Entertainment industry is being outrun by a technological snail

Tom Coates's 2006 rant about the pace of change and the TV industry is as fantastic today as it was two years ago: in it, he takes issue with the entertainment execs who say that they can't be blamed for their failure to come to grips with new technology -- after all, everything is changing so quickly!
I'm completely bored of this rhetoric of endless insane change at a ludicrous rate, and cannot actually believe that people are taking it seriously. We've had iPods and digital media players for what - five years now? We've had Tivo for a similar amount of time, computers that can play DVDs for longer, music and video held in digital form since the eighties, an internet that members of the public have been building and creating upon for almost fifteen years. TV only got colour forty odd years ago, but somehow we're expected to think that it's built up a tradition and way of operating that's unable to deal with technological shifts that happen over decades!? This is too fast for TV!? That's ridiculous! This isn't traditional media versus a rebellious newcomer, this is a fairly reasonable and incremental technology change that anyone involved in it could have seen coming from miles away. And it's not even like anyone expects television or radio to change enormously radically over the next couple of decades! I mean, we're swtiching to digital broadcasting in the UK in a few years, which gives people a few more channels. Radio's not going to be fully digital for decades. Broadcast is still going to be a dominant form of content distribution in ten and maybe twenty years time, it just won't be the only one. And five years from now there will clearly be more bottom-up media, just as there are more weblogs now than five years ago, but I'd be surprised if it had really eradicated any major media outlets. These changes are happening, they're definitely happening, but they're happening at a reasonable, comprehendible pace. There are opportunities, of course, and you have to be fast to be the first mover, but you don't die if you're not the first mover - you only die if you don't adapt.

My sense of these media organisations that use this argument of incredibly rapid technology change is that they're screaming that they're being pursued by a snail and yet they cannot get away! 'The snail! The snail!', they cry. 'How can we possibly escape!?. The problem being that the snail's been moving closer for the last twenty years one way or another and they just weren't paying attention. Because if we're honest, if you don't want or need to be first and you don't need to own the platform, it can't be hard to see roughly where this environment is going. Media will be, must be, transportable in bits and delivered to TV screens and various other players. And there will be enormous archives available that need to be explorable and searchable. And people will create content online and distribute it between themselves and find new ways to express themselves. Changes in the mechanics of those distributions and explorations will happen all the time, but really the major shift is not such a surprise, surely? I mean, how can it be!? Most of it has been happening in an unevenly distributed way for years anyway. And it's not like it's enormously hard to see what you've got to do to prepare for this - find a way to digitise the content, get as much information as possible about the content, work out how to throw it around the world, look for business models and watch the bubble-up communities for ideas. That's it. Come on, guys! There's hard work to be done, but it's not in observing the trends or trying to work out what to do, it's in just getting on with the work of sorting out rights and data and digitisation and keeping in touch with ideas from the ground. This should be the minimum a media organisation should do, not some terrifying new world of fear!

Link (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. THANK GOD someone finally had the balls to say this.
    I’ve been thinking the same thing for years, as the mp3/digital file copyright debate has raged on and on.
    “Not keeping up with how people use your devices and software? You may have just selected yourself for elimination. Thank you, bye bye now.”

  2. Tom Coates needs to learn how to make paragraphs with his giant wall of text.

    It doesn’t appear he’s incapable, some of the other rants on his site about gay buttsecks and coca cola blak are nicely paginated.

    Shit, even his rant about blak is down to 1 succinct easily readable paragraph.

    Although, even writing this rant two years ago… he wasn’t predicting the future;
    The Man was already sending his throngs of jack-booted thugs out to kick in all manners of doors even back then.
    It’s sad to say, but they’re not gonna stop soon, especially with the tabling of new legislation here in Canada.

    These men will continue to run at a snails pace and protect themselves with laws and beat us with trungeons should we not comply and stop sharing ‘their’ intellectual property.

  3. People in general are afraid of the unknown…and they are lazy.

    There will always be late adopters, for many reasons. Fear, lazyness, and vested interests in the status quo to name a few. To adapt to change, businesses and individuals must invest labor and capital and foresee its profitability. And when it comes to predictions, well, it only gets difficult when thinking about the future…

    Since many businesses (read “bean counters”) cannot see past the end of the fiscal quarter, they are stuck thinking of only surface change (wiki “crumbling infrastructure” “GM” or “non-reimbursable health screenings”). These traits are not limited to communications, “buyers rights” or the internets. It’s a human personality trait.

    Yes zombiebabydiego – they are self selecting for elimination. Refusal or inability to change results in stagnation and death. (wiki “dodo bird”, “GM”) In the modern world, the longer any process has been in place only relates to how likely it is to be obsolete. If a market shifts and vendor A can’t deliver, vendor B will see the niche, adopt, and take that market share. Fact.

    In a capitalist nation, the way to influence change (ideas from the ground, referendum) is with your dollar. That is your ballot – the voting booth is the market. Don’t count on governments – they are already well compensated to preserve the status quo by their supporters: big business.

    and late adopters, the lazy ones, fearful of change, fully vested in the status quo, (wiki “fall + roman empire”) falling in line behind the woolly tails of those at the head of the curve: some finally fall to the rear of the herd, some get singled out…..and devoured by (vikings, entrepreneurs ) wolves.

  4. Its TV. You can digitize your content but when the content is largely dumbed-down flag-waving propaganda and boner pill ads, who cares?

    Aside from that, the cries for digitalization are ignoring the enormous costs in keeping up with technology. A CD has the shelf life of maybe 10 years and as technology changes, you have to update everything you have archived on older technologies. Case in point, who uses a zip drive anymore?

    Meanwhile, film archives and movie studios know that a 35mm print in cold storage will last almost 100 years and audiophiles know that a vinyl record sounds better than a CD and way better than an MP3.

    Digitally archiving and producing things is a way to keep up with technology, but not if that technology turns out -ultimately- to be a step backward.

  5. the executive suite that profits from the creativity of artists has always been focused on keeping things the same -at least after they have had THEIR success.

  6. I remember back when Fox actually came in number one on the ratinga like 18 years ago. The top folks at ABC, NBC and CBS dismessed Fox and said it was a temporary thing, and was going to go away.

    This is an industry that, despite changing all the time, seems to think that things aren’t changing. They are constantly surprised when things do, after all.

  7. I just want to point out the most old-line and reactionary forces in Hollywood are not actually the studios or distributors. If you really want to find out where pressure to maintain the status quo is coming from, you’ll have to look to the labor unions – organizations that have serious commitments in terms of their members health, pension and welfare.

    Traditionally, these Unions have been incredibly hard to get into. Once people are inside, they have a very privileged status that, for obvious economic reasons, they are loathe to give up. And they have no problem squeezing the balls of any young punk studio exec or fly-by-night producer who tries to diminish their standing.

    As evil as the MPAA may appear, it is important to note that its members are not a law unto themselves, acting only from pure selfish greed. While that may be a popular caricature, the reality is that studio business practices are dictated, in large part, by their obligations to the various guilds that have a near-total lock on every form of creative talent studios require, including actors, directors, production designers, cinematographers, editors, and musicians. Even hair and make-up have their own union (IATSE Local 706). And we haven’t even gotten to the non-creative, but totally essential labor needed from the grips and electricians (both hard-core Union trades) or the Teamsters, with whom you absolutely do not want to mess.

    Hollywood is, at heart, a Union town. For all their apparent power, studios are simply the middlemen between deeply entrenched guilds and the general public – financing, packaging and marketing the work done by the members of these unions for a public that, until recently, could be counted on to pay.

    And unlike studios, who need to balance obligations to audiences, shareholders, and vendors against their own self-interest, Unions are free to be entirely self-serving. Indeed, that’s what their members expect.

    And while Studios and Unions may clash violently when if comes to sharing the wealth, both groups are in absolute lockstep about maintaining the source of that wealth – namely, tightly controlled distribution channels.

    After all, when distribution becomes ‘democratized'(and in need of ‘new business models’) it’s not just media companies who find their positions at risk. Labor unions loose their primary form of leverage, since they can no longer represent their members interests by putting the screws to a manageable number of people (i.e. the members of the MPAA).

    Instead, they have the impossible task of extracting concessions from millions, if not billions of people – people who have made it clear that they’d really like to treat entertainers like subway buskers. You toss them a few coins if and when you feel like it, but only from a sense of charity or goodwill, and not a sense of obligation for payment due in exchange for service rendered.

    So, instead of asking a question (‘why do studios operate like they do?’) then jumping to a thoughtless conclusion (‘because they’re idiots’) Mr. Coates would do far better to really study the industry he’s ranting against. Had he taken this step, he’d realize that the loss of control over distribution is, contrary to his assessment, the entertainment business really is facing a force that’s truly revolutionary, upsetting, at it does, a basic operating reality that’s been in place for longer than films have had sound.

    Yes, a leopard can outrun a snail, but the snail can still move a lot faster than the leopard can change its spots.

  8. I think it’s fascinating that the entertainment industry is asking for governmental support to subsidize their lack of innovation and desire to remain on top without any work.

    I can’t wait to hear their whining when subversive cult productions by smaller groups become a dominant force in America.

  9. unions? What a joke. They are along for the ride but to suggest they are driving is producer propaganda.Go look up: “above the line, and below the line costs”. Unions! (snicker)

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