The More Things Change

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the fate of Television and Film. Ipod Video, MySpace, YouTube and others are gaining momentum and splitting our time away from traditional media. This has many pundits curious and others worried for the future of the entertainment business. I can't really enter the debate with any definitive prediction but I would have to say that I am optimistic. Change will happen, that is inevitable.

The end of film was projected over 50 years ago with the increasing popularity of the television. Others thought that television would be nothing more than a novelty. Both were wrong. Moderation of viewership didn't sway the ship either way. Television is different than projected films and the internet is different too. Going out for 'dinner and a movie' is a different activity than an evening watching television or a Saturday night DVD. Ipod Video, Internet or PSP tend to be much more individual in nature. It is hard to imagine the family sitting around the YouTube agreeing on what 30 second short they'll watch at any given time. How does this affect the industry? The feature film industry is getting nervous because attendance is down but why is it down? Is it because of the endless sequels and repackaged television shows? Is it because studios are afraid to get behind creative filmmakers? Some suggest that it's because lawyers and accountants have taken control of the content (which seems to make as much sense as writers and directors taking control of the books...). I can understand people wanting to be creative but at some point they'll have to see how they undermine their own profits. Maybe we need some new David O Selznicks...?

Feature films don't appear to have any trouble finding an audience if they are original and engaging. Last years Oscar films were very successful in terms of budget vs. return. A few years ago Lord of the Rings made over a billion dollars (and it'll make money for many years to come). It's hard to make a good film but maybe the more you trust the filmmakers to dictate the content, the more you'll get those gems. Betting on the safe sequel or the safe remake limits the audience potential. Hollywood needs vision and it needs to trust the visionaries. 'Heaven's Gate'? Sometimes. And sometimes you get The Godfather.

As for the future of television and film? Look into your own crystal ball because I don't know the answer. What I know is that whatever it is, people want good content. They want entertainment and they want to be moved. There will always be an ebb and flow, the industry is dynamic. Time will tell what is novelty and what is practical. The iPod is doing so well because it's the culmination of the portable cassette tape and cd walkman. It took portable audio to the next level. It's much more convenient as it's smaller and can hold your entire music collection. Audio lends itself to the portable. Will video flourish the same way? It's a novelty right now. It's the modern version of the cassette walkman... Time will tell.


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