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5 Media Trends That Will Reshape Entertainment

by Joshua Yancey 5 years ago in entertainment / industry / movie / pop culture
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Video killed the radio star. What might kill the video star?

How Victorian England imagined the year 2000.

In 1968, a documentary was released entitled The Shape of Films to Come. It was an overview of the film entries for Expo ’67 and its various attempts to predict the future of cinema, both technically and artistically. In the nearly fifty years since these ideas were first put forth, not much has changed. However, many of the concepts filmmakers of the time were attempting to tackle have suddenly become possible.

For example, the Canadian Film Board’s entry was a film that utilized 5 screens placed in a cross shape to create an immersive type of film unlike the standard projections of the day. Watching it now, one can clearly see the parallels to Virtual Reality.

Much like the Victorian predictions of what the world would look like in the year 2000, the concept was correct, but the execution turned out to be far more elegant than anyone could have imagined. Predicting exactly what the future of entertainment will look like can leave you feeling a little like the people in those Victorian illustrations, but there are some general trends that will disrupt the media space in short order.

1) Online Distribution—How the End Begins

It’s not exactly news that the internet is killing TV, but the specifics of this premeditated murder seem to be evading most prognosticators who base their thinking around technological developments. A better predictor would involve understanding how this affects the writers and filmmakers who must confront this new system.

When I worked in film and television, “pilot season” hit New York every February like a bad cold. The entire industry would exhaust themselves working crazy hours to get pilots ready for one of the impending showcases where TV gods decide what gets picked up. It’s brutal, creates way more bad shows than good ones, and is basically shooting in the dark. Luckily, online distribution will destroy this process.

That is not to say that places like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon aren’t basically doing the same thing, but filmmakers now have another avenue to pursue instead of supplicating themselves at the feet of Hollywood. YouTube is already creating stars who run their own channels free from anyone’s interference. They shoot what they want, how they want, and when they want. Granted, this also creates waaaaaaaaaay more bad shows than good ones, but in this model, the good ones are chosen by numerous actual viewers, not a small group of TV producers. That fact alone means that the meritocracy created by YouTube will only allow shows to thrive that audiences like.

Again, this is not news. Even within this updated paradigm, there will be larger players who seek to absorb smaller startups and widen their audience. Established new media channels would be able to tempt upstart talent the way they’ve always done; by promising greater exposure and more money. In the old days, that negotiation was fairly straightforward. TV studios had all the power whereas the upstart creator had virtually nothing. That’s no longer the case.

2) Sole Ownership—Licensing Rights, Development Deals, etc.

In 1992, two University of Colorado film students collaborated on a short animated film called The Spirit of Christmas. It was copied and spread among friends on VHS tape and eventually became South Park. When Comedy Central initially financed the pilot episode, they nearly canceled it before it ever premiered because test audiences hated it, particularly women. Despite that rocky start, the show has aired for 20 seasons thus far.

How many products featuring characters from South Park have you seen in those twenty years? Everyone knows (now, anyway) that licensing rights are where the money is made. Studios are therefore rather reluctant to give away any more than they absolutely must. And since they were the ones who controlled the gateway, they could make whatever demands they wanted to and if a creator wanted their show to see the light of day, they would agree to those terms. The studios had all the power.

Nowadays, that is no longer the case. A successful online channel doesn’t need the studios for distribution, so their power is diminished. The creator now has the power. Imagine if South Park had debuted in the past few years as a solely online show. Advertising on their website and channel would have sustained them as they built their audience and if Comedy Central wanted a piece of the action, they would have to prove their usefulness to the creators, not the other way around. Negotiating from such a position allows the creator to hold onto to lucrative licensing rights because they don’t need the studios in order to reach their audience.

As an example, Pendleton Ward, creator of the wildly successful Adventure Time has an estimated net worth of about $2 Million. Not too shabby. Trey Parker, one of the two creative minds behind South Park has an estimated net worth of $350 Million. The disparity between the two may have something to do with the fact that Parker and Stone negotiated a 50/50 split with Comedy Central on all licensing rights. Given the fact that there are Adventure Time branded bullet trains in Japan, I’m betting Pendleton Ward isn’t getting a 50/50 split or that $2 Million figure would be quite a bit higher (pffft, peasant).

Similarly, development deals were once used to allow creators to… um…well, develop their ideas to ensure that the story could form a coherent series. That no longer holds true if an online creator has already produced several seasons worth of content. They’ve proven the concept leaving studios once again to wonder what they bring to the table.

3) Is that a camera in your pocket, or are you just excited to make a film?

It used to be that professional level equipment was just a dream for the average film nerd sitting around their mom’s house wondering why the footage they shot on the betacam didn’t look like The Last Starfighter. Honestly, mom. Beta?

To learn how to use that equipment required either getting a job at a studio or going to film school. Neither of those options would work for a poor kid from Louisiana. These days, internet tutorials, behind the scenes DVD extras, and the fact that trial and error is basically free mean that anyone can learn how to make decent videos. Programs like Adobe Premiere and After Effects used to cost thousands of dollars and were unavoidable if you wanted to create realistic effects. That cost has dropped with Adobe Creative Cloud which now offers online access to their professional level tools for about $60/month. Combine that with the 4K, ultra-high-def, low-light shooting, portable camera phone everyone has now and that film nerd could have made such amazing films… Honestly, though, if my mom paid for my phones, I’d still be playing Snake on a monochrome Nokia 2 inch screen.

Both the tools to create and the access to audiences have been democratized. Much ink has been spilled regarding the sheer amount of garbage content that such a system is producing, but that’s nothing new. When the cost of printing a book hit new lows, there were plenty of trashy pulp fiction novels to choose from, but only the good ones are still talked about. And besides, who’s to say what’s trash and what isn’t? Anthony Burgess wrote the novel A Clockwork Orange in three weeks just to make some money. He hated his own book and if he had his way, no one would ever read the book or watch the movie again.

I’ve mentioned money a lot in this article, and that’s not only because I’m an adult and realize that this is how the world works, but also because there’s another side to this that isn’t so obvious. It’s not just about who can afford to make the content that people want, it’s who can afford to take risks.

4) The Economics of Risk—“Who Dares, Wins.”

As mentioned at the beginning, choosing a hit TV show is just guesswork. Or at least it used to be. Netflix actually used an algorithm to settle on making House of Cards because their research suggested such a show would appeal to a wide audience. That singular success notwithstanding, almost no one can say what will hit and what will miss when it comes to artistic endeavors and television is clearly no exception. Most shows never make it to their second season.

Mining big data a la Netflix is one way to minimize that risk, but Kevin Spacey still needs to get paid. So who is left that can make those edgy choices and find an audience? Literally everyone, as we have seen. Television executives no longer need a crystal ball to find out if a show has legs. They need only see the number of views something has on YouTube. Take the show High Maintenance as an example.

High Maintenance follows a New York City weed delivery guy as he bikes around delivering herb. That’s the elevator pitch for the show. The logline is “A city of strangers with one connection.” Would that be good enough to get the green light from HBO? Highly unlikely. However, season two has just been ordered as of this writing. The show originally debuted on Vimeo in 2012 and was created by a husband and wife team on a budget of less than $1,000 per episode, and most of that was probably for craft services and lunch.

That’s a low barrier to entry into the TV world, especially for someone whose mother isn’t a famous artist cough cough Lena Dunham cough. The benefit of that reduced risk now extends to HBO as they have seen what it takes to tell this story and who might be interested in watching it. Season one was on Vimeo and HBO picks up season two already knowing many of the variables. Pretty sweet deal.

Back in the nineties, there were basically two similar success stories, Clerks and El Mariachi, and those were both films. They heralded the arrival of indie filmmakers that had been started a few years before with Steven Soderbergh’s film Sex, Lies and Videotape. What followed was a golden age for indie films that could afford to take risks and survive on limited exposure from an ardent fan base. They didn’t need huge audiences because they told stories that resonated. Most critics in this day and age agree that we are in the golden age of television, but how long is that going to last?

5) Global Blanding vs. Local Flavor

Have you ever heard someone say, “Man, I can’t wait for the next Transformers movie”? If so, stop talking to that person. Even if they’re your own children. It will be better in the long run. I sat through one of these movies once with my son who was eight at the time and even he thought it was stupid. It’s not a secret why.

Movie studios are now playing to a global audience in order to finance these behemoth hundred million plus dollar spectacles. That necessitates a story that is easily understood and crosses all boundaries. Comedies don’t work in this regard because comedy is often dependent on culture. Dramas don’t often work because each culture has their own heroes for different reasons. Giant robot fights another giant robot? That’s pretty easy to follow. And it sucks.

It also isn’t going anywhere for a while. Tent pole productions will continue to be a thing that studios do because the audience for those movies isn’t going anywhere, either. But how does that help some little girl in Latvia who wants to make movies?

Well, as more and more studios devote resources to larger and larger projects, the total output from Hollywood will decline, leaving audiences searching for new outlets and vibrant content. Hollywood popcorn pictures have their place, but as Variety put it, “…studios have abandoned adult dramas…” leaving a gap that others should be filling.

That little girl in Latvia may not be able to make a good Kaiju movie, but she can make one that resonates within her culture and is based on ideas native to her surroundings. Throughout much of the 20th century, Hollywood wasn’t the juggernaut it is today. Instead, active film communities around the world created films of timeless beauty that addressed profound themes. They took their craft seriously and poured everything they had into them. This gave rise to a diversity that directors and writers could draw from when telling their own stories. Nothing was watered down or flavorless. Sometimes it was even a little spicy, but the results created some of the most memorable films of all time.

That local flavor isn’t just about the type of stories being told. It also infuses the very act of creation. Perceptions, customs, and preconceived ideas do not cross boundaries. This challenges audiences in refreshing ways they may not expect, but it also might lead to the next big thing; Virtual Reality Storytelling.

Virtual Reality—The Shape of Films to Come

Ever since VR became possible, it has only been a matter of time before it takes off and changes the world. I’ve written before about the possible changes to storytelling that such a technology would have, but in this context, it is a bit more specific.

When cinema was born, its closest relative was the stage play. In its infancy, film cameras were simply placed where the audience would be sitting and recorded the actors onstage. Boom. Movie. There was no cinematic language one could use that was able to express the full force of cinema’s potential. People had to figure it out as they went along. Sergei Eisenstein was one of the first to explore montage theory.

Film Innovator and award winning “Eraserhead” cosplayer, Sergei Eisenstein

His work built on that of Lev Kuleshov.

Lev Kuleshov or Bela Lugosi. Historians disagree.

Editing is such a part of our daily lives that we scarcely notice it, but a mere 100 years ago, such a thing did not exist. Futurists are now waiting to see what the language for VR is, and just as it was with film, it’s anyone’s guess. Oculus Story Studio was created to explore how to tell stories through virtual reality. Their first product was a short called Henry. Like the first films, it is simple and slow moving. A camera placed before a stage upon which a play is performed. Soon, however, a new language will emerge and change everything.

Editing, or montage theory, was created by two Russians who started in very different fields. Experience doesn’t matter when what you’re attempting to do has never been done. For all we know, that little girl in Latvia is about to show us all the future of storytelling. She certainly has all the tools she could possibly need. Hurry up, little Latvian girl! I’m bored.

Hey! I’ll trade you your email address for a free eBook! You can learn more about this stuff by reading The Stories We Sell: Storytelling for Marketing Content Creators and it’s free on my website.

entertainmentindustrymoviepop culture

About the author

Joshua Yancey

I'm a story designer and writer from the US now living in the UK. I've worked in film and television for over ten years and now use the story lessons I learned to write compelling stories covering a range of topics.

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