Wednesday, March 25, 2009

When do we get paid?

Really interesting story in AdAge (I saw it originally here). If you create media, it is an absolute must read. It pretty well torches the "if you build it, they will come (and someone will pay for their eyeballs)" model of revenue generation (as does this opinion piece in the Economist) . And, well, getting people to pay for content directly in 2009? Yeah, ok, right. We seem to be fast approaching that mythical moment when content itself is valueless. Smart people suspected this was coming, but nobody seems to have a coherent response. The only response that I've heard to date that directly addresses the problem is creating community around your content and getting people to pay for what's surrounds the content, not the actual content itself. That and people saying that you need to be flexible, be able to do 10 different things. But aren't people already doing that? How many balls can we juggle?

It's a great time to make media. Film schools are churning out tons of able graduates and technology has made professional level results attainable by nearly everyone. Sadly, it's a horrible time to make a living off of it. Many types of production, including Hollywood, are hurting, bigtime. There are hardly any features in production or scheduled for production in Los Angeles. Low-budget reality programs gobble up a large segment of TV time. I've been hearing rumors that union types are turning up on low-budget indie shows. I know that there's a lot of schadenfreude out in Indieland about Hollywood's hard times. I'm not sure why, because aside from lower production costs, most indie productions are in the same boat as far as generating revenue. When you're 24 maybe it's not so important but how long are you willing to work for nothing, or close to it, with no health insurance? Last year I attended a conference where a development executive from a major production company gloated about how cheap webisodes are to produce, given "there are so many kids out there who live with their parents and are willing to work for $50/day." Is that our future?

This time, it may be different. The SAG thing has the Producers playing hardball and the disappearance of Wall Street money both have had a severe impact on production. But, beyond these two transitory events, there are serious structural economic issues that need to be resolved. And the implications are profound for all of us, including indies. Someone has to pay for content, somehow, if any of us want to survive. That is true for web, theatrical, TV, DVD or any other form of distribution, regardless of how low the entry costs are. Unless you like living with your parents.

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