Thursday, May 24, 2012

break something.

for most of my professional life i've been a digital/ marketing guy.

that is, helping big companies figure out how to best use the interwebs to... sell stuff. along the way i've been privy to seeing how the more traditional side of the house operates, often even working directly on such antiquated classic (but still relevant) things as television media/advertising. the latest iteration of my day-job has me mired in BOTH.

last week was both the 'Internet Week' and the TV Upfronts. for me, this was an intersection of the 2 media domains in which i operate - "digital" and "traditional" - which ironically, for me is old and new, respectively. i've always known this, but it really brought to life how badly something is going to (and must) fundamentally change, but more necessarily break.

Internet Week is when a bunch of internet companies (young, energetic, ambitious and fearless guys) playing in the marketing and media space get together, attend a bunch of conferences, have lot of conversations, and even make some announcements (think like a less cool, more network-schmoozey SXSW in NYC, minus the backdrop of great bands and breakfast tacos). i attended a few sessions, learned a few things and was inspired.

the TV Upfronts is when all the big TV networks (older, suited-up, also-ambitious guys) hold galas to unveil their "fall lineup" of new shows, talk about their POV on the industry, and throw big parties so media buyers can celebrity-spot their favorite small-screen actors. it basically kicks off of the buying season, where the big companies ("the advertisers") - along with their agencies - will start to secure some or most of their "TV inventory" for the next 12 months. i attended a couple of "upfronts" (NBC + ABC) - i was entertained (mostly by a bunch of TV trailers), and underwhelmed, by what has become a simple song-and-dance dog-and-pony show.

so what's the point of all this (i find myself asking this question more often than not)? the fundamental disconnect between "the way things have always been" and the ever increasing reality of technological disruption and media fragmentation (more and more people are consuming more and more stuff, in lots and lots of different places. TV ratings are going down (less consumer supply), prices are going up (more advertiser demand), and while (some) mass-media content is as good as it's ever been, most of it is entering a downward spiral of crap noise. if you disagree with me here, you probably watch stuff like "America's Kidz Can Sing" and/or don't get the reference.

but i digress.

smart application of and mass adoption of technology is a mostly-positive, constantly-changing force. we watch less and less programming on broadcast. more and more, we watch files, stream seasons (1-2 years post air-date), and in most cases, have no idea what network is underwriting it all (nor should we care?). but if everyone started consuming media the way i know i do, the model - of networks funding shows (appealing to broad or niche masses) in hopes of an immediate (often 'upfront'?) advertiser payout - fundamentally starts to break down.


so is technology the solution, or the cause? the chicken or the egg? the Paul or the John? or both? do/should writers/producers instead start posting their pilot-scripts and show ideas to Kickstarter and/or YouTube? Louis CK and Aziz Ansari posted full hours of comedic material for $5-10 apiece, and sold millions of streams/downloads. but they became who they were not just because of their raw talent, but mass media distribution. the same can be said for Thom Yorke and Trent Reznor and their "pay you want, just pay us directly" model of content distribution. it should be noted though, for every talented artist as those listed above, there are 10-100x more of the less-talented variety.

but what about the film/music creative geeks in a garage somewhere, who don't (yet?) have the benefit of a major network/label deal? where do they fall, and how are they nurtured/grown? of course we're going to see more grassroots, consumer-user-generated content. but you and i both know, it's not as good as season of the Wire/Friday Night Light or an album by the Beatles/Radiohead. but those ground-breaking creators didn't come up with their work overnight. they worked at it, got a few breaks along the way - in the form of rather large infusions of cash to tour, be creative - not to mention access to partnership, mentorship, and production. for the most part, it was only after then that they made it big(ger), then struck out into alternative models, paving the way for the rest.

we pay for what we get, and while free is great, we don't want crap content, or that which is overly mass/ad-influenced. trust me, i work in the (evil?) marketing industry, we want to do that. but we (the people) certainly don't want a crap consumption experience. so should we just sit back and hope that maybe the big boys will figure this out for us. that certainly is one (semi-likely) solution - so long as it suits 'their' short term interest, but we only net positive if 'they' are willing to play the true long-game of creating great content in hopes of long term returns. or is there something better/different that has not been fully realized (e.g. Kickstarter, crowd-funding, alternative/VC capital-funding)? frankly, such alternative-funding models have to match the alternate media/technology models that are causing so much disruption.

regardless, something is going to break. i want to see it happen. but i also want to see/make it get fixed for the better.

and maybe, just maybe, i can find my way in the middle of it, put in my headphones, and read my comic books.

6/4 update: my good friend Bob recently sent me this article, which pretty much says the same thing, but uses things like "data" and "facts":
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