The Hollywood crisis that isn't

Everyone panic – that’s an order!

Analysis Barely a week has gone by without reports of Hollywood’s great box office slump of 2005. So our thanks go to screenwriter John August for pointing out that on closer examination, the ‘slump’ is as elusive as missing Weapons of Mass Destruction.

“Every Monday brought new speculation about just what was causing the downturn, and What It Really Meant. Could the problem be the poor state of movie theaters, the growth of DVD, the price of gasoline?” observes John.

“What makes this self-flagellation so annoying and unwarranted is that the ‘box office slump’ is basically a myth,” he points out.

In fact 2005’s box office returns mirror 2004’s very closely, and box office receipts are down just six per cent this year. One more blockbuster would have turned the slump into a boom.

“Is there really an industry crisis if just one movie would eliminate it?” asks John.

Of course not. But a better question is why do so many people want you to engender this panic?

Because it suits them, that’s why.

Phony crisis

Listening to our old friend Lawrence Lessig and former MPAA boss Jack Valenti debate each other on National Public Radio last week, it became clear. The dears sounded like a couple of senior citizens grumbling their way a cold day trip to Brighton Beach – but in reality the phony crisis suits them both.

Representing the pigopolist lobby, Valenti wants to instil widespread panic so he can outlaw new technologies of storage and distribution. History tells us that rights holders have always profited from such new technologies, and it’s a point Lessig has himself made superbly in the past.

Representing the technology determinists, Lessig also wanted to tell us the sky is falling, because copyright was the real obstacle to technical innovation. The favorite narrative of today’s techno-utopians goes “X is the end of Y as we know it!” (or “Z changes everything!”) – it’s a recurring adolescent fantasy.

History tells us that copyright has always bent to accommodate the new technologies, and the social contract always engineers new compensation models. Instead, Lessig concluded with a little Hallmark Card homily to the power of creativity, citing “14 million blogs” as a testament to human ingenuity. No, really.

The geek lobby sees the power of computer networks being frustrated by rights holders, and wishes those rights away. The rights lobby sees its value being eroded by the lack of new compensation models to go with new technology, and so wishes the technology away. But neither those rights, nor the technology, are going to be wished away.

So a permanent war suits both lobbies.

“We’ll make every sample an infringement!” cry the rights holders – as if to encourage the view that looking at something is a crime. (For technophobes like Jack, that’s probably true). “It’s the end of creativity as we know it!” scream the nerds – encouraging the view that creativity is defined by the computer (For literalists like Larry, that’s almost certainly true).

But it’s a very phony war. The MPAA is only too happy to play the cartoon role the techno utopians have created for them, in a narrative dominated by fear, domination and control. Like small children playing a game of ghost, they’ve succeeded only in frightening the bejesus out of each other.

And this thoroughly dishonest debate – you could call it the artistic versus the autistic – is lopsided to begin with. It’s Jack, not Larry, who has Sin City and Mean Streets. But only by taking the long view can you see how irrelevant both of their phony stances really are.

Don’t Panic.

Related link

Slump? [screenwriter John August] … [more comment]

Police stake out bar, hoping to catch man drunk

Canadian cops staked out a bar in the hope of finding a journalist drunk, a court heard today.

The journalist in question, Edmonton newspaper columnist Kerry Diotte, wasn’t suspected of involvement in any crime. But Diotte had written a column criticizing the police force’s radar and camera technology as being more of a cash cow for the force than an effective measure against road fatalities – and the story enraged the local constabulary.

Diotte has been a consistent critic of the police’s technology dependency habit.
Continue reading “Police stake out bar, hoping to catch man drunk”

Google snubs press in privacy fury

Google has thrown a hissy fit and blacklisted tech news site CNET’s News.com – vowing not to provide quotes or statements to the site for a year.

“Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story,” noted reporter Elinor Mills here.

The previous story, by the same reporter and published on July 14, drew on information largely gleaned from Google itself to note Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s political affiliations and hobbies.

“Like so many other Google users, his virtual life has been meticulously recorded,” wrote Mills. Since Schmidt is on the public record with a promise to build “a Google that knows more about you”, he’s hardly in a position to complain when his company is demonstrated to be functioning as designed.

“Shouldn’t he resign if he feels that searching through Google’s index is so evil?” wrote one correspondent to Dave Farber’s IP mailing list.
Continue reading “Google snubs press in privacy fury”

For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity

No human disaster these days is complete without two things, both of which can be guaranteed to surface within 24 hours of the event.

First, virus writers will release a topical new piece of malware. And then weblog evangelists proclaim how terrific the catastrophe is for the internet. It doesn’t seem to matter how high the bodies are piled – neither party can be deterred from its task.

For the technology evangelists, the glee is barely containable. The daily business of congratulating each other jumps to a whole new level with all the bloggers marveling in unison at their ability to detail real-time tragedy.
Continue reading “For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity”

Sun's newest star lauds the PT Barnum way

“The web is now nature,” says Glenn Edens, one of Sun Microsystems’ most important executives, and its fastest-rising star.

The senior VP has been Director of Sun Labs for around 18 months, but the bright lights of Hollywood now beckon. He’s been picked to head Sun’s newest creation, a vertical business unit aimed at converged media, entertainment and broadband, which was announced with a flourish in Las Vegas at the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show.
Continue reading “Sun's newest star lauds the PT Barnum way”

Nokia enters the data dispenser biz

Every bar has a condom dispenser. Why doesn’t every store have a data dispenser? Because you don’t want to shag a computer, of course. But this is an idea that remains largely unexplored.

At 3GSM last week, Nokia tiptoed into a market that one day might be enormous: the “proximity server”. If you’ve attended a tech conference in recent years you might even have used one without giving it a second thought. San Francisco pioneer WideRay has been in the business for five years: it beams the schedule to attendees on demand via Infra Red or Bluetooth. Inside the server is a cellular SIM, which updates itself from the network. But it could beam anything: ring tones today, MP3 files tomorrow. With an increasing number of punters having Bluetooth phones, the market potential increases daily. When we looked at the idea almost two years ago, it seemed proximity servers could have deep consequences, such as the potential to transform product branding, or at least make the retail experience less daunting for shop-o-phobics.
Continue reading “Nokia enters the data dispenser biz”