Getting Hollywood's Web business model up to speed

How do we get Hollywood to react to things like Bittorrent and online-only distribution? Five of Hollywood's big guys come together to talk about it.

On Wednesday evening five of Hollywood's content producers gathered at the TechCrunch50 conference to chat about what the entertainment industry is doing to adapt in the ever-changing landscape of content consumption.

The underlying theme of the panel was the "balancing act" that Hollywood has to manage to make sure its response to pirating and user-generated content does not keep legitimate users from bring down the entire system. That said, there was very little discussion of digital rights management.

Of the panelists, Joss Wheton, the creator of the popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Internet series Dr. Horrible's Sing Along, said frankly that the studios are "trying to re-create the model of creating a successful television show where you pour in millions and get many more millions back," but that the problem was really about rethinking an "antiquated" system that's worked so well for so long.

Chris Henchy, creator of FunnyOrDie.com, tries to explain how Hollywood is approaching online content distribution. Rafe Needleman / CBS Interactive

TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, who was moderating the panel, asked if it was simply an issue of ownership. Producer and director Stan Rogow said simply that it was no longer an allegiance game. Viewers were simply going to the content they liked, however they could get it, and that Hulu was the first real acknowledgment of that. "When two of the biggest brands in the network got together they didn't all it FOX/NBC," he said. "They called it Hulu because there are clearly negative connotations."

Part of overcoming those negative connotations requires changing how content is delivered, including the restrictions that keep users from being able to get at it. Wheton's Dr. Horrible series was another test of that, with a paid option through iTunes, alongside an ad-supported, limited time viewing window on Hulu. Hulu's limited run of Dr. Horrible wasn't an instance of restriction as much as trying to entice people to come and get it, or as Wheton put it "a place where you can have a time-specific event in an old fashioned way."

Besides Hollywood's latest creations hitting the Web legally, another interesting topic was celebrities making use of the Web for self promotion. More and more we've seen recording artists put more effort into things like personal blogs and short-form videos without any kind of official production. Wheton noted that this tends to work better for Internet video stars because that's how they started, but when celebrities do it, it can backfire and remove some of the "mystique" that makes them celebrities in the first place.

Ultimately it's just a game of getting some very large companies up to speed with a set of consumers who have a new device and way to access it every few years. "It's control of money, control of product, control of what comes out after," Henchy said. "People are still talking about DVDs and what extra content goes on that. It's just a matter of time before (it goes) back to (what happened with) music. We've gotta figure it out."

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About the author

Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.

 

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