At the convergence where Hollywood meets the Internet lies "Digital Hollywood," a ubiquitous phrase coined by Victor Harwood who has produced over 200 leading conferences and events for professionals and top executives. Harwood is considered a leading authority on the convergence of the entertainment and technology industries. Mr. Harwood has done a great job the past few years bringing professionals in film and technology together in a series of Media Summits that are well worth attending if you work in these fields.
Twitter handles were flying last week at Digital Hollywood New York. Film executives and innovators in technology and new media came to speak and attend dozens of panels. The panels were strongly geared this time to new media and the Internet. The Los Angeles Media Summit I attended a few years ago were more attended by more TV and film executives. However, this may be a sign of the times as Hollywood slows downs it's wheels as the Internet and audiences appetite for shorter story telling and experimenting with different delivery platforms takes effect.
It's a new age and as an award winning film maker who believes in knowing creative and technical craftsmanship, the art of telling the story at the highest possible standard, it is exciting and frightening economically at the same time.
The craftsmanship, skill and talent that was revered in Hollywood even as late as five years ago, is now not so revered or appreciated in the new media age. In fact the art of writers, producers, directors, still photographers, and artists (or "content creators" as we are now ubiquitously called), has become somewhat devalued in this age and ease of digital data gathering resulting in more often than not, poorly made, dumbed down content creation. Though each New Media panel stressed the need for good content creation, when push came to shove and content creators stood up to be counted and offered professional and highly attuned skills, the Internet and brand companies balked.
In other words, the brand companies and Internet marketers, would rather go for cheapness, in other words, mass public generated free content, and therefore lack of skills and knowledge. A classic example of this greed for free content is brands and Internet marketers hosting, "film competitions," whereby kids get to go out and film (at their own cost and time) a 30-second clip utilizing the brand. Playing on the vanity and innocent ego of the young kids, the authors, the winner gets it played. Bragging rights for the kids friends and free audience for the brands. This practice is nothing more than a method of getting FREE content for the brand and Internet companies, rather than they cough up actual money to pay trained professionals to make a commercial.
Another prevalent example is new software companies for the news media. These companies, again playing on the ego of an innocent and unaware public, offer writers the "opportunity" to see their work published -- for free! It turns the art of writing on its head. In other words, whereas corporate companies and newsrooms would seek out professional writers and pay them one dollar a word, now those companies pay nothing and settle for, on the most part, poorer quality content. This again devalues the work of the writer and journalist.
This brings about the larger question: Are journalism schools, film schools, and the likes likely to become redundant in ten years, as it becomes increasingly difficult, nearly impossible, to make a living, as this system is becoming is less structured to do so? I think every creative and technical content maker has the right to be concerned. It is nearly impossible for even established talented professionals to make a decent living and have successful or even moderate income in certain aspects of creative fields and other businesses as it currently stands. The saying goes like this -- if you haven't already made your money in any of these fields, forget about trying to make it now. This is becoming true of journalists, writers, still photographers, film professionals and talent in other fields, as this practice of corporate behemoths gobbling up free content is happening in every artistic field. I would hope that the future of conference such as Media Summit focus on the import of professional content creation and teach these unskilled Internet marketers and middle-aged grey-suited corporate executives how content creators provide value, what that value means to their company and how they can have a place in history not by ignoring story tellers and content creators but by embracing us.
The Digital Hollywood Media Summit got off to a flying start with a finance and investment panel headed by four large equity funds, Bain Capital, Providence Equity, Hearst Ventures, Standard and Poors, Lehrer Ventures, and Creative Artist Agency. This was one of the most useful panels as it was investment groups with actual spending power now, in diverse portfolios such as film, TV, brands, and new technology. Over a course of panels by many new media technology companies one thing became clear: that no one really had any clear answers to where the digital Internet age was going, partly as we are in the midst of it right now.
There appeared to be a lot of grasping at straws by middle-aged men in suits. In one discussion it became clear that Internet companies were being over-valued to a large degree. When asked why this over valuation was happening and being allowed, no substantial answer was proffered. One could be excused for thinking it was building stocks and blocks for the boys.
This raised the question for me, "If investment companies and banks say film is high risk, then how can they say that over-valued internet companies are less so?" Why invest in a company over-valued to the turn of USD $350 million and not in a film by a filmmaker of USD $5 million or a series of films for USD $10 million? Film is qualifiable to a certain degree, like race horses. Win or lose, there are a set of parameters and if you deal with quality professionals, at any budget level, you can lessen your risk. Internet companies do not yet have that historic weight behind them nor a set of quantifiable parameters, other than the one piece of gold, data gathering.
All in all it was an interesting conference, and raised many questions about where we are headed.
This post originally appeared on Herald de Paris.