Last week I attended a media panel at the Milken Institute’s annual Los Angeles-based conference on all things media, economy and philanthropy.
Something about the panel — a discussion between media magnates Peter Chernin, Jon Miller, Les Moonves and Brian Grazer (and moderated by former Daily Variety editor Peter Bart) on how digital technology is changing entertainment — troubled me at the time and has ever since.
Truth be told, living and working in Los Angeles, that’s a foursome you definitely don’t want to offend. Quite the contrary, it’s a braintrust of industry Godfathers who’ve been through the wars and seen a lot.
I have nothing but enormous respect for all four of the panelists. Without their knowing it, I have worked pretty closely on various deals with some of their partners, prodigious executives that work for them, and on projects touched by them in some direct way.
These are men who have had enormous impact on the current entertainment landscape as we currently know it. And it’s not their fault really that their panel rubbed me wrong. On the other hand, it is precisely them that troubled me because in aggregate, what I saw sitting up on the stage that day — as a (relatively) young brown guy in the audience — was the proverbial five old(er) white guys sitting on the stage, portrayed as the experts on all things media.
Do they fit the bill? Sure, it could be argued, but not for long.
What I saw and heard fell far short of what we really need to be examining when it comes to the shift that is already underway in the entertainment industry.
Because while media tycoons are busy with their massive R & D teams of data-heads figuring out where the business is going and how to monetize it, it’s already gone. I’m not talking about the mundane migration of viewers from CBS and Fox to Hulu and iTunes, I’m talking about the entire market itself moving from Burbank and Boston to Beijing and Bombay.
Just take India as an example — a place I have some modicum of experience by virtue of my cultural and professional background — within the next 10 years the Indian market that will include over 500 million people under the age of 20, the largest youth market in the world.
No Supermans nor Spidermans, no Pokemans nor Power Rangers when it comes to content, but on the distribution side the fastest rising subscription rate in the world of mobile phones signifying the proliferation of new technology as well as rapid radio and digital television distribution.
What are the big media giants doing to tackle that shift? Something tells me that Misters Chernin, Moonves — and certainly Miller, the newly appointed czar of News Corp’s digital initiatives — would have plenty to say on the topic if even they’re not native to the markets themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the sustainability of the industry requires an apparatus that can be monetized and that eventually has to be profitable. I understand the need to pioneer new business models that can service the future of the entertainment industry.
I’m just not sure that big media corporations with big expensive executives in charge that largely represent a singular western white perspective will be the ones to figure it out by themselves. And by the way, I don’t claim to have the answers myself.
It would be nice, though, if we were at least asking the questions.