The Future vs The Past of Entertainment

Since leaving MIDEM my thoughts have been all ajumbled, but as they begin to settle, one thing that seems strikingly clear is the contrast between the dominant rhetoric I heard there, particularly from those within the music industry proper, and the rhetoric I heard at the Futures of Entertainment conference in November. In short, if the Futures of Entertainment was about the future – or multiple tracks the future is taking – MIDEM seemed to be largely about the past, sticking to old ways of thinking and trying to make old models work in a world they no longer fit.

In her write-up of the Futures of Entertainment conference, Flourish Klink does a great job of summarizing some of its dominant themes:

* The death of “viral” and “meme.” People choose what they pass along to other people. The content matters. If something is viral or memetic, it’s caught or coded into DNA, not chosen. “Viral” and “meme” are broadcast ideas, where the all-powerful content producer forces the weak consumers to enjoy and propagate something. They’re wrong. From Henry Jenkins.

* The birth of “spreadability.” When people say that they want a video to “go viral,” they mean that they want it to spread. Good media is spreadable media. From Henry Jenkins.

* Value vs. worth. Things have monetary value, but their worth is hard to measure. Companies exist in a world that’s all about money, but fans typically participate in gift economies. When companies try to “monetize” fans (and incidentally, the death of “monetize” was extensively discussed on the hashtag) they run into problems because fans don’t operate that way.

In contrast, the word “monetize” was in the very theme of the MIDEMNet program (“Monetizing the fan-artist relationship”) and was absolutely the dominant theme of the meeting. Viral got an occassional nod, though often as something scary, and the notion of spreadability was not even close to present (except when presented by those outside the industry). With a very few exceptions I heard very few people at MIDEM asking the question “how can we provide value to our audience?” Instead I heard them asking “how can we get money from our audience?”

The people at Futures of Entertainment, some of whom were working at huge mainstream media companies like HBO or NBC, were all asking: how can we use new media to get fans more involved with our product? How can we use these tools to keep them engaged and give them the resources to help them bring in new fans? How can we collaborate with fans in ways that make the product and the experience around it better for all of us?

The people at MIDEM were asking “how can we make sure that every time someone downloads a song, we get paid?” Though there were some great examples of keeping fans engaged (Mike Masnick summarizes them well here), with the exception of the industry people who worked directly with fans (like the person who runs Pearl Jam’s website or the guy who oversees Kanye West’s online presence) for the most part, there was simply no concept of “fan” there at all. Sure they used the word, but what they usually meant was “downloader,” an entirely different concept.

At MIDEM I met many industry people who are passionate about their work, and who see their chance to do what they do professionally disappearing. I spoke with a wonderful woman who used to be in music videos, for her the fact that fans will now make awesome videos for free is not a great example of artist-fan connectivity, but the end of her chosen career.

At the same time, I also met many many people who are building new careers by asking the hard and interesting questions about how to make the internet and mobile media work for both artists and fans. I left believing that the jobs are not disappearing, but they are shifting. I imagine if college teaching were replaced by, say, user-built wikis that could result in the earning of a college degree, I would feel profoundly threated as well. I would probably rant against it and point out its shortcomings.

But I hope that if I were faced with a seismic shift like that, I would be able to look toward the future and ask how I could use the skills I have to provide value to those students instead of looking to the long arm of the law, hoping they would pass regulation to ensure that students still had to take my classes the way I want to teach them.

Finally, lest this seem like I am unappreciative of having attended MIDEM, quite the contrary — I had a great time, I learned a great deal, and I find it very heartening that people like me and Mike Masnick were invited to speak there.

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Comments (3) to “The Future vs The Past of Entertainment”

  1. Thanks for this conference report/write-up. This confirms some of my own, mostly secondhand, observations about industry constructions of fandom.

  2. I am in hate with the word ‘monetize’.

    I still hear it used regularly in the tv/video business, I don’t think it’s dead. Maybe the creators don’t use the term much, but the financiers/packagers/distributors certainly do.

    Obviously money is still important to all involved, even if the first question we ask is not about the source of money, it still needs to be well thought out.

    We all know the internet [and other tech] removes the barriers to entry for new content, threatening those relatively few people at the top of the food chain.

    The question I would pose is,

    How do we move from an environment where the focus is on “monetization for relatively few creators” to “viable career opportunities for many creators”?

    Note, the term creator here is meant to infer anyone involved in the process of the creation of media.

  3. I was invited by the Toronto Blues Society this month to be part of two panels discussing online music issues at the Blues Summit IV. I found exactly the same thing Nancy. We spent an absurd amount of time focused on how to get paid for downloads.

    It is such a shame when the conversation ends up being a rehash of the conventional rhetoric that swarms around peoples narrow view of the content industries.

    I left feeling that 95% of the greater issue of how the online space effects music industry participants, and how to make the most out of new digital tools in a democratized media landscape, was shockingly absent.

    It’s really strange but in many circles within the music industry the online conversation has not changed much in the last 10 years…made even more strange when you consider how much the online space has!