Seven Macro Trends (RioSeminars 2011 Presentation)
October 15, 2011
I promised during my keynote presentation on Monday, October 10, 2011 at RioSeminars 2011 that I would post my slides and some notes before Sunday at midnight, so here it is: 7 Macro Trends, RioSeminars 2011 (5 MB, PDF), and below are some notes that go with the slides. One reason I find it interesting to identify and reflect on trends is that we can often find opportunities in their contours. Another reason is they might offer us a new perspective on our current situation. We can never predict exactly what’s going to happen when the wave of the future crashes upon our shore, new opportunities are created, while others are transformed or even destroyed. The only thing we can be sure about is change. By embracing change and the disruption it causes, by facing the future with fascination rather than fear, we can move into the future looking for opportunities and better see the positive side of change.
1. Broadcast Network => Group Forming Network
We’re seeing a gradual decline in television audiences while people are spending more time on social networks and this is wreaking havoc on business models. A traditional broadcast network grows in value along a linear scale, therefore the community value can be calculated based on the number of viewers. The value of social networks (a.k.a. group forming networks) grows along a very different curve as dictated by Reed’s Law. The significance of Reed’s law is that eventually the network effect of potential group membership can dominate the overall economics of the system. David Reed discovered that the community value of large networks–particularly social networks–scales exponentially with the size of the network. The number of possible sub-groups of network participants is 2 to the power of n, where n is the number of participants. This explains the phenomenal growth in the value of social networks. Adding an additional 100,000 viewers to a television audience of 1 million is no big deal, but adding 100,000 network participants to a 1 million participant social network has a significant effect of the value of participation in the network. Networking pioneer J.C.R. Licklider wrote in 1968, “we form communities of common interest, not common location.” David Reed explains these concepts in the article “Weapon of Math Destruction: A simple formula explains why the Internet is wreaking havoc on business models” (Context Magazine, Spring 1999, link) along with “That Sneaky Exponential—Beyond Metcalfe’s Law to the Power of Community Building,” a companion article originally published as an online suppliment to the “Weapon of Math Destruction,” article.
2. Institutional Funding => Crowd Funding
The internet and a growing number of people paricipating in a variety of online communites is making it possible to raise money for creative projects online. Two services that stand out inlcude: IndieGoGo and
Kickstarter. These services differ in siginifiant ways in terms of how they operate. Kickstarter is a community limited to fundraising projects that meet their curatorial goals, and projects don’t receive any money unless the fundraising goal is reached. This is good in terms of providing funders confidence their money will go to a project that will be completed. On the other hand, IndieGoGo is an open community allowing anyone to raise money for their creative project. If you don’t make your goal, you can still keep the money you raised to put towards your project, however, a lot of funders might not like they’ve given money to a project that does not have the funds needed to be completed. To some people this seems to give Kickstarter the edge with their all or nothing approach. At this time, Kickstarter is only available for projects made in the United States and you must have a U.S. bank account and a U.S. place of residence in order to use the service (even though contributions can come from anywhere in the world). In favor of IndieGoGo is that it’s open to any project (not just creative, and no gatekeeper) and they have a more global perspective with campaigns in almost every country. This year (so far) fourteen films have made it to top festivals after crowdfunding on IndieGoGo, see: “IndieGoGo Films Showcased at World-Class Festivals in 2011” (Adam Chapnick, Tribeca Future of Film, September 30, 2011). There’s a rapid rise in the number of creative professionals leveraging crowd funding to support their work. One of the most impressive examples to date is Jennifer Fox’s Kickstater campaign for My Reincarnation in which she raised over $150,000 in order to get her film into distribution, she shares what she learned doing in her guest post, “How MY REINCARNATION Broke All Kickstarter Records & Raised $150,000” on Ted Hope’s blog.
3. Independence => Interdependence
In our connected world, filmmakers are moving away from the paradigm of “independent” filmmaking and embracing the notion of “interdependent” filmmaking. Unlike many industries, we’re not in competition with each other and we can benefit more from cooperation. This idea is being championed by Tiffany Shlain, Her film Connected is about the impact of the Internet on our lives and a call for to embrace a new philosophy of interdependence, for more details see see: 10 Big Ideas for the Future of Film by Tiffany Shlain (Mediashift/PBS.org, April 20, 2011) and The Power Of One: Food For Thought 2011 by Sawn Parr (Fast Company, Jun 1, 2011).
4. Oligopoly => Constellation of Gatekeepers
Once upon a time talented filmmakers and/or promising projects would be discovered and/or packaged by the Hollywood studios. With high barriers to entry (e.g. specialized knowledge, scarce resources, a lock on distribution, etc.) the major studios has a tight control on the industry and operated like an oligopoly. With access to inexpensive digital technology for production and postproduction–along with social media making it possible to establish a connection with an audience–filmmakers with the talent and drive to make it have the ability to take themselves from a state of being unknown talent to becoming popular with an audience through a process of lots of hard work developing an audience on their own. It used to take an influential executive at the studio to give you a green light for a project, now you can take your work directly to an audience an see if what you’re doing resonates with them. It may still take lots of money to make a film, but the ecosystem is growing into a constellation gatekeepers working a variety of levels, for example, film production is not within reach of many organizations who may choose to fund films that promote their agendas. One example that stands out is Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007) a supernatural horror film. It was originally produced as an independent feature with a home movie camera, but was later acquired by Paramount Pictures after a representative saw the film and was impressed. It has become a very profitable film along with a very effective social media marketing campaign, see “Paranormal Activity Rides the Social Web to Millions at the Box Office” by Christina Warren (Mashable, October 13, 2009). Realistically, cases like Paranormal Activity are the rare exception to the rule, it’s still as hard as ever to find an audience, but it you have a film that resonates with an audience, there are less factors in your way, as the oligopoly has given way to a constellation of gatekeepers that are more attuned to enabling rather than limiting your potential. Scott Kirsner’s book, Fans, Friends And Followers provides a good survey of how various people have developed their audience in the new media landscape.
5. Auteurs => Collaborations
Normal Hollyn, an editor, teacher, and author of The Film Editing Room Handbook (now it a 4th edition) wrote a delightful blog post titled, “Collaboration and Why The Auteur Theory Is Bull,” in which he argues that, “it’s impossible to make a film by yourself.” He points out that not every idea the director is going to have is good, and not all good ideas are going to come from the director. Film is a highly collaborative art form. Hollyn suggests the ideal way to work with any creative person is to, “come to the table with an idea (the ‘thesis’), let that person come up with a different idea (the ‘antithesis’) and then to let those two opposing notions contribute to a third, usually better, idea (the ‘synthesis’).” Hollyn argues that directors who think they are the, “sole auteurs of their work, and are too afraid or guarded to open up to other ideas, will generally miss out on those ‘third, usually better’ ideas, and their work will suffer.” Today it is easier than ever with email, Twitter, Facebook, DropBox, etc. to share and communicate and keep an open dialog as a project develops over time. But these just facilitators. The important trend is a change in mind-set in terms of what it means to be an “auteur” vs. “visionary” director. A visionary director can articulate a clear vision while orchestrating the process of synthesis that Hollyn discusses in his essay, which leads to the best work. Even Orson Welles, perhaps one of the greatest “auteurs” in Hollywood history, surrounded himself with amazing collaborators who made significant contributions to his films. He had so much respect for Greg Toland’s cinematography that he shared a title card with him. Behind the most successful “genius,” whether it be an Orson Welles or a Steve Jobs, is not an auteur in the classic sense of the term, but a visionary who collaborates effectively with creative people. There’s a huge difference between the two, and the difference boils down to creating an environment that supports synthesis.
6. Media Objects => Media Fabric
I believe Blu-Ray disks are the last physical media distribution format consumers will ever see. Everything is moving to the cloud. I love the convenience of Netflix streaming and I find it annoying I still have to wait for many movies to arrive as DVDs. Why can’t they all simply be streamed to my Mac or iPad? While licensing deals will keep a lot of media tied up in knots for a while, eventually it will all end up on the cloud. See “Apple, Hollywood Close To Streaming Movie Deal?” by Thomas Claburn, Information Week, October 13, 2011) and “Movies in the Clouds” by By Michelle Kung (Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2011). But the concept of Media Fabric (which I borrow from Glorianna Davenport) goes way beyond the notion of media living on the cloud. Davenport’s idea is that of, “a semi-intelligent organism where, lines of communication, threads of meaning, chains of causality, and streams of consciousness converge and intertwine to form a rich tapestry of creative story potentials, meaningful real-time dialogues, social interactions, and personal or communal art- and story-making.” The idea is that media is becoming something integrated into our everyday lives, connecting us in new ways that we are shaping through the very process of our interaction with each other. See “Media fabric — a process-oriented approach to media creation and exchange” by Glorianna Davenport, et. al.
7. Specialized Competence => Media Literacy
Media was was once the domain of specialized individuals working in specialized organizations. Today, the trend is towards media production and dissemination becoming a core competency of every organization, as well as every individual. Many of us shoot a lot of casual video to share with friends, which helps us develop a sense for working with a camera. Increasingly we are purchasing smart phones equipped with spectacular cameras. Small videocameras like the Canon VIXIA provide high-quality high-definition images in the form-factor of a small camcorder. Things like smart-auto focus with face recognition makes it easy to produce good, sharp, point-and-shoot video. The ubiquity of video cameras has made it easy for anyone to pick up a camera and try their hand at media production. In the late 1990s it was essential for everyone to have a web site. Today it has become essential to enhance that web site with video. With video sharing sites like Vimeo and YouTube, we have at our fingertips an easy way to share video with others. With all the traditional barriers gone, writing with a camera is poised to become almost as ubiquitous as writing with a word processor. See my blog post, “Cinema will eventually become a flexible means of writing.”
For additional perspectives on these trends, see my companion post, “Researching Seven Macro Trends,” which provides a survey of the background research I did while preparing for this presentation. It includes micro-interviews with: Patricia Aufderheide, Perry Bard, Philip Hodgetts, Brian Lucid, Caroline Blair, Charles Papert, Steve Garfield, Chuck Green, Geo Geller, Jon Goldman, Julie Mallozzi, Kathryn Dietz, Kevin Brooks, Lee Morgenroth, Nathan Felde, Philippe Lejune, Ryan Evans, Slava Rubin, Zak Ray, Anne Marie Stein, Audrey Kali, and Brian Henderson.
This post was revised on October 17, 2011 to fix some typos and links.