When you’re little, being a disruptor will get you put in the corner; today, it gets you in the corner office. That was the theme of The New Disruptors: Content, Devices & Distribution at the 7th annual Steed Symposium, held March 22 at CAA and sponsored by LMU School of Film and Television.
Moderated by producer Paula Wagner, the panel consisted of DVD godfather Warren Lieberfarb, former president of Warner Home Video; Ross Levinsohn, VP of the Americas region for Yahoo!; Michael Fuchs, former chairman and CEO of HBO; Rick Allen, CEO of SnagFilms (Indiewire’s parent company); Sarah Pollack, YouTube’s senior marketing manager and former production executive at Big Beach; and transmedia pioneer Lance Weiler.
Encouraging disruptors sounds a little like rewarding misbehavior — but what better sign that Hollywood may finally understand the value of technology? Here’s four ways that Hollywood can practice getting unruly.
1. Learn How to Apple-ize
Citing Harvard Business School professor Clay Christiansen, author of “Disrupting Class,” Allen cited three different ways to create disruption: 1) with the content or product; 2) with a technology that delivers faster, better, cheaper; or 3) by creating a new business model.
“Those who can find ways of hitting more than one of the three,” Allen said, “like HBO or Apple with the iPad, creating a need that people didn’t perceive prior to Steve Jobs telling them they needed a mobile tablet device, those are the few disrupting with the biggest and most revolutionary ideas.”
Fuchs attributed the demise of the modern music industry to the Apple-ization (his phrase) of selling music.
“It hit like a summer storm,” he said. “And looking back, I can’t suggest what the music business could have done to prevent that besides being more innovative, which they didn’t know how to do.”
2. Abandon the Fear Culture
“There are too many senior business leaders in big media that are fearful,” said Levinsohn, “but Silicon Valley, they are fearless.”
At least half of the panel last night agreed that too many of traditional media’s senior business leaders fail by not taking chances. That’s not the case in Silicon Valley, which is why they’re taking the lead.
“They’re not managing their businesses from Wall Street,” Levinsohn said. “Silicon Valley is fearless in disrupting and Hollywood is fearless when it comes to creating beautiful programming, yet still the relationship between the two valleys is tense.”
Levinsohn said he hopes a mutual respect will grow from both innovators; if that happens, the next decade could see a century’s worth of innovation.
3. Embrace the Mad Men
Where Silicon Valley may have a tense relationship with Hollywood, YouTube certainly doesn’t. They have deals with four of the biggest studios to rent their films, they have a library of television, and now they’ve made investments in original programming with producers who have been working in Hollywood for decades.
“We are cultivating the creation of what advertisers might consider premium content and thereby raising the CPMs [aka online ad rates] that our partners are receiving,” Pollack said.
YouTube has introduced TrueView, which allows viewers to watch just the first five seconds of an ad if they choose; advertisers only pay upon completion of the ad unit.
“We believe it forces brands to make commercials that people actually want to watch,” said Pollack. “The drop-off is not as significant as you would think. Ninety percent of our users have said it creates a more enjoyable YouTube experience.”
Levinsohn aims to use proof points like the 1.5 million streams for Bill Maher’s live show — five times more viewers than his show gets on Friday nights — and 30 million streams from a concert celebrating the Clinton Foundation with Lady Gaga to convince Madison Avenue to move some of the $85 billion they spend over to these platforms.
“Television is a platform. The computer screen is a platform,” said Levinsohn. “It doesn’t matter where my four-year-old sees it; all screens are platforms.”
4. Change the Telling, Not the Story
“There is a very large disruptive factor that I don’t see being addressed here yet,” said Weiler. “That is the audience, or rather, those formerly known as the audience.”
In the last decade, the process of storytelling has been opened to a group that used to be passive consumers. Anyone can buy a semi-professional camera, tell a story and distribute it as they see fit.
“We’re at this amazing opportunity to produce incredible things,” said Weiler, “but, to take from Marshall McLuhan, what holds it back is looking at technologies through old lenses. For example, the way my son interacts with media, it’s mindblowing. He sits with my mom and she’ll teach him how to read on my iPad and he teaches her how to use it.”
Weiler is convinced that giving the audience a degree of ownership in the process is the way of the future. By giving viewers more choice, more freedom – if they want to watch a primetime television show, then rent a movie and finish with a cat playing with a goat, then so be it.
“I’m not saying they have to dictate the story,” Weiler said. “I’m saying I want to leave room in that process for them.”