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The decline of commercial media

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Aug. 28th, 2006 | 05:28 pm

I have some friends who are trying to break into Hollywood, and one of the interesting things they're doing is creating fan media. Currently this makes sense for them, as it both hones their skill and advertises their ability. The interesting observation is they're not the only ones trying to give away media for attention, there are hosts of people (for a variety of reasons) creating works and posting them online.

The result is a competition between pay media and free media. As more people meet their entertainment needs with free media, less money will be spent on pay media, shrinking how much money big media has to pay people.

This may generate a feedback loop, as the pool of available jobs slots shrink, increasingly skilled people will be unable to get the attention of the "producers" (this is the job title and not someone actually creating something) and editors and be driven to compete in the free media market for "market share" so they can get the attention of said producers and editors. Which of course will then make it increasingly unnecessary for people to pay for media, because the skill of those in the free market will be steadily improving.

As long as technology continues to decrease the cost of production and distribution, there will always be a pool of free artistic works. (They may not be the best, and filtering the good from the bad works will always be a problem). The one-laptop-per-child laptop is likely to be about $140, with a built in camera and microphone that's enough to produce written works, audio, and perhaps simple video. The self-configuring wireless network will make it easy for those works to be redistributed for nearly nothing. (Possibly nothing more than keeping the crank turning).

It will be increasingly difficult for pay media to compete, and this will push entertainment from a cash economy to an attention economy.

I currently suspect this move from a cash market economy to an attention economy will continue to spread from software and entertainment to other aspects of our economy. Its one reason why I think owning the means of production for your basic needs will be increasingly important.

(And I didn't come up with the idea of the attention economy, I've just been thinking about how our current economy changes with nearly free means of production.)

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Comments {8}

Kiah

(no subject)

from: darkjudicator
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 02:21 am (UTC)
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Screws with Keynesian and microeconomic theory a little, doesn't it?

I also think as the business models interact and collide, we'll see bigger and more desperate lawsuits from the RIAA and others of their ilk. If they can't make money out of media, they'll attempt to make money out of litigation! Sad echoes of SCO v IBM there.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 07:45 am (UTC)
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I didn't know enough about Keynesian theory so I went off and read the wikipedia article... If the explanation was accurate, a weakness of the Keynesian theory is that a sufficient collection of individual choices actually is a macro-economic trend.

I suspect the economic texts I've read were strongly influenced by Keynesian theory. The idea of cycles of money where workers need to be paid enough to purchase goods in order for the businesses producing goods to stay in business seems to make sense to me.

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Jeffrey

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from: jeffrey
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 03:53 am (UTC)
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Well, being the founder and driving force behind said fan media, I find this an interesting topic, and you probably imagined I might. :)

The thing is, I don't think we're anywhere near the levels that you describe in terms of audience reach and, honestly (and this isn't being self-disparaging), I really don't think we'll ever get there.

What we do presently is just about ALL we can do for free while maintaing a reasonably high level of professionalism. Yes, cameras and things are coming down in cost, but to produce something for free that looks akin to professional television, movies, or comic books is nigh-impossible and will continue to remain so.

All of the equipment needed (ranging from lights to props) would make the cost astronomical. Yes, there are some that do it anyway, like that one internet-based Star Trek series that actually FILMS everything and whose name I cannot remember at the moment, but those are rarer than rare and still can't compare with actual professional productions in terms of video/set quality, etc.

Audio is unique in that way, and it's really the only was to do what we do for free and still have it comparitively professional.

So I don't see what we (and others like us) do becoming big enough that the actual professionals would have to offer their content for free in order to compete with US. We have listeners ranging from a thousand to maybe 30,000, depending on the show.

While those numbers are far higher than anything I could have ever imagined, it doesn't even come close to comparing with even the WORST rated television show. It's not even a nanospeck on the dust on the radar.

And of course the people producing said content make all the difference in the world, as you know. But even people that truly care about quality and put out very good stuff (like us, ahem ahem ahem! :) can't really dream of competing with television and movies anytime soon, I don't think.

But that goes for things like radio drama as compared to television and movies.

If you want to get into music that's a whole different ball of waxgame, because again... audio is the one and only thing that can really be done comparitvely in quality for actually next to nothing to produce.

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Kiah

(no subject)

from: darkjudicator
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 04:27 am (UTC)
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I dunno, I think Diane's point still stands - arguably, even more so.

If'n you and your buddies and their buddies can listen in to your show rather than (for example) listening to the crappy local MoR radio station, and you do, that's quite a niche market. But the whole beauty in having millions of potential webcasters out there is that it doesn't matter if each of them only gets a couple of dozen listeners/viewers; those are still audience members that have spent their "attention capital" on a non-commercial source and that's market share in a non-financial sense (which is what I meant by fan media screwing with Keynesian theory). In that regard, I think fan media can cut a major slice of market share out of traditional TV and radio even if the quality might not be up to the same standard. YouTube is proving that people can be influenced and swayed by non-conventional media and is potentially a great resource for grassroots movements to latch onto.

YouTube's never going to rival Hollywood. I think fan media's much more in competition with TV and radio than it is with feature films. Ten years ago I doubt anybody thought internet-based music distribution would ever have much of a market... and like independent media, that started with a few buddies passing stuff around between them. I'm not claiming y'all will eventually reach Napster scale :) but don't sell yerselves short, either.

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Jeffrey

(no subject)

from: jeffrey
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 04:40 am (UTC)
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I'm not selling ourselves short, I'm just being realistic.

Even with all of the fan-based radio drama companies combined, we can't hope to reach even 1/100th of a decent Nielsen rating for a television show.

I've seen it first hand... people aren't anywhere NEAR as interested in something without a video feed. "Audio only? Whatever." is the typical response. It requires thought and attention and using your imagination, and a lot of people just aren't interested in that.

It's also got a stigma of being "old" and "something our grandparents liked" which turns off a lot of people.

Other forms of fan media I don't know as much about so I can't say, but I still don't think that even if you combined the audiences of all of the fan television and radio drama productions out there it would come anywhere close to even a bad rating for a television show, let alone a good one that networks might have to seriously consider competing with.

Network television is already free anyway, so it wouldn't affect them at all. It would only affect the cable companies that provide said network shows.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 08:04 am (UTC)
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I agree that any individual podcaster will never have the market-share of the big media companies. The problem for the big media companies is that they're competing against millions of potential producers.

I'd argue that the pay market for the short fiction story has nearly completely failed. Writing a short story is probably the easiest form of prose fiction to create. With the vastness of things like livejournal and all those writing communities, there's countless thousands of works to go peruse. Many might not be that good, but I can get them at any time of day or night for nothing.

Moving up the technology tree, the audio dramas, they have a market. If los angeles is any indication the most likely consumers are people exercising or sitting in traffic. And again like the market for short fiction, the market for audio drama is probably nearly completely saturated by fan created.

The vast number of music videos and short films being created using video game technology is a good example of what fan created films are likely to look like for the near future. They wont be as good as a professional movie, but they don't have to be. They have the advantage that they're cheap, readily available, and star your friends. (Giving them that first burst of word of mouth advertising). Some fraction of them will actually be interesting in some way and will spread around the net. The game based movies are technologically only a small step in complexity up from the audio dramas that you're currently doing.

Slightly more extreme the movie the pirkinning is an interesting case. It took them seven years to produce, and yet the visuals are nearly as good as any major movie--which is quite surprising since it was mostly shot on a green blanket in some guys living room.

And as a small aside, I wonder what the nielson rating of livejournal would be? How much attention is being spent reading blogs instead of watching mass media?

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markcronan

I don't agree

from: markcronan
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 05:57 am (UTC)
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Empirically, I think you're wrong. The number of pay media sources has continued to increase. The number of viewers are increasing. The money spent on those things is increasing. Advertising is increasing, and rates paid for it are increasing, and advertisement-free media is charging more and more and also expanding.

The entire entertainment market is expanding at a rate so incredibly fast relative to the rate that free media is expanding that I think it's actually the opposite of your theory. And as places like China and India have their median incomes rise, the pay-media will explode even more (and that is already starting to happen in those regions).

As someone else mentioned, producing free-media that is worth watching is both costly and highly time consuming, and requires actual talent. The number of people willing to devote the resources to doing it is fairly static. Sure, digital recorders and home production software will get cheaper and arguably easier, but already those people with a natural interest in those things are already doing it at this point, and it hasn't ever even been a drop in the media bucket so far.

And some of the incredibly small impact of those few people producing that free media is that the pay-media has a free source of new pay-media to draw from as they hire those people. Previously, they had to pay to get people to produce something worth testing against a market. Now they just wait for people to do it all for free and pick and choose from those worthwhile fee with free data backing up some of the marketing information for that kind of show (which is what happened with South Park, for example).

It's also a free source of ideas to pick off. For example, the entire G4 cable television network ripped off most of their content from free-media sources, making it a lot less costly to pay people to come up with new ideas.

Competition between pay and free media? I don't see it at all. And this comes from the spouse of someone who has made plenty of free media, and who also has a career in the pay-media industry.

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Diane Trout

Re: I don't agree

from: alienghic
date: Aug. 29th, 2006 07:17 am (UTC)
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I disagree, movie ticket sales have steadily been falling, newspapers are in steady decline, science fiction magazines, are also in steady decline.

Piracy is frequently blamed, but perhaps their just having an increasingly difficult time trying to hold peoples attention in an increasingly saturated market.

An additional point, only occasionally will freely produced media equal the quality of current pay media, the problem is if enough free media is "good enough" fewer people will bother to pay for media, nibbling away at the pay market pie.

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