Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #43: A New Line of Thought...

Well, well, my plan to become CEO has hit another little snag.

Apparently Time-Warner is looking to trim the fat, and that will mean that the troubled and troublesome New Line Cinema will either be sold, or absorbed into Time-Warner like the Blob consuming an u
nsuspecting farmer.

I can't say I blame them. There is such a thing as a saturation point when it comes to the size of any corporation, and Time Warner hit it about 5 minute
s after merging with AOL.

I am personally hoping that they sell the company.

Warner can hold onto The Hobbit, and some of the
New Line library, but the best thing for movies, both as a business and an art is that the company, including its domestic distribution capacity be sold.

Thanks to almost two decades of consolidation the media universe is now almost completely owned by a handful of massive uber-conglomerates. However, thanks to the internet, video games, and cable TV, the audience is more fragmented than ever.

This fragmented audience is disenchanted with the dwindling product put out by the uber-corporations and are tuning out and turning off in droves.

Why are they disenchanted?

It's because...

1. Isolation: The people running the media companies don't have any actual connection to the real world outside of the occasional conversation with their one domestic worker that speaks English that doesn't involve scheduling the next walk for their purebred Bichon Frisé. They spend their days surrounded by "Yes-Persons" (I can be politically correct) go home to their gated communities, vacation in exclusive resorts with other millionaires and billionaires, and then fly home on their corporate jets to meet the same people all over again.

They have to rely on marketing research firms to tell them what's going on in the outside world. But the people running the market research firm
s live in the same small, isolated, circle, they usually don't know much more than their clients.

2. Survival of the Shittiest: This is a term I came up with to describe Hollywood's unique brand of office politics and advancement. The key to success as a Hollywood media executive is not based on your skill, experience, or abilities, but on your ability to make those around you look worse than you. It's the "shit floats" philosophy, if you're floating you're on top.

An executive can lose millions, if not billions, of dollars through bad decisions, and then get promoted to a higher position simply because he made everyone else in the company look worse than him. A good parable would be an episode of the show Made In Canada (called The Industry in the USA).

In the episode the Alan Roy a Canadian TV producer is playing golf with the President of a major US TV network. During the game the Ne
twork President describes a show to Alan that he'd love to see, but hasn't. Alan rushes home and gets his staff to create a show according to the Network President's idea. They get a pilot put together, and show it to the network, and then disaster happens.

The Network's Vice President loves it. This is the kiss of death, because no Hollywood president will accept an idea supported by his VP, even his own. The reason for this is if the show is a hit, it makes the VP look too good, and makes him a threat to President's job. The Canadian producers then scramble to find a way to get the VP to denounce the show, allowing the President to green-light it without any threat to himself.

Although that episode was fiction, it wasn't exactly far off the mark with the way networks and studios have been run the past twenty years.

My point is, with everyone more interested in inter-office treachery than doing the best job for the company, you end up with a very poorly run company, putting out a poorly made product.

3. Tortoise Nervosa: This is my name for a condition of inertia that effects corporations that grow too big. They take too long to react to changes, and when you're dealing with popular culture, change is constant, and unpredictable.

In the old days the media companies could rely on a certain amount of ability to make popular taste, but thanks to their increasing isolation, apparent lack of interest in anything that doesn't involve the politics of personal destruction, and the fragmenting of popular culture in tiny sub-cultures, they have lost that ability. Their attempts to regain that ability often ends up being an embarrassment for all involved.

4. Risk Avoiders: In the old days of Hollywood the business was run by guys who worked their way up from the streets. They were outsiders from the WASP business mainstream, gamblers, risk-takers, and most of all, they were competitors.

Nowadays the average studio/network chief is just a cog in the machine, unable to make a decision without running it through market research, and twenty-two levels of executives that he can blame, and even then he wouldn't want to do anything that might rock the boat because the board might not rubber-stamp his next multi-million dollar bonus check.

When an executive reaches a certain level in a company that is a certain size, it's best to just float, like a turd in a toilet bowl, and hope that nobody flushes.

It's time to rock the boat people, because the boat is sinking and someone has to tell the others to get out the life-rafts.

5. Dwindling Output: While the numbers of outlets for film and television productions have exploded, the actual amount of product being produced is going down. If you want proof, just channel surf on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and count how many channels are showing The Hunt for Red October.

You know what I'm getting at.

Classic films and TV shows are usually hoarded by the select "classic" channels, leaving the rest, both cable and network, to show the same films, and syndicated reruns over and over and over again.

Big companies were so busy absorbing the smaller companies and then shutting down their production operations, that they didn't realize that they were fossilizing the 500+ channel universe before it even started. Just because one company bought out another does not mean it's going to make more film and TV shows to fill the gaps left behind.

In fact, the usual story after a mega-merger was that the big company cut back on their own slate, because of the costs from taking over the smaller players, and the exponentially increasing costs of getting film and television made thanks to some questionable practises I've griped about before.

So here's my proposal to save Hollywood from itself.

Warner Bros. should sell New Line as a new independent producer- distributor. MGM should sell off United Artists and Orion Pictures as independent producer/distributors, and Fox should do the same with New World, etc., etc...

These reborn companies should be built on a new, lean, and efficient business model, designed to produced film and television without the bloated overheads of the big boys.

Now you're probably wondering why should the big boys do this, since it just creates competition?

Well, the big boys almost all own networks and cable channels that are literally gasping for content to show, somebody has to make that content, and the big boys are a little too busy taking each other over for that. And when it comes to TV, the networks can arrange a new system of cost-and-profit sharing so both can reap the benefits of initial ratings success, syndication, and DVD/Download sales.

With a little common sense, and a little business savvy, it could be a win-win situation for everyone.

Of course, common sense and business savvy haven't been Hollywood's strong suit for an awful long time.


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