The Striking Writers and the Striking Lack of Web Hits
Why does the idea of a marriage between Hollywood writers and VCs make me slightly queasy?
But that’s just the feeling I got when I read the always sharp Joseph Menn of the Los Angeles Times, who penned an interesting piece earlier this week about writers in Hollywood turning to venture capitalists as the strike drags on.
Wrote Menn: “At least seven groups, composed of members of the striking Writers Guild of America, are planning to form Internet-based businesses that, if successful, could create an alternative economic model to the one at the heart of the walkout, now in its seventh week.”
That includes meetings with Silicon Valley VCs like Jim Breyer of Accel Partners, whose investment in Facebook gives it insight into the creation of new audiences.
The hope for the–let’s just say it, shall we–unnatural pairing of tech VCs and Hollywood folks?
That the sour lemons being thrown between studios and writers–ironically over future Internet revenues–will actually yield delicious lemonade, spurring the creation of quality online programming using the Internet’s massive distribution system that could also make lots and lots of money.
“Could” is obviously the operative word here, because–as we have noted many times in this column–very little original content created on the Web has had any true payoff yet.
Um, well, none, actually. (Save porn, which is an almost perfect content format for the Web.)
To be fair, there have been promising signs.
Ex-Yahoo exec and Hollywood player Lloyd Braun struck a deal with PepsiCo to pay for and create online content.
MySpace has been backing a range of online-only shows made by Hollywood types (although none has shown strongly increasing popularity and even seem to display worrisome declines in viewership, despite the justified potential touted by creators).
Of course, there’s the high-profile Sequoia Capital-backed and Will Ferrell-fronted FunnyorDie.com, as well as MyDamnChannel.com, from former MTV executive Rob Barnett.
And Viacom agreed this summer to create a new online entertainment studio in a 50-50 split with the creators of the popular “South Park” TV program.
Finally, Creative Artists Agency, which is the biggest talent agency in Hollywood, is apparently working with Silicon Valley VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson to raise up to $200 million to invest in the digital entertainment sector, even as other such firms as UTA and William Morris are making similar moves.
While that is a very little amount of money considering the billions of dollars that slosh around Silicon Valley to fund things like dopey widgets and yet another movie-comparison site, it is still a start.
The presumable goal is that by creating and distributing content for the Web in a lower-cost way, many kinds of revenues could be garnered via everything from advertising to getting back investments by selling the online material to television and the movies.
That sounds like a plan, except for the fact that the current state of advertising innovation related to Web videos is quite nascent, even pre-fetal.
While a lot of companies are focusing on this and advertisers seem willing to move in the direction of more online ad spending, it will simply be a long time before these investments pay off.
Which is just not part of the no-risk-and-all-reward mentality of most players in Hollywood, who wouldn’t know a start-up unless it took their prime table at the Ivy.
In all seriousness, it seems unlikely that the high cost of production now in place in the entertainment industry would in any way lend itself to the critical need for that kind of massive shift in economics required to make online content pay off now.
Currently, studios still only grudgingly want to consider sharing ownership of content, and the talent seems even less willing to take the burden of risk required onto its shoulders.
Still, I admire all the efforts on the part of writers to not just strike, but strike out from their current comfort zone and move into the future, where online entertainment production and distribution seems obviously inevitable.
The problem is that it might take a longer while than those creators have patience for and they will prematurely abandon their efforts and return to propping up a system that is destined for, while not oblivion, then certain diminution.
So what’s needed–as in all marriages–is a crazy leap of faith, like this one from “Heroes” Peter Petrelli on NBC.
I am definitely no expert on this topic, except to say that the problem is that the delta between falling flat and succeeding is frighteningly close.
In other words, I Has No Idea what to do.