“Serial entrepreneur” Todd Wagner speaks with the kind of authority you’d expect from someone that made a lot of money by doing pretty innovative stuff early on. None of what is happening now is really that dramatic, he says, and recaps about his background as co-founder of broadcast.com with Mark Cuban. (The two own 2929 Productions, HDNet Films, distributor Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres and other entertainment interests.) “I love the talk about podcasts – we did that back in 1995, but called them internet broadcasts. We had lots of people that were going to put their programs out to the world and become famous, but nobody cared then.” He said one of the primary reasons they bought Simplenet in 1998 was to provide user-generated video, but again that didn’t take off. The first instinct with a new technology is to repurpose existing content from another platform, but “these businesses need business models,” he said. “It’s not really a dramatic change but the integration of these things into our daily lives. My gut feeling is that this is happening now because the 15-18 year-olds that are driving much of this bus haven’t known anything but the internet since they were babies.”
— Wagner describes “all the YouTubes and all these mobile devices” as a good thing for the industry, but “Hollywood isn’t going anywhere”. The mighty Hollywood isn’t about to disappear, it’s true, but its business model will have to change significantly in response to this new technology. Wagner describes that technology as 180 degrees different to the movie industry: it’s as a freight train rolling down a mountain and those barricades won’t work for long. “Technology never goes as far as you think in two years, but it always goes further than you’d expect in ten.”
— He sees user-generated content, in Hollywood terms at least, as little more than a new audition centre – mainly because of the enormous financial barrier to people outside the industry. “User-generated content matters but it’s not going to change the world,” he said. Wagner said Soderburgh once asked him to name a great movie that no one’s ever seen. The reason you can’t is because they don’t exist – without the financial backing of the industry no-one can afford to make one. “YouTube is the outer gatekeeper, like the dev person in the studios who’s very young and very hip and has to go to all the parties. But there still has to be an inner gatekeeper – there are only 20 people in Hollywood that matter and that’s the 20 people that can say yes.”
— Wagner said Hollywood is right that telling its story will never go out of style, but it’s how that story is sold and distributed. He mentioned a six-movie deal with Stephen Soderberg on a cross-media simultaneous release. (That deal is through HDNet Films; the first, Bubble, has already been released.)
– Comedian Steven Wright once said that starving people in the desert should go where the food is. A bit unkind, but it’s a good lesson for the industry too. As far as the technology is concerned, that means letting the consumer decide how they want to consume media. “The movie industry is the only one that dictates how and where you will see the product.” He said his own research showed that half of movie goers leaving a cinema said they’d buy the DVD and that’s an impulse buy opportunity. “It’s dangerous to assume your customer is still interested in your product in five months’ time.” His own company sells DVDs to people as they leave the cinema. The movie industry attitude towards these day-in-date releases is like the attitude to televised baseball games in the 50s – they thought no-one would pay to go to the game if they could watch for free online, and some local broadcasts were even blacked out. Game attendance didn’t suffer at all though – quite the opposite, and advertising also flourished.
— He said that companies that have content and communications in one stock are the ones to be scared of “What Google is doing now – doesn’t that smell like a studio to you? Getting paid to distribute your content? Why this should be a bit more scary than it used to be is because these companies media, commerce and communications all in one stock and movie companies do that. The movie industry doesn’t have that.”
— “Who would’ve thought ringtones would work – and that people would pay more than they pay for a regular song? Let’s not be so certain about what we think people want – let’s just get stuff out there in new and creative ways.” Amen to that.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.