In just a few hours, Steve Jobs will take the stage at MacWorld 2008 for his keynote. The live feed will be on the net and there will be thousands of posts by the time he walks off the stage. Later this evening, every local and national TV news will report on the new products. Tomorrow, all the newspapers will carry the story.
The Cult of Mac – more aptly, Steve – is astounding to watch. No other company can generate this much buzz. For a reason. People like Steve’s products. They use them in their daily lives and praise them more often than they curse them. Not an easy task in the world of technology. And Steve has proven a knack for leading industries.
The latest industry Steve may lead: the studios that produce and distribute movies and television. It is anticipated that Apple today will announce a movie rental service for its iTunes product and perhaps an upgrade to AppleTV.
This comes as the WGA strike is now two months old — with the very issue of internet residuals at the forefront — and the movie and TV industries are facing important decisions that could impact the very health of the industry. A crucial fork in the road.
Will the studios learn from the moribund music industry and embrace change or follow the music labels down the false path that fighting piracy is the grail quest?
If Harvey Weinstein is any indication, it doesn’t look good.
Portfolio Magazine has an essay on Media Defender, a troubled grail seller hired by media companies to block their content from flowing freely through the P2P world. That Media Defender’s tactics rarely actually work seems beside the point.
“This is not Napster,” says Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul who heads the Weinstein Co., a MediaDefender client. “Online piracy has got to be stopped. The biggest spear in the neck of the pirates will be (a) being vigilant, (b) prosecuting, and (c) in a way, making fun of them, finding a way to say, ‘That’s not cool—that’s anything but cool.’ If you had people who the young people respect in this industry—Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Shia LaBeouf—if these guys did public service announcements that said, ‘Don’t steal, stealing’s not cool,’ I think you can go a long way toward stopping this.”
Sure, the quixotic pursuit of pirates has sapped the music industry of any real chance of embracing its fans. Sure, shelf space for DVDs is following the shrinking trend of CDs — even if Warner Bros may have ended the fight in favor of Blu-Ray. Sure, the movie industry has the benefit of learning from the implosion the music industry has self-inflicted. But screw all that. Let’s spear pirates in the neck!
Today, at least, it seems the studios are playing ball, letting Steve work his magic to get consumers excited again. And sure, the studios look to the music biz and see a declining model while Apple rakes in billions. Which makes them nervous. But they would be wise to remember that it isn’t because of Steve that the labels are dead.
The labels killed themselves by ignoring consumer demands, relying on formula and stale strategy, and, most stupidly, focusing on killing piracy as the grail that solves everything. The labels have made themselves into consumer adversaries wielding lawsuits and DRM then wondering why consumers hate them so.
Later today, as Steve takes the stage, as thousands pour in to hear him speak and millions more read and hear about it from the news, the studios should stop and consider exactly what kind of relationship they want with consumers in the coming years.
Do they want consumers to listen and care — like Steve?
Or do they want to be ignored and hated — like the labels?
Lest they forget, at the end of the day, these are multi-generational brands. Whether it be Tinker Bell’s wand magically making Disney’s logo or the 20th Century Fox trumpets or MGM’s lion’s roar, consumers have a lifelong association and relationship with these companies.
Sure, good content is the crucial key to longevity, but the studios have proven for decades that a few bad movies here and there won’t kill the golden goose. And yes, stars and name brand directors and adapted screenplays generate the buzz but the studio brands ultimately span multiple generations. Will Rogers, Betty Grable, and Shirley Temple are long gone from Fox as are Humphrey Bogart and Doris Day from Warner. But the studios survive.
The record labels are losing artists. Tim Clarke, Robbie Williams’ manager called EMI’s head honcho, Guy Hands, a “plantation owner.” And EMI is set to slash one third of its workforce today. The WGA strike has canceled the Golden Globes and Oscar is just around the corner. All the while Steve Jobs is about to bask in that annual worship ritual known as the MacWorld keynote.
Decision time for the studios: Listen to and give the consumers what they want or beat them upside the head with DRM and lawsuits?
Do they want to be loved like Steve or hated like the labels?