Broadcast Contracts Will Kill Hollywood

It does not surprise me that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show on television. Without cable, I have no way to watch it. I’d happily pay $20 per month if HBO GO was open to people without cable subscriptions. Unfortunately, that’s not that case. None of HBO’s shows are available on iTunes, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. I have no way to watch any of HBO’s shows except pay a $75 per month cable subscription for a television I don’t have, wait for them to come out on DVD, or pirate them. I’m a good boy with little expendable time, so I avoid Game of Thrones altogether. But 25 million people have not been angels and found the show through whatever means necessary. Who knows how many more people opt out entirely and forever pass the show by?

I’ve said before that Hollywood should concern themselves less with piracy and more with audience access. Simple supply and demand metrics – audiences demand content and providers are failing to supply to increasingly popular internet channels. It’s the whole industry’s fault for inciting piracy. They are missing out on an expanding margin of customers. In defense of HBO and others, production companies have entangled themselves in lucrative and restricting contracts with cable partners. To offer direct-to-consumer digital distribution would breach their contracts and deprive them of their single strongest revenue source. For most companies like HBO, that may never happen – at least not until everyone has internet televisions or the cable providers themselves die.

Broadcast contracts may be a reasonable excuse for holding content back from web distribution. But if companies plan to stand behind that excuse, they need to stop making such a big deal about piracy. By threatening or incriminating millions of people who cannot access your primary distribution method, you are alienating potential evangelists of your content and failing to understand the trajectory of your market. Web television is not a trend. In five years, most motion picture content will be consumed online – on connected televisions, game consoles, mobile devices or computers. To fight or deny this is foolish and egoistic.

I left Hollywood because no companies were willing to put the engineering muscle behind personal distribution channels. Beyond sheer web design and database builds, online services require customer service and billing infrastructure that can cost a lot of money. Fortunately, these things are getting easier and cheaper. An independent production company with enough content to leverage could easily set up shop on the web with a very controllable investment and small handful of people on the tech side.

If you want a sustainable career in the movie business, start or work for a company with full digital rights. Careful signing onto productions with traditional broadcast contracts and no digital rights – these opportunities, no matter how lucrative, are sinking ships. If they cannot find a way to breach contracts soon, they may not survive the next wave of liberated web-savvy competitors.

Originality and Good Questions

Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d'Albert E...

Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d'Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The world has not run out of new ideas. We have stopped asking good questions. We are so inundated by the content we consume that we spend more time processing the things we’re told instead of the things we are not. Einstein and da Vinci did not watch television or facebook five hours per day; they left little-to-no time for distractions, compartmentalized research and focused all energy into exploring the world around them. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that asked deep questions or read a book that made me think. In a postmodern age where we are all hyper-consumers, we spend our energy living and breathing other people’s work instead of creating our own. There’s plenty of new ideas out there: the world is constantly evolving with new challenges and trends. If you ask thorough questions and wrestle with contemporary issues, you will find a goldmine of fresh ideas.

Don’t just sit back and watch. Engage. Ask questions. Then put the book or iPad down for a day to go tango with the world around you.

Woah There, Hot Shot! Take It Easy On Self-Promotion

You walk a fine line to promote yourself. How do you share your value with the world without boasting about it? How can you exude confidence without coming off as haughty? Blowing your own horn turns people off. I know I prefer to follow brands and artists that spend little time praising themselves and provide value to my life. Who wouldn’t? If Ramit Sethi spent less time praising his own accomplishments, I would spend more money on his content.

The key to building a great brand? Consistently providing great value. Without question, a brand like the one Ramit built will grow if you continue to deliver on your promise. People are thirsty for good content and will follow. However, the distance between a strong brand and a sustainable one can be measured by humility. Without too much self-deprecation, a brand must genuinely acknowledge weaknesses, listen to all parties invested and restrain bragging rights as much as possible. Celebrate success with your fans, defend your gifts to the world – and hold back the rest.

I have learned through nearly a year of writing this blog that headlines, tweets and content centered around myself or plugging my writing perform far worse than direct content. I beg you, dear readers – call me out any time my writing is sullied with boasting. No one likes content adulterated by too much Craig Ormiston.

Early Bird Gets the Attention

If you are first in line, there will be more water in the pool to make a bigger splash. If you hit the market first, it will be much easier to make some noise. Get in people’s queues first, and you will be read before the next guy. I have seen a direct correlation to the number of people who read my blog per day and the time of day I post – the earlier, the better. The early bird gets the worm. Or in this case, the attention.

There is a flip side to being first: a responsibility to quality. While you may secure for yourself a smash hit opening weekend by launching first, sustaining that hit overtime is a completely different story. In journalism, it’s always a race to publish first. But if the accuracy of an article doesn’t check out, the premature launch could adversely effect the organization’s credibility. To build a sustainable hit, you must keep quality high and consistently beat everyone else to the punch.

While my blog has little at stake to post “first,” I doubt I could have earned your readership if I published daily nonsensical poop jokes. Without question, quality counts in the long term. But if all you want is attention and immediate gratification, you better cross the finish line in first place.

Service Beats the Hunt

We now live in a world where we can expect things to come to us directly. News, messages, deals, and ideas push their way to us instantaneously. To compete in today’s innovative world, you must play this game. You can no longer expect customers or users to come to you; you must find ways to reach them directly. In many ways, this has always been an issue for businesses. The challenge is not just getting people to come through your door, but to keep them coming back. In an era where infinite options compete for our attention, you must fight harder to stay relevant. The 24-hour news cycle is shriveling up. Windows for theatrical film releases are collapsing. Tweet trends often last less than an hour. Before long, consumers will miss you entirely.

If you want your brand or product to have a presence in your audience’s lives, you must find a way to remind them you exist. You must continuously roll out useful content to keep things fresh. And you must go out of your way to deliver it to them directly as soon as it becomes available. From here on out, most people will prefer services that bring to them what other services would expect them to hunt. If you want to stay alive in this feeding frenzy of a world, you must become your own paper boy.

Predictably Unpredictable

You can always count on true artists to surprise you. With a sense of regularity, the greats always deliver the same quality with a different twist. The same gets old, so it’s important to keep things fresh. We put less stock in sequels that merely re-deliver the original and our hearts into sequels that reinvent the wheel. We come to trust creators that, in any other forum, would not be trusted. And we always look forward to the next trick.

Want to be great? Learn to surprise audiences on a regular schedule.

Product First, Everything Else Second

Why try to market, organize a business for, or sell a product if your product doesn’t even exist yet? I’ve been guilty of this a thousand times: recognize a great idea, get excited, and run outside to get everything off the ground. I’ve filed Limited Liability Corporations, printed posters, made announcements, and tried to raise money – for projects that hardly even made it on paper.

There are several problems with this. First, you’re spending a ton of time doing work that is not relevant until you have something to show for it. Time spent on “extras” means time not spent developing great content, executing ideas, and bringing your vision to life. Product is at the core of every great business and must come first (pray tell me one organism that grows from the shell inward?).

Moreover, the execution of ideas seldom aligns with the vision outlined in the first place. After facing obstacles and discovering new approaches to the same problem, the end result may look or feel nothing like the thing you set out to build. Any time you spend marketing, filing papers, and chasing investor deals for your project before you realize it will most likely be a complete waste of time. There will be a major disconnect between the core and the shell trying to promote it. Everything you did outside the lab will be invalidated by the discoveries within.

If you don’t have a product or story to tell, nothing else matters. Forget all the extra bullshit and get to the real work.