Monday, 21 April 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #86: Switching The Channels

Oy, the media world is getting confusing.

I guess to explain this story I have to start at the beginning.

In the beginning, there was Sumner Redstone. He was the majority shareholder and chairman of Viacom, who owned Paramount Pictures, MTV Networks, CBS, Showtime, and other media holdings.

One day. for various reasons, it was decided that Paramount and some of the channels split from CBS who held onto Showtime and some of the other channels, with the Viacom corporation being the majority shareholder of both.

Les Moonves was put in charge of the CBS company, and it was assumed that the CBS company would have good relations with the Paramount company.

Well you know what they say about assuming things?

When you ASSUME, all you do is make an ASS out of U and ME.

According to the oft cited Nikke Finke, Les Moonves the pupil in the CBS eye immediately started playing hardball over what Showtime would pay for the right to air Paramount movies.

Now Moonves has a point. Movies aren't all that big a draw for pay cable with their easy availability on DVD and upcoming download services, but I guess the folks at Paramount thought Moonves went a little too far, because they decided to start their own channel.

Paramount touched base with other disgruntled content providers MGM/UA and Lionsgate and recruited them to be junior partners in this new channel. The exact nature and content of this channel is all up in the air right now, but there are promises of new original programming.

Excuse me if I get a little wee bit cynical here.

There are a lot of channels out there, and a grievous drought of content for these channels, adding another one can only exacerbate the problem unless the companies involved boost their output exponentially and be patient enough to ride through the first few shaky years.

And this also does not bode well for Moonves.

It takes a rare gift to alienate one of Hollywood's more incestuous corporate relationships, and the loss of the movies and TV shows these companies produce is going to hurt CBS and Showtime. But I can see why Moonves decided to view Paramount as an rival than a relative, they were no longer part of the CBS family, and were outside the prevailing theory of media consolidation.

The theory of media consolidation is to do all creative endeavours in-house, to the barring of any outside involvement, to maximize profits, but that theory is essentially flawed.

All industry, television especially, requires competition, and the regular infusion of fresh people and ideas. When you consolidate everything in-house, you are essentially transferring creativity to internal corporate bureaucracies. Bureaucrats aren't interested in taking the sort of creative risks that bring in rich returns, they are interested only in maintaining their position with a minimum of risk or effort.

Under this mindset you get barraged with remakes, spin-offs, and rip-offs of older material, and the cheap reality shows that are themselves remakes, spin-offs, and rip-offs. As things progress quality suffers, quantity suffers, as productions are cut back, and then everything comes to the point of collapse.

Which is why I'm cynical of this new channel. Paramount's just as ossified as CBS, so there's the temptation to go the easy route and create yet another channel re-running The Hunt for Red October, and making low-rent reality shows staffed by washed up celebs working for food and a hammock behind the equipment truck.

I hope, and yes, hope springs eternal, that the folks behind this new channel take this as an opportunity to break the calcified mindset of modern media and take a chance for a change.


And it that ain't your bag...

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