Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Content is King. Long live the King?

Ah, the eternal debate. What is content worth? I remember those idealistic days in the 1990's, prior to the first internet bubble collapsing, when the mantra was "content is king." That concept, like the business model accompanying that first wave of utopian euphoria, is a nostalgic memory now.

Last weekend, I attended a workshop on "alternative" fund-raising and distribution. The idea that, in the digital age, content is rapidly being devalued has taken root at the grassroot level. Mind you, presenters included people who had screened films at Sundance and a very well-regarded documentary filmmaker. What were the underlying messages of the day for me? The film industry is potentially heading for a disaster similar to what happened to the recording industry as digital bandwidth increases. Markets will continue to fragment, leaving smaller and smaller economic rewards (however, people willing to serve these smaller markets will be able to make money off of them, if they know what they're doing). We are heading for a world where the content will be less valuable than all the ancillary materials surrounding the content.

What? That's right, the stuff around content will be what earns the content producer money, not the actual content itself. O.K., I am just reporting, so please don't scream at me. I am way too feeble minded to make such sweeping predictions. However, once you get past the shock of the idea of relatively valueless content, it's not such a revolutionary idea. All the way back in the 1970's George Lucas understood the concept of ancillary materials being more valuable than the actual content. In the original deal for Star Wars, Lucas gave up the right to profits from the actual films in exchange for exclusive ownership of all the ancillary products related to the films. Love him or hate him, I think it's safe to say that given studio accounting, he did quite a bit better peddling action figures than working under a traditional deal.

According to what I heard at the conference, small content producers are going to have to get used to the idea of giving away content and learning how to create and (I hate this word) monetize their content through creating an experience to accompany the content. Find, or create, a community (rather than an audience), serve it, and then rely on it for financial support. A poster child for one model using this approach is Jill Sobule, who raised the funds to make her last album from her fans prior to recording it.

Anyway, here are two groups that sponsored the conference: The Workbook Project and Current TV. Here is a link to the conference itself, DIY Days.

I do know that things are getting painfully tight for smaller content producers who are trying to produce content of substance. What can a consumer of media do? Be mindful of all your purchases, including web clicks and when you give your personal information away (that is ultimately what is most valuable to the people with the stuff to sell). How many cable channels do you need? Are you willing to watch content that is essentially one long commercial because of product placements (which seems to be one potential scenario as far as content delivered on the web)?


West Egg Productions said...

hey man... it's eric horn... they ny eric from jim's class. nice blog. feel free to check mine out. it's just a fun blog tho. nothing necessarily film-centric.

Luke said...

Very good points about how much harder it's becoming to produce worthwhile content, it's going to be interesting to see how the entertainment industry is transformed in the next few years.

Also, as a side note, the sales of vinyl records have been shooting through the roof, while CD's have gotten lower. It seems that vinyl has become the best of both worlds: top-notch quality, along with the geeky collective-nature of it.

Craig Mieritz said...

And as an added benefit, vinyl is more work to digitize/pirate. Unless cassettes make a comeback too.

Eric said...

Cali Eric here from Jim's class...

Oh cool, you went.

Say, you know, they have these nifty usb turntables now....

BTW, that great eBay deal... Jim said you talked to him about it. Yep, it was me that won.