Are traditional studios doomed to extinction if they don't adapt to the realities of the new-media era?
That certainly seemed to be the opinion of the panelists at TheWrap's "Innovators Changing Hollywood Debate the Future," at the site's TheGrill@ Locations Show Friday in the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center.
The rapid-fire panel featured four of the TheWrap's first annual "12 Innovators Who Are Changing Hollywood" list: YouTube filmmaker Freddie Wong, ZEFR co-founder Richard Raddon, Lowercase Capital partner Matt Mazzeo and the Black List founder Franklin Leonard, hit on a number of topics.
But the takeaway message of the panel, moderated by the site's Lucas Shaw, was straightforward: Traditional media companies need to embrace the digital realm. Or else.
At one point, Raddon suggested that refusing to learn how to do business in the digital landscape is akin to rushing to the back of a sinking ship.
(At left, Franklin Leonard)
Throughout the panel, Wong and the other panelists extolled the virtues of the do-it-yourself approach, noting that ownership of intellectual property and total creative freedom are strong incentives to avoid partnerships with studios.
However, Mazzeo conceded, "It kind takes a certain personality. The entrepreneur life is really, really hard; not everybody has that risk tolerance."
For those with the guts to chance it, the rewards can be great: creative freedom, no overlord to dilute your vision and, increasingly, the ability to make some money from your labor, assuming your production costs don't exceed the potential reach of your audience.
See photos: 12 Innovators Changing Hollywood
And while the production values for independent projects on YouTube and other platforms might not match those of deep-pocketed studios, the panelists emphasized that, to the new digital audience — kids who are, unlike older generations, willing to watching entire TV episodes on their iPhones, iTouches and iPads — engagement equates to quality.
"For my godson or my nephew, for them that's the highest quality — the thing that they'll spend the most time watching," Mazzeo noted.
Besides which, Raddon noted, "the quality of the content will improve."
As will the compensation for content creators willing to go it on their own.
"The digital pennies aren't yet digital dollars, but they will be," Raddon noted during the panel.