The Internet changes everything … even in Tinsel Town
by Sky Dayton
(Originally published April, 1999)
In 10 years, you'll get almost all of your entertainment over the Internet. You will still watch TV, but TV will be just another stream of bits traversing the Net. Your local movie theater will "download" its films over the Net, doing away with inefficient and costly film print distribution. Instead of stamping millions of CDs, musicians will put their works on the Net, where you'll download and listen to them anytime, from anywhere.
The New Democracy of Distribution
In the old media, there were very few distribution channels that artists and entertainers could use to bring their work to audiences. And these few channels were hoarded by an elite minority of old media moguls. The Internet, on the other hand, offers a virtually unlimited number of distribution channels for entertainment producers. With the Internet, anyone with compelling content can access a potentially global audience.
The result will be a global laissez-faire entertainment market, where the best entertainment wins because it's the best entertainment, not because it's produced by those who also own a distribution channel. I don't think the old media, especially Hollywood, is ready for this kind of efficient entertainment market.
The Audience Is Waiting
Today, the amount of art and entertainment produced far outweighs the relatively tiny selection that eventually finds its way to an audience. Sure, there are hundreds of TV channels, and music CDs, magazines, newspapers, and books abound. But, if you think about it, every one of us knows (or is) an artist who has struggled all their life to find distribution for their works.
Some argue that the really good stuff still somehow manages to get through the distribution bottleneck, but I disagree.
Probably 90% of what's on television is complete garbage. The old media rationalizes, arguing that trash is "what the masses want." Assuming there is any truth to that insult, it's that we watch because we don't have any choice. If grocery stores sold nothing but macaroni and cheese, that's what we'd learn to survive on.
Why Not Now?
There are two barriers to the Internet becoming the universal entertainment medium, and both of these show signs of giving way.
First, there is consumer adoption of the Internet. Today, despite the Internet's deep invasion of our culture, 75% of U.S. households still haven't connected to the Internet or an online service. It's simply a matter of time. In 10 years, 90% of households will have access to the Internet, and the holdouts will find it hard to participate fully in the world.
Networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe (the inventor of Ethernet) opined 20 years ago that the value of a network goes up by the square of the number of people connected to it. For example, a network of 2 people has a theoretical value of 4; a network of 100 people has a value of 10,000. The value of the Internet increases exponentially every time someone connects to it. So, if the Internet is this good with 25% of the U.S. connected, imagine what it will be like when the 90% of the WORLD is online.
The next barrier keeping the Internet from becoming the universal entertainment medium is bandwidth — how "wide" and fast the connection is from your home or business to the Internet.
Modem access is fine for viewing text and static pictures, but video and high quality music require faster connections. The deregulation that's finally breathing competition into the stagnant local telephone industry should help. And in the next few years, cable, wireless, and satellite service will also challenge telephone companies to provide speedy Internet connections to the home.
New Entertainment Options
With higher bandwidth will come a whole new set of Internet entertainment services. On-demand video will allow you to watch the shows you want, when you want. Interactive games and voice communication over the Internet will be commonplace. And, as mentioned above, the amount of entertainment available will mushroom, since anyone with a good idea and the diligence to create something will have access to the first free, global distribution channel ever.
All of this promises to shake up the world of entertainment, putting the power of creativity firmly in the hands of the artist, and the power of true choice in the hands of the consumer.
Hollywood will never be the same.