There was an earthquake in Hollywood this week, and Steven Spielberg was the cause.
“There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”
- Steven Spielberg at a USC panel
He said what everyone in town knows to be true. The film business needs a massive refresh. A rethink. Tabula rasa.
Before we begin, let me get one thing clear: I’m not approaching this post as anti-studio, anti-Hollywood, anti-anything. My family’s been in Los Angeles for four generations (and Runyon Canyon is not only my backyard, but she manages to kick my ass everyday.) I’m proud of what built this town, and I want us, as members of this industry, for it to flourish for another century.
Now, let’s start by identifying something that’s missing from the entertainment experience today: omnipresence.
Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple are omnipresent in the lives of moviegoers. These players fracture attention, absorb time, and open the door to a level of mental noise we’ve never before seen as a society. Yet they have access to our customers in spades. That’s important.
Make no mistake what type of business these companies are in: the continuity business, much like newspapers were 30 years ago — propelled forward by their use of mobile computing to delight and addict their customers.
We, as the entertainment community, need to learn something from this: we must find ways to weave the film product into the lives of our customers, every day.
The emerging, modern customer doesn’t live in theatres. They live on phones, tablets and MacBook Pros. They barely watch “TV” as we’ve known it. Even the idea of television is foreign to the younger cohort of consumers. And, to attract these customers in their own habitat, it will take a fundamental rethink of what our “product” actually is.
What it requires may be startling: we need to nullify the notion that all we are selling is access to 120 minutes of a motion picture.
We need more two-way channels. More interactivity. More bite-sized content, with more adventure. Nothing can remain static ever again. Stories, the bedrock of this industry, will need to become fluid and elastic.
We need to realize that there’s an endless narrative behind a film. It starts at the inception of the project and runs well past release — “from the cradle to the grave,” a friend once told me.
Start by giving fans access to the entire process of development, creation and distribution. Enhance the experience by creating different access layers. Make certain key members of the project part of the experience. Discriminate heavily on price. That’s okay.
We want our fans to evolve into zealots. Let them by giving them new tools to reward their devotion while amplifying word-of-mouth in an organic manner. Our product touches people like no other. It just needs to be packaged correctly and offered up in the digital world.
There’s much to learn from George Lucas in this regard. He practically invented the art of fan immersion with the creation of the “Star Wars” universe and its myriad of touchpoints. He welcomed his fans in. The Veronica Mars Movie and Zach Braff’s “I Wish I Was Here” are two recent examples of this mentality. But this is barely even the beginning.
The point is that we’re operating under the rules of the past.
When distribution was scarce and options to enjoy entertainment were limited, the supreme focus on the theatrical release made practical business sense. But those days are gone. People now have too many options. And the competition for attention is only going to increase as consumers migrate towards over-the-top solutions in the living room and beyond. VOD isn’t just the future. It’s the now. Consumers want, need and will appreciate world-class entertainment on their terms.
This isn’t yet-another-anti-windowing treatise. Rather, we need to look inward and ask ourselves, “How can we delight the hell out of our customer while at the same time being rational about what economic models make sense ever the long-term?”
We all need to start caring more about building relationships with customers in an ongoing manner. On the flip side, we need to understand what people care about: franchises, talent and issues. We need to build around this core — and we must create more innovative ways to satiate the customer in an ongoing manner to survive.
Executing this concept is exacerbated by another massive pain point we all face: not knowing enough about our customer. Facebook, Twitter, Google and Netflix are collecting mountains of data points on their customers. They’ve got it all: email addresses, home addresses, browsing habits and credit cards. And they’re using this data to build walls that are ever harder to scale from the outside — with more richly-targeted content, advertising and people relevant to you.
This information is beyond strategic. It’s fundamental. And we’ve got to figure out a way to own it too.
The effect of getting this data would end a persistent problem theatrical marketing departments face: starting cold every time. Studios are still living in silos (development, finance, marketing, distribution…). How can one operate in a silo and effectively manage to follow a customer through the entire lifecycle of a project?
I believe it’s impossible this way.
Hollywood has always been what I call a closed-connected system. Closed-connected systems are even harder to penetrate than closed systems alone because each individual party has a vested interest in keeping new entrants out. As anyone who has worked in the business, understands creating a project requires huge amounts of human coordination.
If Hollywood is to succeed we must open up. We must evolve.
Let’s do it together.
Please follow me on Twitter @BrianNorgard. Apologies for any grammar issues — just dropped this one down.