Hollywood Is Still The TMZ

Last week “super-agent” Ari Emanuel spoke at our Web 2.0 Summit. Emanuel, CEO of the talent agency WME created by the merger of William Morris and Endeavour, is considered to be the most powerful deal maker in Hollywood.  At times however he sounded more like his fictional namesake Ari Gold from the HBO series Entourage. The interview brought to light that while only 350 miles apart, Hollywood and The Silicon Valley are still two very different worlds.

The discussion quickly fell into a free versus paid content debate and got stuck there.  It’s understandable that an agent who makes his living by getting the best deal possible for his clients would take a very strong and negative stance on free access to valuable and expensive content. At the same time this stance drove an equally strident reaction from the Internet industry crowd in the audience who questioned Emanuel’s one-dimensional view of the issue. What ensued was a fascinating sociological study of two very different cultures. The interaction also demonstrated that Hollywood is still living in the TMZ;  The Thirty Mile Zone, the slang term coined years ago to reflect the view that Hollywood was ground zero for the global entertainment industry.

The cultural gap between Hollywood and The Silicon Valley is about the understanding of technology and talent. In Hollywood the term “technology” refers to capture, process and storage technology; the tools for filming, editing and storing filmed entertainment. Movie theatre’s and television have controlled the distribution of filmed  entertainment since it’s inception. Technology embraced outside of the basic movie theatre and television viewing experience hasn’t historically been a concern for entertainment executives.  The VCR and DVD player?  Yes, the entertainment industry after years of legal action against manufacturers, came to realize they could make money off the devices. The VCR and DVD player ended up being fed by retail distribution however and didn’t fundamentally change the industry’s view of technology. If anything the boom in “home video” revenues via VCR and DVD players created a false sense of security. 15 years after the launch of the Internet, the entertainment industry is still struggling to understand what to do with the platform. Perhaps they feel that like HD and IMax, their distribution partners will harness the Internet and provide them a new platform to reach audiences.

In the Silicon Valley when you use the term talent, people think of developers or engineers who build branded technology products and applications. Talent has a direct connection to the company that hires them as opposed to being hired to work on a project packaged by an agent. In Hollywood the vast majority of people on a studio lot are there on a creative project. That project will last 18 months on average and in most cases the exact same combination of people will never work together again. The majority of people you see on the campus of the average technology company are employees, working on a product and will stay with the company over a period of years.

Taking questions at the end of his interview, Emanuel said he was spending time each month in the Silicon Valley, perhaps believing that if he visits regularly it will bridge the cultural divide. It’s not enough. Hollywood will ultimately suffer the same fate that the music industry has unless they start truly embracing disruptive technologies. The Thirty Mile Zone is a compelling metaphor that was intended to reflect the talent , creativity and passion inside the 30 square miles around Hollywood. Unless the industry takes a far different look at technology however, the TMZ will be remembered as a walled garden built by insular executives who refused to acknowledge that the world outside was changing.