Hollywood and Digital Executives Weigh In on the Shifting Landscape
It’s a topic we discuss frequently at VideoInk — where is the line between digital and linear programming? Does it still exist and if so, for how much longer as Hollywood and Internet distributors grapple over who’s got more lucrative territory, despite numbers that exhibit declining cable tune-in and greater mobile-digital viewership. There’s also been greater and greater crossover on the executive side as traditional television network execs have been poached by major digital platforms and vice versa. At the end of the day, has “digital” become a dirty word? Is there truly an expertise in “digital” worthy of being coveted and earning big-wig titles at some of Hollywood’s most legendary studios? What does “digital video” even mean these days? And is there a looming difference between the two.
To answer these questions, we sourced our readers and colleagues to get a better sense on the current state of the industry as new and old media merge.
Here are their opinions on the state of the business silos:
Van Toffler, CEO, Gunpowder & Sky and former Viacom president: “Some of the most cinematic and compelling stories are now being told via three to seven minute videos. If you’re a storyteller, you no longer have to fit your idea into a traditional box to get your story told. For instance, there’s no longer a need to meet a particular format, or a specific length, and with the variety of platforms available today, opportunities are endless. Gatekeepers are disappearing and barriers are being broken.”
Allen DeBevoise, Third Wave Capital, Investor in numerous early video companies including AwesomenessTV, Epoxy, Machinima, StyleHaul, VideoInk* among others: “Video today means both long form and short form, both traditionally created video and influencer created. All of the above.” And, “the area of traditional Hollywood that is most affected by digital is the traditional television arena. Digital delivered both the change in how long form is experienced (long form binging) as well as short form binging via platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The lines between traditional and digital in television are blurring — mostly moving in the direction of digital. The movie business is much less affected.”
Jason Berger, founder, Kids At Play: “Yes, the roles between traditional and digital cross over more and more, but there are still distinct differences, cable content is very targeted for specific demos and audiences, so is digital content, but there’s more opportunity because of the vast landscape of digital accessibility and providers. Finding a “hit” is definitely part of both, but I give credit to the TV execs who are faced with different challenges and parameters than digital execs. One thing is for sure, there is a need for premium content on both sides so the lines are being blurred even further. And premium content is being delivered and requested in all types of lengths. But, it will always be about what’s going to resonate with that particular outlets audience and keep them coming back for more and sharing.”
Russ Axelrod, Co-Founder, Pitchmen (Verizon go90’s “MVP”, in production on Season 2): “While the business models may differ, the core competency stays the same — Can you make high-quality content that consumers will love? For us, we produce everything to be just as good as anything you’d see on any screen. The production, the talent, all of it.
A consumer doesn’t say, oh this is on digital, I’ll accept a 50% downgrade in what I want to watch. The delivery method isn’t the driver anymore. Yes, there are probably outlets for crappy content, there have always been — but the real upside for us is that there are more outlets than ever for premium content.
Mike Gaston, Cut.com (serial video “hit-makers” and producers of “100 Years of Beauty”): “[Video means] the same thing “phone” means. Hollywood is a neighborhood. The Internet is a borderless landscape. Digital Hollywood isn’t a thing. It’s marketing. If you prefix your mission statement or industry by calling it digital, you aren’t “digital.” You’re dated. Welcome to the new mainstream.”
Sanjay Sharma, CEO, AllDefDigital, formerly Machinima and Warner Brothers Pictures: “‘Traditional’ Hollywood has been and continues to be expert at the biggest and most monetizable programming in the world. It has the capital, the creative expertise, and the distribution infrastructure both in the US and for most majors around the world. It has deep relationships and partnerships with advertisers and media buying agencies and a rich tradition of connecting brands to audiences at scale. New media/digital brands have a unique opportunity. We can scale in a faster and more capital efficient way than networks carried through traditional means (cable networks, for example), we reach audiences across massive video platforms, where the lion’s share of video viewing is and is continuing to go, we create a vast range of content formats and types (not just 22 mins and 44 mins) and leverage testing, data and insights about our audience across platforms, to inform better and better programming, we are global and mobile in a way that traditional Hollywood has never known or thought. Both have a role to play and there will likely continue to be consolidation, active investment, and commercial partnerships to continue the idea, audience, talent and knowledge exchange between the two worlds.”
Mickey Meyer, COO, JASH, formerly Maker Studios: “At this point, it depends on who you’re talking to and could be anything from a gif to a feature. Feature’s can fit the digital upload bucket, and a gif could be a deliverable to a broadcast network. There definitely is a difference between “digital” and “traditional Hollywood,” but I’d largely break it down not by content type, but by generation. There are those that came up in an older version of Hollywood and have no desire to change their ways (they’ll be retired before they need to), those that have had to evolve to keep their job or elevate themselves, and then there are those that only know a version of the entertainment industry where digital execution and distribution is a part of the whole.
With TV execs and digital execs crossing into each other’s territory, what is the role of a “digital” head anymore? Are the skill sets synonymous now?
Mickey Meyer: “We’ve found separating the desired actions out, less than a digital v. traditional approach helps everyone to realize that we’re on the same team. We have one Head of Production, while we also have one Head of Network Distribution.”
Sanjay Sharma: “The skill sets are definitely overlapping, but it’s far more than just an eye for hits or talent — it’s depth of understanding of data and audience insights, and perhaps most importantly, understanding of the unique platform dynamics of where the content is being distributed/consumed. This isn’t new, just different and more complex than ever, which is why it’s a bigger opportunity than ever. TV execs always looked at research and ratings, film studios still do test screenings and exit polling, digital programmers need to understand what ‘traditional’ execs have been great at: development and long-form storytelling. Traditional execs need to understand that stories told on platforms like Facebook or YouTube, Spotify or Snapchat — inherently social platforms — have to be told in very different ways from traditional media formats. Millennials and GenZ have different sensibilities and viewing habits (just like generations before them) but they can like both IG and GoT. Having good taste and eye for great material and talent is, and probably always has been, necessary but not sufficient.”
Whether from a traditional Hollywood background or a new media first perspective, “everything is digital at this point,” Meyer summarized in an email to VideoInk. “It’s just who acknowledges and understands what that means vs. those that brush it off as a buzz word that doesn’t affect them in the ivory tower.”
A sentiment echoed by Sharma who says the disruption is “not a zero-sum game” but rather an opportunity for both sides to push the fold on new formats and business models. So for now, it seems, the silos are still standing tall but crumbling at rapid pace.