Hollywood appears to have peaked. If it were an ordinary industry (film cameras, say, or typewriters), it could look forward to a couple decades of peaceful decline. But this is not an ordinary industry. The people who run it are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise.
That’s one reason we want to fund startups that will compete with movies and TV, but not the main reason. The main reason we want to fund such startups is not to protect the world from more SOPAs, but because SOPA brought it to our attention that Hollywood is dying. They must be dying if they’re resorting to such tactics. If movies and TV were growing rapidly, that growth would take up all their attention. When a striker is fouled in the penalty area, he doesn’t stop as long as he still has control of the ball; it’s only when he’s beaten that he turns to appeal to the ref. SOPA shows Hollywood is beaten. And yet the audiences to be captured from movies and TV are still huge. There is a lot of potential energy to be liberated there.
How do you kill the movie and TV industries? Or more precisely (since at this level, technological progress is probably predetermined) what is going to kill them? Mostly not what they like to believe is killing them, filesharing. What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?
There will be several answers, ranging from new ways to produce and distribute shows, through new media (e.g. games) that look a lot like shows but are more interactive, to things (e.g. social sites and apps) that have little in common with movies and TV except competing with them for finite audience attention. Some of the best ideas may initially look like they’re serving the movie and TV industries. Microsoft seemed like a technology supplier to IBM before eating their lunch, and Google did the same thing to Yahoo.
It would be great if what people did instead of watching shows was exercise more and spend more time with their friends and families. Maybe they will. All other things being equal, we’d prefer to hear about ideas like that. But all other things are decidedly not equal. Whatever people are going to do for fun in 20 years is probably predetermined. Winning is more a matter of discovering it than making it happen. In this respect at least, you can’t push history off its course. You can, however, accelerate it.
What’s the most entertaining thing you can build?