This week a big time talent agent in LA told me that one thing sorely lacking from the net is entertainment. I think he's right. You can buy stuff on the net, get information, play games, read movie reviews, watch trailers, find TV listings, and read gossip. But "Hollywood entertainment"– the kind that gets consumers to pay big bucks for – that's something else.
It's not like they aren't trying. Talent agencies like Creative Artists Agency and William Morris have recently struck deals with technology companies to make what looks like some powerhouse combinations for putting Hollywood type entertainment on the net.
South Park and other shows on animation sites like Macromedia's (MACR) Shockwave.com show that the future of web entertainment will certainly include animation.
Some, like pop.com, backed by Dreamworks SKG and others are pushing in the direction of original entertainment programming, making independent films, and short features including live action.
But the broader question is whether the net provides the unlimited potential as a new entertainment medium as many expect. Certainly this potential goes beyond the niche category of animation.
Can these new Hollywood entertainment companies become to the net what they are in the non-net world? Can they enjoy the multiple millions of viewers enjoyed by such web powerhouses as eBay (EBAY) and Yahoo (YHOO)?
WHERE'S THE PAIN?
The blockbuster web-sites are all those that identified and eased a pain that customers faced. Companies like CNET (CNET) and Autobytel (ABTL) eased the difficulty consumers faced in finding information about technological products and cars. Books could always be purchased from bookstores, but Amazon (AMZN) made the searching and buying process it a lot easier (if not cheaper).
What's the pain that entertainment on the net will ease? Some say that the need for entertainment is primal. I agree. But with hundreds of channels on TV, VCRs, DVDs, radio, and other ways to get entertainment inside and outside the home, is there still pain to solve?
Think about the following. Comedy is a mainstay of entertainment, and short comedy bits might be great on the net. But you can already see comedy on TV—all the time. Not only do comedy shows fill up most of prime time, there are entire channels devoted to nothing else. The point is that if you want comedy, it's pretty easy to find.
Others would argue the pain is that people want entertainment on demand, and that is perfectly suited to the net. I like this argument, but I still need to be convinced that current options are lacking to the degree that going to the computer for Hollywood entertainment is simply better.
COMPUTERS AS SOCIAL ESCAPISM?
The reason I'm skeptical is that I'm not convinced that computers provide the escapist and social qualities that other forms of entertainment deliver. True, computers can provide an escape from some parts of the external world, but do we want to escape to our computers to watch Hollywood type entertainment? Think about DVDs. Consumers have hardly been driven to their computers to watch DVD movies.
And what about the social aspects of entertainment? Don't people like watching TV together or going to the movies? Isn't it more fun to share a joke than to laugh alone? Will sharing Hollywood entertainment with people over a network provide the same or better level of enjoyment?
DREAMS OF BROADBAND
Now let's consider another aspect—the actual delivery of entertainment. Even if it could ease pain and do so better than more traditional methods, can it deliver the forms of entertainment that customers will likely demand?
Entertainment has traditionally been a rather high-bandwidth affair with TV and movies. If people are to look to the net for entertainment, and bypass the other easier forms, they must have broadband connections.
We all know, despite advertising by firms like Covad (COVD) and Quest (Q), that few Internet consumers currently have access to these big pipe connections. Sure, analysts like Jupiter are projecting 20 percent of consumers will have broadband connections by 2004, but if these projections depend on laying new fiber optic cable I'm even skeptical of that number. Why?
TRENCHES OFFER THE MORE REALISTIC VIEW
I recently sat next to two gentlemen on a flight who own and operate equipment that lays the fiber optic cables that enable broadband. The realities and horrors of laying cable they spoke of were mindboggling-- endless permits, corroded existing conduits, and intense manpower. It would often take 30 men and 2 weeks to lay down 2 city blocks of cable. These men—those in the trenches rather than in the boardrooms —found the current timetable for broadband access rates wildly optimistic.
Hollywood is no doubt envious of the billions of market cap of scrappy Internet firms, and wondering how they can claim a piece of the action. They have a wealth of creative talent and I'm sure their efforts will appeal to some people. But I doubt they will soon - or ever - turn into the blockbuster companies that they envision or that Hollywood is used to.
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