Friday, 17 January 2014

Why is there nothing on TV?

Film is art and art connects. Finding something good on TV needs a better connection between consumer and creator.

I want to introduce you to my new friend, Darren. Darren works in the Apple Store, but supplements his income as an Apple genius by being a film director (or perhaps that’s the other way round). You won’t have seen his movies yet, but he’s working towards that goal. Thing is, it’s a very long and unpredictable journey from being a talented director with a great film, to you watching it from your sofa.

Film is art, and there needs to be a very difficult path from artists to public, to ensure that the art that survives is good art. Wading through the obfuscating sea of crap that is YouTube shows the downside of giving everyone a voice – it’s really hard to find someone worth listening to.

Furthermore, the art that people actually pay for should be great art. If you’ve paid good money for a back catalogue on the basis of one great album, and find that the rest of the oeuvre is filler, then you’ll have felt the betrayal of trust that I write about. This is the content discovery challenge that I’ve written about before.

However, even if you’ve created great content, it’s still incredibly difficult to put it out. Someone needs to believe in you enough to give you money for equipment hire, sets, talent, post, even before you can show a single frame. Then someone needs to like your film enough to use their wherewithal to market and distribute your film to broadcasters. Then Joe Public has to casually like your film enough to pay the £2.99 to watch it.

Each person that holds the purse strings also holds your film hostage. Each wants a guarantee that the film that they invest in, will make money. This inevitably skews the range of content that is commissioned to be very conservative. Kevin Spacey talked about this process in the last MacTaggart lecture. According to him, in 2012 US networks made 113 pilots, of these 35 were aired as series, and of these 13 were renewed. I wonder how many pitches were made to TV producers to get to the 113 pilots?

Kevin talks about the need to “send the elevator down”, for the established talent (actors, directors, producers, accountants) to set aside money to create opportunity for the next generation of talent, without any expectation of return on investment. His view is that this expectation of return that is detrimental to the quality of endeavour. The business of art ruins the art.

Poor quality affects the entire value chain. There’s no point to a new Apple iTV if there’s nothing worth watching on it. As I’ve blogged before, the industry struggles with: hardware proposition, pricing model, technical quality, quality of programming, fragmentation of content, multi-vendor customer support, format innovation, monetisation, social engagement, applying across generational shifts, content discovery, how to measure and assure performance, how to equitably share revenue across the value chain…

This is all moot if we can’t get Darren’s film onto your YouView STB, because it’s only people like Darren that are going to make movies that you want to watch from your sofa. The elevator starts from the content consumer, not the TV executive in a shiny suit. So the way to get better TV is to create and reinforce the direct link from consumer to director. We need to stop measuring the value of art needs in shekels, and change to valuing by social engagement.

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