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in Filmmaking
on Nov 12, 2007

In a post entitled ‘Rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley’s Image,” Netscape founder Marc Andreessen wonders whether the current WGA strike will alienate the current television viewing audience and hasten their flight towards new forms of mostly internet-distributed entertainment. (Thanks to Ted Hope for the link.)

From the piece:

I think the TV and movie industry is at a turning point where things could go either way — they could repeat the critical error of the music industry and permanently alienate their customer base; or they could get it together and create viable models for the future that make consumers happy and make money….

We all know the list: the Internet, social networking, user-generated content, blogging, video games, mobile phones, you name it. All the activities that consumers have discovered and adopted since the last writers’ strike in 1988, that they just love, and that have already been siphoning away time, attention, and money from TV and movies even without a strike.

Obviously, the less scripted television and film content that’s being produced, the more alienated consumers will shift over to all the new activities — and the less likely they will ever go back.

All of this, however, is a preamble to Andreessen’s larger point: that we may be near a reorganization of the entertainment industry in which programming is funded by Silicon Valley-style venture capital firms and distributed via the internet. Content creators will own their own companies and will not rely on the studios to distribute their wares.

Here is his anthemic conclusion:

As consumers — even alienated consumers — it would be sad to see the TV shows and movies we love not get made during a protracted strike. And certainly many people throughout the extended ecosystem of the entertainment industry — most of them not rich and not famous — will suffer financially.

However, in the event of a long-term strike, out of the ashes of the traditional model would — I believe — come the birth of certainly dozens, maybe hundreds, and possibly even thousands of new media companies, rising phoenix-like into the global entertainment market, financed by venture capital, creating amazing new properties, employing large numbers of people, and rewarding their creators as owners.

As an entertainment consumer, I’m ready for it, and I suspect you are too.

Hollywood, rebuilt in Silicon Valley’s image.

The blog posting is worth a read, although I’d say that there are large swatches of it that I don’t agree with. I think Andreessen overestimates the entrepreneurial business ambitions of most content creators; aggregates too many of them into what he imagines will be a creative owner class; and underestimates the costs and difficulty of duplicating some of the impossible-to-value and necessary things that Hollywood does well.

But, to riff on Andreessen’s posting, I’d agree that a propitious moment for the more dedicated creation of internet content could be arriving and that this would be an ironic outcome of the WGA strike. However, while the business environment may be tilting towards VC-funded entertainment, it’s not clear that artists have figured out how the aesthetic design and narrative structure of internet-based entertainment should both resemble and differ from those of television and the movies. So many of the internet success stories so far have been one-offs and viral videos which amass hundreds of thousands of hits in a short amount of time and then become just more disposable entertainment. I suppose that’s fine if you’re trying to sell soft drinks, but with very few exceptions the considerable promise of the internet as a distribution medium hasn’t excited an equivalent re-envisioning of it as a creative storytelling platform capable of entwining audiences into the possibilities of ongoing narrative.

Obviously, to be continued…

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