The rules of the old don’t govern the new

The new deal between Netflix and Warner Brothers (and soon to be every Hollywood studio) to not rent films until 28 days after DVD release is another clear example of a 20th Century institution refusing to accept the reality of the 21st Century. The problem here is that DVD sales have plummeted, and the studios believe that by forcing a delay on cheap rentals, people will return to buying DVDs. That, I’m afraid, is a fallacious assumption.

This is similar to the thinking — Mark Cuban included — that media companies are expressing in attempts to put the toothpaste back into the tube in their dealings with aggregators. They believe they can force people to go to their own sites to get the news by blocking access to their content from aggregators like, well, Google.

These people actually think that distribution is the problem. Or supply and demand.

It’s not. It’s the people formerly known as the audience who are using technology to avoid the pocketbook rape that they’ve had no choice but to accept from the so-called copyright industry for many, many years. What will the studios do when they realize that DVD sales are going down even further during this new deal? What will media companies do when their revenue falls even further after closing off the aggregators? Who will they blame then?

We’ve turned the page on a massive cultural shift, from the hierarchical modernist world to that of participatory postmodernism. No amount of wishful thinking (that’s what this is, BTW) is going to put the quo back with the old status. It ain’t happening.

It’s like the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to license printing presses in the 15th Century. Their authority was forever altered as the Bible found its way into the everyday lives of people, and the scribes who used to hand-write copies of the scripture found themselves unemployed. Human achievement exploded, and the modern culture was born.

We’re in the midst of the “second Gutenberg moment” in the history of the West, and this one will change things even more than the first. Getting in sync with this new culture will determine who will lead and who will follow, as a new élite is inevitably created. That which defines the new élite will be very different than that which defined the élite of the old, and therein lies the rub.

Rather than following this foolish assumption, Hollywood should be working within the disruption, for that’s where opportunity exists. Could Warner Brothers have created Netflix or Redbox? Of course. The problem is they didn’t.


  1. Well, this is good to know. I have just checked the schedule for all the movies I waited to see on DVD that are coming out in the next few months, and put my name on the waiting list at the public library to *borrow* a copy. I’ll save money and the idiot companies making this asinine deal won’t make any. F*@# them and their desire to control my choices. They just lost a regular multiple-films-a-month renter (who is the female-adult-decision-maker about the movies seen on weekends for two adults, two teenagers, and one child.)

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