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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Are sites like Hulu and YouTube “anti-consumer, anti-media employees, and even anti-America”?

Last week at Deadline Hollywood, Nikki Finke posted some extraordinary comments by watchers of Hollywood and measurers of the performance of its products regarding the upheavals media is going through at the moment:

I’ve seen 3 deep-dive reports just this month about studio-produced entertainment going online. And the consensus is that Big Media could destroy what all three reports call the entertainment “eco-system” especially if they train consumers to think that they’re entitled to see professionally produced stuff for free online.

That prospect makes Laura Martin at Media Metrics apoplectic: Sites such as Hulu, she writes, are “anti-consumer, anti-media employees, and even anti-America” — and put “at risk” more than $300 billion worth of market value (that’s the combined price for the 30 stocks in the Bloomberg US Media Index). The reason? Media companies will lose a lot more revenue by giving shows away for free online than they will from pirates. Even worse, portfolio managers may decide to dump all of their entertainment stocks when they see what low regard studios and networks have for their best products. Less investment cash means fewer and crappier productions… and then you just kiss the business goodbye.

Less output from Hollywood might not be a bad thing at all: there’s too much stuff now, and too much of it sucks.

More from Finke:

Credit Suisse’s Spencer Wang shares her concern, without the hysteria. He notes how a broadcast show makes at least 64% less online than it does on TV and a cable show about 36% less. So why not run more ads online, charge consumers a fee, or make them buy a subscription? Too late. More ads will drive viewers away, he warns. And consumers “are not trained to directly ascribe monetary value to TV shows.”

I think Wang is wrong. I think consumers do understand that content worth paying for is, well, worth paying for. (iTunes proved this with music: give people an avenue through which they can pay for the stuff that is worth paying for, and we’re happy to pay for it.)

The problem is, it seems to me, that not enough stuff is worth paying for. Isn’t it anti-consumer and anti-American to foist products off on your customers in the full knowledge that if you throw enough crap at the wall, some of it may stick? Aren’t cable-company monopolies and packages that force us to pay for channels we don’t want anti-consumer and anti-American? Aren’t the multinational corporations that produce most of our entertainment anti-media employees in how they concentrate most of the money at the top, away from the people who actually do the creative and technical work?

Why does it often seem as if those who complain loudest about things being “anti-American” appear to assume that greed is a noble American value worthy of protection? Couldn’t Hollywood make less obscene profits, still ensure a comfortable living for its workers (while also spreading those profits around more equitably), and still produce quality entertainment that audiences are genuinely happy to pay for?

Or am I living in a utopian dreamworld? Are our values so hopelessly out of whack that they can never be realigned?

Are sites like Hulu and YouTube “anti-consumer, anti-media employees, and even anti-America”?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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