Viacom is becoming a lawsuit company instead of a TV company

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20 Responses to “Viacom is becoming a lawsuit company instead of a TV company”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What exactly does Viacom do? As far as I can tell, they are a doomed middleman, like all TV channels, cablecos, publishers and distributors.

    Given these dying business categories, what can they do but sue? Never mind the fact that this means they employ mostly lawyers anyway, who need to continually justify their jobs!? It’s a perfect storm.

    • masamunecyrus says:

      SORRY FOR THE WALL OF TEXT, but I tried to make it an interesting read. :-)

      @Anon #8:

      These companies do not just default to “doomed middleman” status; it is a periodic, total failure of business strategy and decision-making that causes these companies to be in their “doomed” status.

      There will always be room for middlemen in the world. People will say, “oh, with the advent of the internet, we don’t need recording labels, anymore.” Yeah, well go to YouTube and find me a good indie singer. It’s not that easy, is it, unless you like to wade through 800,000 videos of some guy on a guitar recording over a shitty webcam until you find one talent. Middlemen are necessary for dealing with this issue.

      I give you two examples of middlemen succeeding where the music and movie industries are not.

      1.) The video game industry. Here, you have many gigantic companies, a few smaller companies, and hundreds of even tinier developers. The big-name publishers put out a lot of good stuff. Much of their products are their own, but in many cases big companies publish games or give support to tiny developers who have promising games. The small developer wins because they get a big commercial deal and increased recognition, and the big-name company wins because people begin to think like, “oh, I always like Square-Enix games. I bet this new game from Square-Enix will be good.

      But in some cases, the big companies grow too big for their own good and lose creative flexibility. They are only able to continue on a specific successful formula and fail to innovate, much like what the big music and movie companies are now doing. In the video game industry, it is feasible for smaller companies to exist, however. People can decide, “You know what, I haven’t liked the last 5 Final Fantasies. The characters are all the same rehashed emo bitches. But you know, Platinum Games is a really new company, and I really liked MadWorld and Bayonetta. And before Platinum Games, they made Viewtiful Joe and Okami! I’m going to look into their next games.” And in some of these small companies who might only employ a handful of people, they can team up with tiny developers and work more intimately with them to produce games, or they can approach large companies and ask for development help.

      So in the game industry, we have a case where the massive brands thrive because they were once small, but grew to their current size by innovation and great products. Many of them have lost their creativity and flexibility and now just push out the same predictable products. But they do follow a formula that has been successful, and you can usually count on their games, innovative or not, to be entertaining. But on the other hand, if you really want something new, there are many start-ups and young, small companies that offer great new experiences, too. They’re tiny, so they are frequently much more flexible and able to innovate than large companies. But unlike the large companies, their smallness sometimes affects their quality and their fun-factor is less predictable. But you know, someday one of these small companies could rise and become a big-name, too.

      2.) The US anime industry. The US anime industry is a good example of some large-size businesses that, nevertheless, haven’t completely lost touch with their consumers. Anime companies, big and small, are always looking for ways to innovate and satisfy their customers. Back in the 80′s, that meant totally erasing any blip of Japaneseness of a cartoon and making it seem like a high-quality domestic product. But times change and people stopped watching those shows. Instead of blaming anybody, the anime industry realized that their new fans had grown up more accustomed to Japan through video games and the internet, and they were ready to consume more Japanese products. Around this time, Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon flourished, despite their obvious Japanese-ness.

      Anime got to be huge, and tons of animes were localized, but not edited for their Japaneseness. Inuyasha, YuYu Hakusho, Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, all obviously Japanese and all crazy popular.

      But now, people are moving on, again. Everyone started watching fansubs. Anime companies could have easily become sue-happy and financially ruined anyone caught downloading anime on bittorrent like the RIAA and MPAA do, but they didn’t. It’s better to ask WHY people are spending hours and hours downloading (internet wasn’t so fast a couple years ago) compressed anime and watching it on monitors when they could buy a high-quality dvd and watch it on a TV. Of course, “price” is always an answer, but more than that, everyone was watching fansubs. Many people even prefer fansubs to dubs. Lots of people think that fansubs are not only free, but they offer a superior product than the localization companies! On top of that, Americans are very comfortable with Japan, and anime series are getting popular in the States even before they are ever announced to reach US shores. People don’t want to stop watching their favorite series and restart back to episode 1 to wait for the US anime companies to catch up translating. And people like J-Pop, too, so they don’t want to hear a crappy garage band redo their favorite intros and endings.

      The anime industry is evolving to meet people’s interests, once again. People don’t want cheesy intros, they don’t want rock music, they want the real anime, and they want it accurately translated. A large portion of the US anime companies’ audience is still kids, and they can only show a show as uncensored as TV channels will let them, but these companies also want to be relevant to their increasingly large hardcore adult crowd, too. So in addition to trying to push the envelope and censor as little as possible on TV (after all, Japanese kids get to watch these uncensored, why can’t American kids?), you can find more and more series being released on DVD in “TV” and “uncensored” versions. And on TV, you’ll frequently see the original Japanese intro, subtitles and all, instead of a dubbed or totally changed intro scene. And lastly, in addition to releasing localized DVDs for fans and for TV broadcasting, for some anime series you can watch the latest episodes straight from Japan with nothing but subtitles right there on the US anime companies’ website for free.

      So here you can see that the anime industry is evolving to meet their consumer’s demands (subtitled new episodes online, uncensored versions on DVD) while still trying to maintain their core business model (mainstream English localization, TV broadcasting).

      So… Why do the music and movie industries refuse to adapt like the anime and game industries do?

      • Shay Guy says:

        Anime companies aren’t that big. Funimation’s the biggest and they’ve got…well, not that many people. They can’t afford to get all lawsuit-happy. And the business is still struggling; streaming barely makes any money. Plus barely any anime makes it to the airwaves now that Toonami’s gone and Adult Swim has basically zero interest. It’s very much a niche market.

        Around this time, Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon flourished, despite their obvious Japanese-ness.

        Sailor Moon, of course, still got the erase-all-indicators-of-it-being-Japanese treatment.

        It’s better to ask WHY people are spending hours and hours downloading (internet wasn’t so fast a couple years ago) compressed anime

        Most of that time, of course, they’re also doing other things. And video quality isn’t much better on DVD; most fansubs are at least in SD and often in HD.

        On top of that, Americans are very comfortable with Japan

        Again, not so much Americans as a whole. The most envelope-pushing I’ve seen in something really mainstream was keeping “Sensei” in Ponyo. Unless you meant just Japan as a setting, in which case yes, Death Note and Bleach attest to that (though they’re still not THAT “mainstream”).

        And people like J-Pop, too, so they don’t want to hear a crappy garage band redo their favorite intros and endings.

        So why is Funimation redoing the theme songs for One Piece, Ouran, Case Closed, and others?

        they want the real anime, and they want it accurately translated.

        Bear in mind that fansubs these days are more likely to have translation errors than pro translations. It’s as much about perceived accuracy as it is about actual accuracy.

        A large portion of the US anime companies’ audience is still kids, and they can only show a show as uncensored as TV channels will let them, but these companies also want to be relevant to their increasingly large hardcore adult crowd, too.

        Calling [citation needed] on both the size of the kids’ audience and the matter of whether the “hardcore adult crowd” is actually growing. Many are of the opinion that R1 anime has been going the same direction superhero comics have been — cut off from new growth and increasingly catering to a shrinking fanbase.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, I did mean doomed by their own behaviour. Their current business model is dying, so to survive they will need to adapt somehow.

        I see the future of TV, if there is one, in a transition to a ‘filtering’ business (though the cablecos are better positioned for that) where they have browseable databases of view-on-demand shows, with trailers and maybe some sort of fee for the TIVO-type ‘season pass’.

        Genre categories, review scores, all tied up in a nice-looking menu. Even youtube is getting better at this part.

        Your point about the videogame industry does seem to prove that there is such a thing as being too big. Look at the bloated monstrosity that is Activision, for example. Or maybe that’s just the singular evil that is Kotick.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s that evil Rupert Murdoch!

  3. simonbarsinister says:

    Rumor has it Darl McBride is a strategic consultant to Viacom.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think the irony of this legal action is that Viacom employees use YouTube every day check out songs and new artists (I do tech support for them). So it seems OK for Viacom to use YouTube as a quasi-content management system but not for anyone else to do the same.

  5. bcsizemo says:

    Or one side who wants to build a somewhat working business model that could yield long term profits, or one that seeks to maximize short term profits/shareholder value for potential future loss.

    Either way when I see the words “maximize shareholder value”, I automatically become skeptical of any plan.

    • Cory Doctorow says:

      Among the people trying to put their video online is the head of Comedy Central. I presume he’s interested in “long term profits.” Meanwhile, the people gunning to take the video off YouTube are in the legal department, and seem more interested in ensuring that the primacy of lawyers at Viacom than in profits.

      For there to be such a thing as “a somewhat working business model that could yield long term profits,” technology would have to stop advancing. There is no such thing as a long-term sustainable strategy, only a series of short term ones that adapt to circumstances.

      • bhtooefr says:

        Maybe Comedy Central could do a convoluted setup where they buy themselves out of Viacom, much like what Palm did to get out of 3Com?

      • XerxesQados says:

        Well, one could say that entering the litigation business is a “short term strategy” which is an “adaptation to circumstances”, so I guess that Viacom’s doing what they’re supposed to¡

        You know, Lawrence Lessig was on Colbert once. I wonder if that would slip past the censors nowadays.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Take a look at the Viacom owned Superfund mining site in Colorado.

  7. Anonymous says:

    As someone who worked at Viacom for a long time ( over 10 years) I can tell you it was run by creatives and was a lot of fun to work at.

    At some point ( post-CBS merger) it got taken over by attorneys and consultants and what you see now, is a by product of that change in personnel.

    Glory days there long gone.

    • masamunecyrus says:

      @Anon #3:

      It seems that this sort of thing has happened to EVERY large company in the United States over the past decade. This problem just nearly destroyed the world economy.

      Blaming the “richest X percent” is the cool thing to do nowadays, but I hope that people eventually realize that the people making three, four, even $600,000 aren’t the ones that are ultra-greedy, stingy, evil people. In recent executive pay reports, there has been growing talk of the unusual situation where not only is there a growing gap between the top 10% earners and other 90% of workers, but there has been a sharply growing gap between even the top 10% and the top 1% or even top 0.1% earners.

      These super-elite class executives with ballooning salaries are the real problem. The average CEO wage in the US is dramatically higher than anywhere else in the world. The next highest-paid CEOs are in Switzerland, and they only get 60% of US CEO salaries. I really think that it’s these super-elite class members that, like in Viacom, have taken over the management of every major company and are the ones causing economic havoc. These are the kinds of people that don’t think, “How can I make a great company and become super-rich,” but these are the people who think, “How can I exploit the current company’s situation to maximize its stock prices without actually doing anything positive for the long-term growth of the company?”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Viacom creates content. Viacom anonymously uploads content to youtube creating an image of popularity for the content. Viacom issues takedown notices of postings that Viacom themselves put on Youtube thus creating an image of popularity for the content. Most viewers don’t care who the content creator is, but if they hear a shows name enough times they might tune in to see what it’s all about.

    Win Win Win for Viacom. I wonder why they do it? (Rhetorical)

  9. Joe Escalante says:

    This is exactly what The Daily Variety and their parent company Reed Elsevier are doing to the punk rock band the Vandals. Instead of trying to maximize distribution or ad sales, they are filing frivolous abusive lawsuits to shake people down for money.
    http://www.techdirt.com/blog.php?company=reed+elsevier&edition=techdirt

  10. Anonymous says:

    @ Cory:
    “There is no such thing as a long-term sustainable strategy, only a series of short term ones that adapt to circumstances.”

    I disagree. A long term sustainable strategy would be something like ‘Viacom will produce 4,000 hrs per year of new popular entertainment and use that to create a revenue stream by selling the content directly to various broadcasters, by sales of content direct to consumers, and and using the content to generate advertising income.’ Note that the strategy is technology neutral, as all strategy (and legislation, incidentally) should be.

    A short term strategy would be ‘fuck this “production” bullshit. We just going to sue the shit out of anyone who even *thinks* about trying to use our existing stock of content without paying for it.’

    Jon (who really needs to get of his az and create an account)

  11. george57l says:

    There is no such thing as a long-term sustainable strategy, only a series of short term ones that adapt to circumstances.

    Define your terms, every single one of them, because whatever cod business text book that came from, it is still utter b******s.

    Have companies like, oh I don’t know, IBM, Sony, Honda, Wal-mart, The Co-operative, Tesco, Gillette (just pick a few names out of the hat at random) and umpteen others not had sustainable long-term strategies? (Even if their tactics may have changed occasionally – but not even that, in some cases.)

    I’m not arguing with the underlying proposition which may have inspired that pithy statement, but as pithy statements go, it seems darned sloppy to me.

  12. george57l says:

    @ anon #12

    You beat me to it – and much more elegantly

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s what Microsoft is doing with their “Linux is infringing on out patents” FUD licencing agreements, they feel that they are losing so they legislate and lobby for draconian IP laws.

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