â€œIn Mozartâ€™s time, word of mouth built an audience. People found him and heard him play. Then someone came along and said, â€˜We can sell this experience.â€™ Right there, youâ€™ve got trouble. Music comes from the spirit, but where does the guy selling the music come from?â€ â€“ Prince
THE music that you and I hear on radio, on TV, in the theatre is strictly controlled by the four big music companies – Sony Music, EMI, Warner and Universal.
These companies specify how often various songs should be played on public radio. They determine which artists should be promoted and which should take a backseat. And if you do not get one of them to sign you on, the chances of making it big are all but zero.
Musicians need advertising dollars, they need marketing, they need to travel and play gigs in order to become known. The big four pay these costs but recoup them more than adequately. If a musician has no chance of making money for the companies, he or she will not get a contract.
That’s why there is little or no innovation in the music industry these days. What is produced is like the food from McDonalds – all in the same style, tasteless crap. As with all other industries once consolidation takes place and huge monoliths start running the show, everything tastes or looks or sounds the same.
The period from the 1960s to the mid-1980s was a glorious one when there were creative bands galore like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Dire Straits, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, to name just five outfits. And there were Santana, Hendrix, Marley, Guthrie, Clapton, Sting, Baez, Frampton, Lightfoot, Croce, Taylor, Chapin, Winwood…
What equivalents does one find these days? Those that do produce music are plastic imitations of each other. Oasis and Coldplay are garbage. So too Lady GaGa, Beyonce, and their ilk. Buble is forced to sing songs from the 70s when he wants to create a hit album.
Commoditisation works for some things. Not for creative trades like music. The McDonaldisation of the music industry has put the lid on human ingenuity.
LAST night, after nearly six months, I dropped in on my local video library to kill some time by browsing around while my son was at his karate class. It’s never hit me so hard – this business is badly out-of-date.
Most of the new releases were ones I had either seen as much as three months ago or films I had known were being released around the same time. It looks very much like the greed of the film industry will be its own downfall.
Let me explain. Most film studios want a film to exhaust its saleability in theatres before the DVD is released; only a few have seen the light and are now allowing the film to be released on the big screen and in DVD format simultaneously.
Hence, by the time most films come to the video library, they have been released for at least a couple of months. Who is going to wait that long to see a film – especially when copies, not very kosher ones, can be obtained from other sources?
In countries like the US, film channels like Hulu are being tested over the internet. Hulu does not yet offer a service in this part of the world so it is not possible to say what kind of bandwidth is needed to see a film without the transmission being jerky. That will be a limiting factor in countries like Australia because bandwidth is very expensive and though a national broadband network has been promised, it is unlikely to be in place even by 2015.
Even when people are prevented from seeing a film or TV programme by law, it just doesn’t seem to prevent copies of the prohibited programme(s) being distributed and, at times, even sold. A well-known case in Australia was the Underbelly crime series which could not be shown on TV in the state of Victoria for legal reasons. It was shown in neighbouring New South Wales.
The speed at which copies of this series began to circulate in Victoria was simply amazing. It looked very much like the production studio itself was leaking the prints to grey market sources and it became possible to see the series well before it was shown on TV at all.
The same goes for films. The case of X-Men, the Hugh Jackman blockbuster, is the most recent. The film gained a lot of publicity due to the prolfieration of news that it was being downloaded by all and sundry.
Australia is quite backward when it comes to technology, no matter what the media says. In Britain, the sale of video recorders was discontinued in 2005 by retailers; in Australia it is still possible to buy a VCR at a retailer, though you won’t find too many of them these days. The last time I visited JB HiFi, the biggest retailer of electronic goods, there were a couple of VCRs lying around. And this was six months ago.
So what does the poor video library owner do in this case? Even in Australia, the video library owners must be seeing the writing writ large on the walls. Nobody will buy a video library now – it has no future, it is part of the past.
A lot depends on how the upper layers of the film industry react. If they decide to act like the music industry did when music first became available on the net from unauthorised sources, then they will stand to lose. The music industry kept hanging on to the old formats – CDs – because the profit margins were huge, not realising that going the digital route would mean a massive increase in sales volume.
That’s the reality – when anything goes digital, volume sales increase and costs decrease. Profits will decrease but there will be profits for those who adapt and adopt the new technology.
It’s doubtful whether Australia will be one of the enlightened countries in this regard – just yesterday a decision was taken by the Australian federal government to protect the book industry by prohibiting parallel imports. This is protectionism that harks back to an earlier era and retrograde thinking of the worst possible kind.
But this is the kind of thinking that prevails at the level where decisions are made. People are scared of technology and afraid of losing control. Businesses like video libraries will have no choice but to be governed by laws that are framed by people who are, themselves, past their shelf-life.
No amount of copy-protection or legislation will prevent piracy; those who can break encryption are far ahead of those who design it. Film studios have to come up with a scheme that protects their entire food chain – and that include the lowly video rental outlets.
Else, if you are a video library owner prepare to do business in some other sphere.