July/August 2004 issue of Washington Monthly in his article “My Beef with Big Media” He, and many producers like myself, believe that overly strident, profit-seeking corporations, with their blindly zealous attention to their bottom lines, are the primary force that is homogenizing American media and public knowledge into a frightening, potentially dangerous, unenlightened glob. For the average citizen, getting the news or being entertained by mainstream broadcasting is now primarily a function of being spoon-fed by major corporations, rather than exercising a choice from a truly diverse set of content sources. Often I feel we are being told what is news and what is entertainment by global conglomerates whose primary focus is not deciphering the differences between the two, but in implementing mass thought patterns, like FEAR, that serve specific political and/or marketing plans. These greedy corporations, often protected by government policies put in place through their highly paid lobbyists, have not only created a severe lack of programming diversity, but are a serious detriment to American innovation and entrepreneurship.

But rather than whining with many of my fellow professionals about what Big Brother is doing, and shrugging my shoulders at how impossible it is to deal with the studios, networks and cable television gatekeepers owned by these global conglomerates, myself and others have decided to do something about it. Many of us, instead, are dropping out of this mess and turning on-to acquiring, producing, and distributing entertainment digitally, globally, on the Internet. This is the true future of decentralization of media and entertainment. Oh, sure, I know what may of you are thinking-the many promises of the Internet have long since popped with the big economic bubble bust of a few years ago. And, yes, most of those greedy, V.C. driven promises were solutions in search of problems, delusions based on a belief in the big “I” of Internet, without regard for what was actually technologically possible and truly culturally or personally desired.
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But that was then and now is now, folks. And if I have to convince you that full motion, quality video is not only possible but now readily available on the Internet, for professional producers of quality programming, then you are either buying the self serving delusions that the studios, networks and cable entities are serving up to you, or you are ignoring or ignorant of the pornography video market’s dominance of “adult” entertainment on the Internet, or you simply haven’t explored or considered the digital distribution possibilities that are currently available on the Internet and the wide acceptance of broadband, not only in America, but around the world.

What this all means is that professional producers of non-porn, compelling, broadcast quality entertainment have an alternative to butting their heads against the gatekeepers of network and cable television, Hollywood, and DVD distributors. One can acquire, produce, and distribute libraries of broadcast quality entertainment from a bank of servers, using present and emerging Internet distribution methods that entirely bypass these gatekeepers and deliver quality news or entertainment into your living room over your television today.

And that’s what myself and others are doing right now. We’re ready to launch the next American and global entertainment production and distribution paradigm, just like Ted Turner did when he created CNN. And if Ted Turner is still the renegade I believe him to be, I’m looking for him to assist me in making this happen.

Yes, we need his capital.

Yes, we need his clout. But mostly, we need his spirit, his brain trust to pitch in on our vision of going bravely into this new world.

We will be rolling out our new paradigm for entertainment distribution on the Internet in the immediate months ahead. We are not creating something that is on its way and we’re getting there first, with the best content and distribution to your new television set, portable video device, laptop, and desktop computer. Are we the only ones coming to decentralize entertainment and news, liberate diversity, and create free choice for the minds and emotions of the average citizen? Certainly not. But we are the vanguard.

If you think for a moment that I’m kidding about the freedom of choice you are about to have in what you watch, when you watch it, and where, and the vital place the Internet plays in this development, ask yourself this: What has happened in the music industry?

First primarily illegally, and now legally via Ipods and other MP3 devices, music acquisition, production, and distribution has changed in a revolutionary way and the music industry has had no choice but to scramble to catch up and try and make some sense (money) out of the revolution. The music industry was decentralized, and the major gatekeepers and advertisers and conglomerate owners of audio had to abandon old practices and paradigms and accept that it’s a brave new world, change or die.

The very same thing, this decentralization, of acquisition, production and distribution, is happening to the visual industry, to the video industry. Hollywood is burying its head in the sand, saying it’s never going to happen, saying it takes too long to download a full length feature film, saying no one wants to watch entertainment on a tiny screen on their telephone, laptop or desktop sitting at their desk, they’re saying people only truly want to watch a big screen in a movie theatre or big plasma screen from their living room couches. They’re saying streaming video will never allow the same quality as their DVD’s and HDTV presentations of movies shot on 35mm film. They’re saying the video files are too big, they’re saying nobody can entertain like Hollywood, they’re saying only their blockbuster event pictures aimed at the global markets can truly be satisfying for the average American citizen looking for entertainment.

The truth of the matter is that they’re saying all this because they are at present a legacy industry, reliant upon trillions of dollars of production and exhibition/distribution technologies, and trillions of dollars of advertising and business paradigms that would have to radically change if they ever admitted that this brave new world is upon them. So, of course, they find every reason under the sun to try to convince us it’s all hype, it‘s all far into the distant future, it’s just a dream in an Internet geek’s eye, and laugh together as only the fat cats can.

Well, I’m not an Internet geek. I’ve been in film and television as a producer/director for over thirty years and I have directed prime time network dramatic television and produced movies-of-the-week and a documentary series and am a member in good standing in the Directors Guild of America. And to those in management in our industry that are saying all those things about how the present centralized way of acquiring, producing and distributing entertainment is not going to change soon I have but one thing to say: “BUNK”

Oh, some of what they say is true; the part about streaming video on the Internet not providing the same quality as their methods of distribution, for instance, is certainly true. But what they are ignorant of and/or don’t want you to know is that the future of distribution of video on the Internet is not going to be streaming, anyway.

The point they miss is that hard drive storage space is getting larger and larger in smaller and smaller cases, and that what is ahead is rapid downloading of entertainment on hungry, wireless portable hard drives that load up whenever it’s in a wireless environment (or when you’re asleep) and the entertainment is then transferred to your big plasma screen, surround-sound living room theatre through digital firewire and-BINGO you’ve got the movie you want, from the comfort of your couch, at DVD quality. And if you happen to get this movie from an Internet site that has producers like myself that know what American broadcast standards are, who pride themselves in producing quality entertainment with professional storytelling talents, using experienced, professional crews, and you like the subject matter and have a great time watching the compelling entertainment presented-do you really care about from whence it originates? Do you really care that it wasn’t produced by one of media conglomerates? I think not.

This is the decentralization that is coming. When certain pioneering professionals in the film and video industries begin acquiring, producing and distributing entertainment themselves, without having to contend with the traditional broadcast television gatekeepers and advertising-driven moguls. When certain Internet domains, in effect, become their own networks, offering video-on-demand, per-view or subscription, disseminating entertainment fare to the multitude of niches that mainstream television can never justify to its giant corporate advertisers.

We are, presently, in the DVD recording bridge era between the present and this brave new future. Just go to your local high tech department store. A friendly sales person will show you DVR’s in the television department, where more and more people every day are recording their favorite entertainment and then playing it back later, at a more convenient time, zapping out the commercials and not paying any attention to what network it aired on originally. Imagine a few months down the road when these same people look at the falling prices of large hard drives in small boxes and say to themselves, “Why mess with these round pieces of brittle plastic when I can download the same material onto my hard drive, store it, play it back when I want to, still zapping the commercials, and perhaps decide then to save it to a DVD, if I want a physical copy for my archive?” Is this frightening to the film, video and television industries? You bet it is. Will Peer-to- peer sharing of digital entertainment media, “piracy” as the centralized media owners call it, become rampant? It’s already started and, yes, it will become rampant. Is this good for the industry I love? No, not in the short term. It is inevitable? Yes, unless the movie and television industry decides to be proactive and do something about it. Will they? They probably will not. They will probably have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the brave new world. Does this make my colleagues and me happy? No, I’m not happy about it at all. A lot of us will get hurt in the short term. But we’re not just going to sit around and wither with the centralized media giants, either.

There is tremendous opportunity between where we are now and when the media giants finally make their move onto the Internet, when they will do their best, as the music industry has, to make it their next mode of distribution. There are extremely creative and lucrative business models which some of us will create that will embrace and take advantage of the decentralization of media and entertainment, models that do not entail having to have the deep pockets of Hollywood or the television networks. There are models that see decentralization as the beginning of a new era of diversity, openness, and global commerce heretofore unknown. These are in some ways very simple models, but elegant in their simplicity, lucrative in their inventiveness. And these are the things that we want to speak with you about, Mr. Turner.

We want to assist you in finishing the article you wrote last year that ended in the sentence “big media may again be on the wrong side of history–and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents.” We want to speak with you about embracing the decentralization of the brave new world beyond the traditional realms in which you have been such a heroic and pioneering giant. We want your advice, your backbone, and your vision. Together, we all can look at what Hollywood and mainstream broadcast television sees as the apocalypse and instead, see a revolution of independence, a birth of the new media. What just may emerge is the beginning of niche-rich entertainment, uniquely produced for diverse viewers by professionals with freedom.