Who’s Going to Pay For This Stuff?

On the Media has a great episode this week on the financial challenges facing digital media. How can you create a sustainable business model in this world of streaming, free content, youtube, piracy, audience fragmentation, and unlimited options?

They cover a lot of different topics: tv and film, music and journalism, ad-blocker and kickstarter. Check it out.

On the Media, Who’s Going to Pay for This Stuff?

I was particularly interested in this exchange between Brooke Gladstone and Peter Kafka, editor of All Things Digital:

PETER KAFKA: I think it’s hard to swap out Game of Thrones and show you something someone did in their basement and for you to be happy. An interesting question though … is that if you look at what’s popular on YouTube right now, it is stuff being done in kids’ basements. And one question I’m always asking people who have 12-year-olds or 14-year-olds is, do your kids distinguish between Game of Thrones and something that Ryan Higa, who’s a big YouTube celebrity, made, which is crude and popular. And they said, nope, it’s all just stuff, it’s all screen time. They value it equally. And if you an entrenched old media company, that has got to be a terrifying prospect.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Peter, isn’t that the wrong question you’re asking because 12-year-olds don’t stay 12 years old forever. And I would argue that they do make a distinction. They just like that basement stuff now … I loved Top Cat growing up. That doesn’t mean – well, maybe I would check out Top Cat occasionally, if it was around, but my tastes have changed since I was 12.

PETER KAFKA: … The question is will the 12-year-old of today pay some amount of money per month to get something like Game of Thrones 10 or 20 years from now? Or will they be content to watch just whatever slop sort of washes over them from YouTube?

via The Future of Streaming Video Transcript – On The Media.

The two of them move on from this topic before they get to a far more interesting question. It’s not whether 14 year-olds accustomed to watching something made in a basement will be satisfied with crap when they get older, but whether they’ll be able to enjoy something of quality that doesn’t have expensive production values. Someone can make something cheaply in their basement that isn’t crap, that is intelligent, provocative, profound and artistic.

And that is the real opportunity here for filmmakers. Now that audiences are used to enjoying “crap made in someone’s basement” they will be more open to appreciating the value of something artistic and personal, made with creativity, ingenuity, and wit, even if the production values aren’t up to multi-million dollar Hollywood standards. So film artists have an opportunity to find an audience without being beholden to corporate interests, without millions of dollars at risk, and without the concomitant artistic meddling.

But it also requires filmmakers to develop new aesthetics, new ways of looking at the world and their art that isn’t chained to the vision of Hollywood and corporate mass media.

In the 1960’s Jerzy Grotwoski argued for a new aesthetic of theater that didn’t try to compete with movies in the things movies do best, spectacle and large-scale and special effects, but utilized what theater can offer that film can’t: the presence of a live person in front of you. He called it “The Poor Theater” but he didn’t mean poor in art, or creativity, or value.

Filmmakers too can embrace a new aesthetic for a new time. That is the challenge and opportunity we face.