When I first started iHollywood Forum with my wife six years ago, my Uncle Irv from Castro Valley was skeptical about the idea of public conversations about digitized Hollywood content.
“Hollywood just makes crap for TV and movies,” he groused, showing a proper Bay Area disdain for all things L.A. “What’s there to talk about?”
“We’re not really talking about what’s in the programming,” I protested. “We’re talking about the new technologies for distributing and monetizing it: the Internet, cellphones and so forth.”
Technology, after all, makes Silicon Valley run, so Irv was satisfied. And so was I, going on to produce dozens of seminars and conferences about distributing and monetizing content.
But, coming off a 10-day meditation retreat, I find the content issue niggling at me. Here we have all this media consolidation happening: with News Corp (Charts, Fortune 500) bidding $5 billion for Dow Jones (Charts); Thomson chasing Reuters in a possible $17.5 billion merger; and Clear Channel Communications, Cablevision and Tribune in private equity firms’ crosshairs. These guys all want to put exabytes of TV shows, movies, games, newspapers, video footage, newspapers and other content on the Web, cellphones, XBoxes, home networks, portable DVRs, and every other imaginable platform and monetize it every conceivable way.
The problem is that the vast majority of the stuff is junk. At the risk of alienating my core audience (and my kids): most of the material on TV is mindless; most movies are designed to maximize studio cash flow, not enlighten audiences; most cellphone games are inane (bowling, anyone?); most news outlets toady to their readers’ basest leanings — to say nothing of gambling, sex and more dangerous “content” accompanying it all.
If this content is king, let me out of the kingdom.
Admittedly, there’s plenty of great content out there, too. I love what’s happening with music, although — ironically, from the column’s standpoint — it’s being monetized the worst. There’s news on the Internet from great outlets like the Wall Street Journal (at least until you-know-who buys it), the New York Times and Reuters. And some TV shows, chat rooms, games (the massively social networking kind), virtual worlds, movies and other content deserve to be on as many platforms as possible.
But if this is all about catering, as we do today, to the lowest common denominator to maximize cash flow on as many platforms as possible, what are we creating? What does constant exposure to junk and worse do to the minds of our children and our communities? What legacy are we leaving the world? Do we really aspire to make lots of money and nothing more of our lives?
For years, I’ve dreamed about doing a conference exploring these issues. The problem is, no one would come. There’s no money to be made.