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Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment (MIT Press) Hardcover – August 5, 2016
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Streaming, Sharing, Stealing is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how technology is reshaping the entertainment industries.(Chris Anderson, CEO, 3D Robotics, author of The Long Tail)
Smith and Telang have long been recognized as leading experts on the economics of the entertainment industry. Now they have distilled their findings from a decade of research about how the Internet is disrupting entertainment into a readable, authoritative, and insightful book. Anyone who wants to understand the uneasy relationship between tech and entertainment should read this book.(Hal Varian, Chief Economist, Google)
This book should spark a revolution of evidence-based decision making across the entertainment industries.(David Boyle, EVP Insight at BBC Worldwide; formerly with HarperCollins and EMI Music)
Smith and Telang are at the forefront of data analytics in the entertainment industry, and have produced a clear-eyed explanation of why big data are changing the industry, and how firms can use data analytics to profit from this change.(Matt Geiser, CTO, Legendary Pictures)
Streaming, Sharing, Stealing identifies the many ways technology is changing the entertainment business, and how these changes are shifting the foundations of our industry. If you work in publishing, music, or film, you need to read this book.(Ruth Vitale, CEO, CreativeFuture)
Streaming, Sharing, Stealing examines the rise of data-driven marketing and the ability of artists to control content creation and distribution, which is completely disrupting entertainment industry norms. A must-read for any content creator.(David A. Bossert, producer and creative director at The Walt Disney Studios)
[The authors explain] gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.(The Wall Street Journal)
About the Author
Michael D. Smith is Professor of Information Systems and Marketing at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, where Rahul Telang is Professor of Information Systems and Management. Smith and Telang are Codirectors of the Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics (IDEA) at Carnegie Mellon.
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The book covers movies, music, books, television, radio and more, but to get a sense of the issue, I will focus on the first topic the authors cover: free-to-air television.
To sell a TV series to one of the major networks, requires making a pilot episode that can cost between $5 and $6m. It is estimated that some $800m is wasted annually on pilots that never make it to the small screen. If the series is accepted (a big if, because the industry is very wary,) these weekly episodes must fit precisely into 22 or 44 minutes for viewing in 30 or 60 minute slots, including a catch-up from the week before.
After a first-time release on television, the series might be made available after some time on pay channels, to encourage people to watch the earlier version. This is necessary because the TV stations earn their living by attracting viewers, and then selling that viewership to advertisers.
That has been the traditional way of doing business in the television industry, but much has changed making alternatives more effective and more attractive to almost everyone. But not for the traditional media owner.
Netflix is an American provider of streaming media, video-on-demand online, and DVD by mail. Watching a series as part of your subscription fee, saves you the annoyance of commercial breaks because the company earns through their subscription fee, not from advertising.
“One of the most profound examples of this shift in market power occurred when Netflix began to offer original programming,” the authors explain.
Beau Willimon, the creator of the American political drama, ‘The House of Cards,’ approached Netflix with his ideas for a series. The reception he received was completely different to what he would have received from a television network. They agreed to purchase the series without a pilot! This was not an act of bravado, or deep conviction. Their business allows for this type of decision-making.
Netflix can collect accurate data on the tastes and choices of its subscribers, not from interviews, but from what they download to watch. Based on these facts it was clear that there was an audience for House of Cards. Additionally, Netflix can target potential subscribers who would be the audience for such a series - as individuals! This tailored, direct marketing is not possible from the traditional network alternatives.
Traditional television fare must be slotted into a 24-hour day, so what is broadcast needs to be as attractive to audiences as possible. Only with large, appropriate audiences will advertisers pay for the commercials that fund both the station and produce profits for the shareholders.
With Netflix streaming movies and series on demand, viewing isn’t restricted to a specific time of day so the question of when best to show the series is not relevant. Netflix is not limited to the number of shows possible in a 24-hour period. Its business model is - whatever you want, whenever you choose.
This offers many attractive advantages. The viewer does not need to wait until next week to see the next episode, it can be viewed on demand. This gave Netflix the advantage of being able to release all of season one’s thirteen episodes at once. For the creators of ‘The House of Cards’ this was a huge artistic advantage because the story line did not have to be designed in odd chunks – it could be written as one would a book, made up of chapters of uneven length.
As with a book, the reader can read as much as she likes in her available time. Releasing the full series all at once allowed the viewer to binge on all 13 episodes at once (as one of my colleagues did!) Rather than subject oneself to the tyranny of the studio’s time schedules and intrusive adverts, the viewer is now in control of his viewing experience. This raises the bar for the enjoyment of this type of leisure-time experience.
At the opening of ‘The House of Cards’, Frank Underwood kills an injured dog. When an executive was informed that “people are telling me we’ll lose half of our viewers when we kill this dog. What do you think about that?” He was able to reply that he didn’t really care if they were offended or not. No television studio executive could have replied with the same indifference, as a loss of audience would translate into a loss of revenue. If Netflix subscribers were repulsed by Frank Underwood’s actions they could choose from more than 100,000 hours of other Netflix content.
“While Netflix was working hard to expand the use of digital channels to distribute and promote content, the networks were trying to find ways to limit the use of digital channels to avoid cannibalizing viewing (and advertising revenue) on their broadcast channels,” say the authors.
The advances in technology have drastically changed the way people can consume media, and the future of the older models is no longer assured.
This is not only true for broadcast movies, but is true for music that is no longer sold and controlled by stores. Both movies and music can be easily pirated, copied and consumed across many devices and through many channels. Offering books digitally, opens them to the same competition and threat.
What all sorts of content producers have learned is that in the digital era, control is much more difficult to exert. With the ability to copy or pirate content, consumers have a more alluring new option: free.
To compete with piracy one can make the pirated content harder to find and more legally risky to consume. Or, as Netflix has done, by delivering more value than consumers could receive from pirated content, and by charging a reasonable fee for this extra value.
To thrive in this new digital age as a media house, requires reliable and detailed observations of audience behaviour. The new ways to distribute content need to be more personalized than is possible from broadcast channels, and the promotion of this content has to be done differently. The development of content needs to be less restrictive and allow new levels of creative freedom for writers.
Further, a new and more economically efficient way to monetize content needs to be found: on-demand bundled services currently beat à la carte sales.
“We don’t know which firms are going to come out on top in the next phase of competition in the entertainment industries. But we do know how technology is changing the entertainment industries.”
A stern warning from the authors, two very well informed and thoughtful men.
Readability Light ---+- Serious
Insights High +---- Low
Practical High ---+- Low
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of the recently released The Executive Update.
In that sense the title is misleading, as it seems to suggest that a major focus is music sharing and piracy. This is certainly is covered, but is dismissed as the relatively easy part. Like most of the analysis in the book, here Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang make sure that their views are backed up with as much experimental data as possible - and there appears to be good evidence that piracy isn't too big a deal, provided it's made easy to get access to legal digital versions in a timely fashion. It's where the publishers/networks either have poor online access or delay it til after, say, a DVD or hardback comes out that problems arise.
However, the main issue that Smith and Telang cover is the challenge that book and music publishers and the film studios/TV networks face in dealing with the internet giants. As the authors point out, the entertainment industries coped fine with new technology throughout the 20th century because they had control of the source material and distribution, and so were complacent when faced with the internet. But here, several major changes came together - Smith and Telang draw a parallel with the 'perfect storm' - and the old big names are potentially in trouble. The authors show how Amazon, iTunes and Netflix (as key examples) mean real trouble for those who used to pull the strings, particularly because of the newcomers' access to customer data, and ability to give customers what they are looking for, rather than just put out what they think customers might want and hope.
The analysis is often brutal and displays some outcomes from experiment that might surprise the publishers. For example, they found that when ebooks or digital versions of TV and film came out at the same time as DVDs and hardbacks, the overall take went up, but if they were held back to let more expensive DVDs and hardbacks have first shot - which was the traditional model used by most publishers and studios - digital sales plummeted, because digital users didn't buy the hardback/DVD instead, but either got a pirate version or just went for something else.
As well as individual lessons like this, the book does offer a little hope for the beleaguered publishers and studios as long as they can change their mindset - but it also seems likely that they will be like Kodak in the photography business, leaving it too late. As the authors make clear, it's not enough for individual publishers or studios to have their own online store, because few customers actually know or care who their favourite author/band is published by, or which network or studio produced what they want to watch. The only hope is if the content providers can band together and have a joint digital location with timely releases. But this doesn't augur well, as the the one attempt the networks have made, Hulu, has been shackled, forcing advertising and late releases on it.
If you are interested in the media and how the digital age is threatening the old world and transforming our entertainment environment, you need to read this book.