The frightening future of the entertainment industry

In light of last week’s posts  about the entertainment industry’s effort to enact the legislation called SOPA (here and here), I saw a couple of items early this morning that reminded me that much of the reason that industry wants to out-legislate what it can’t out-innovate is the frightening future they face. And I’m not referring to the intellectual property they own being pirated. I’m talking about the way in which the talent that creates that intellectual property is, more and more, going to jump ship (to continue the pirate metaphor) from companies that attempt to hold on to business models created in the age of I Love Lucy.

Here are the items: First, an article in this week’s New Yorker about YouTube developing new “channel” relationships with content companies — a strategy that is laying the groundwork for original programming from artists, online news organizations and others who can provide a  steady stream of content appealing to a niche audience. According to the author of the article, when the studios and others wouldn’t work with YouTube for existing content (ala Netflix), YouTube developed a strategy to provide creators of programming access to unlimited airtime, rather than the scarce airtime provided them by traditional network and cable channels.

“But what’s the big deal?” you might ask. People are still going to want to watch programming on their big HD TVs and for that, you need cable and networks and the quality they can provide — not YouTube (he said, rhetorically).

Well, according to a worldwide study by Accenture released today, the number of consumers who watch broadcast or cable television in a typical week plunged to 48% in 2011 from 71% in 2009. Accenture says TV is losing ground to other devices – mobile phones, laptops and tablets. (And besides, you can stream video onto those HD TVs in dozens of ways, whenever you want the big-screen experience.)

Bottomline: When it comes to what video programming and distribution will become in the next decade and beyond, we’re about where network TV was when I Love Lucy debuted.

It’s a scary time for the entertainment industry. No wonder they’d like to put off the future as long as they can.

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What my congressman, a SOPA sponsor, told me

Yesterday, I wrote about a meeting I attended with my congressman and friend, Jim Cooper.

I shared in that post my opinion of the legislation known popularly (and unpopularly) as SOPA. In short, I oppose the legislation and view it as nothing more than an attempt by the entertainment industry to out-regulate what they can’t out-innovate. I also believe that by fighting battles on the field of copyright and intellectual property law and by using the term “piracy” to label activities that may not only  be legal, but be beneficial to the copyright holder, we are in a place where a lot of bandwidth is being directed at trying to convince the other side(s) (no matter what side you’re on) rather than finding ways to evolve our understanding of what the internet is and what its potential can be.

Yesterday, I wrote that Jim Cooper is a very smart and intellectually curious individual. I appreciate, also, that he believes big problems can be broken down into parts so that they can be better understood. I agree with that approach, as well.

He suggested that those of us around the table probably agree on 95% of what’s in the legislation. I have no reason to believe his statistic is correct or in-correct, but I agree there’s probably a lot of fluff included in the legislation, most of which is designed to bury the contentious parts. (I also believe what I just said was a snide way to say, I agree with him.)

I also agree with the most important take-away and challenge Jim Cooper provided the group. In essence (I wasn’t taking notes), he said, “This is Nashville. We have the music industry here. We have a lot of talented technology people here. We should try to work together to address the issues we don’t agree on here. If there’s a way to solve the issues by working together, then Nashville should be where that happens.”

While I’m not quite sure we have the tech chops in Nashville equivalent to the music chops here, I do know that inside and outside those Nashville music companies that are endorsing SOPA are lots of extremely smart tech people who understand what their executives don’t. I know there are lots of creative, entrepreneurial and tech-savvy students and recent graduates from schools like Belmont’s music business program and Vanderbilt’s engineering and business schools who completely comprehend all the facets and nuances of the issues, musically and technically and business(ly?). And I know that if there are good alternatives to crappy technology (say, the MP3), then people who care about music (say, customers and fans) are willing to pay for it if they understand the value.

So, what Jim Cooper said perhaps should be listened to by those in Nashville who want to embrace the reality of the internet today and look for ways to innovate rather than legislate wherever possible.

Perhaps someone should write a song about this.

(Illustration: Polar bears having a snowball fight. It’s a Nashville thing.)

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