The thing about creativity is that it isn’t a product. You can’t capture and bottle it like an artisan gin or an indigestion remedy. Creativity comes from people’s hearts and minds. It’s about confidence and self-belief, and it’s fragile and elusive and easily scared away.
How strange, then, that a large part of the global entertainment industry — with the noble exception of high-end TV drama — is committed to commoditising creativity. The reason, of course, is money: media corporations run on profit and predictability. Creativity doesn’t. It’s random and erratic and prepared to starve in an attic. From the corporates’ point of view, much easier to reign in those pesky creatives and replace their dangerous, disruptive ideas with nice, safe content that looks much like everybody’s else’s. It may not win you awards or inspire your audience or add to the watercooler conversation, but it won’t frighten the horses — or more to the point, the bean counters who now run the show.
So yes, it makes sense on paper. But it’s still a really bad way to go about creating content that people actually want to watch.
Admittedly, the entertainment industry is up against it at the moment. It’s battling on several fronts, including broadcaster risk-aversion, digital disruption, the crash and burn of the traditional business models, too many successful format franchises clogging up the schedules, and a me-too broadcast culture that no longer has the time or money to invest in development, or the patience to give shows time to take root and grow.
But I believe the core problem is today’s one-strike-and-you’re-out approach to the creative process. Somewhere along the line, we’ve stopped giving our creative talent permission to fail. But those brave enough to dream, and whose dreams are ultimately the stuff of our entertainment, need the freedom to cock up, make U-turns and chase wild geese in their pursuit of the new, the different and the original. What they don’t need is to be punished for putting their hopes and imaginations on the line.
There are two things wrong with this. The first is that judging content purely on the basis of its commercial potential makes life difficult and dispiriting for the creative community. And the second is that it doesn’t work. The irony is that audiences crave the shock and excitement of the new, not the predictability and safety of the old. Which is why those once-in-a-generation shows that come along and change the game are always, always driven by creativity rather than profit.
The blockchain’s ability to take the creative control away from the corporates and hand it to the makers and consumers of content is, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of the LiveTree ADEPT platform. Thanks to the power of the network effect, it will be individuals who decide what projects get made, and who makes them. In this brave new marketplace, the viewers will be the commissioners, and their criteria won’t be profit and shareholders and targets but what they want to see and feel and experience.
At that point, it won’t be about them anymore. At long last, it’ll be all about us.
For more information, or to register to participate in the LiveTree ADEPT token sale, please visit adept.livetree.com.
I’ve earned my crust as an independent in the media and content industry for almost 20 years and in that time have journeyed along a continuum of feeling a mild sense of discomfort to utter rage at the lost opportunity of unlocking the potential of creativity and commerce to work towards a more fair and sustainable world. It seems to be staring us in the face but we’re limited by this powerful language of how things ‘are’.
As a complicit link in the chain of creating blanket discourse that values unsustainable growth over new ideas for a better world, I’ve started looking more systematically into how we’re all susceptible to this language. When you flip the same coin and see the other side – how things could be – with exactly the same people, resources, and profitability, then you start to see the possibility of the magic of change.
But even stronger than the language is the very real way our current global financial system forces commercial enterprise into a process of commoditising and monetising our very relationships, values and of course creative culture. And this is getting worse, with internet giants owning our data and getting into content creation, the dark genius of their business models is chilling at best. At least in the analogue world of broadcast and advertising, I might have been taken for a broadly demographically identifiable mug, but a relatively anonymous one at least. Not one where they know my name, where I live, what I buy and when, where I am at any given moment, what conversations I’m having, if I’m driving – and then trust these same companies to have my best interests, not their offshore profits, at heart.
I’ve been talking to people in influencer roles in media, television and the environmental sector, you might even call them leaders. They have some really interesting things to say when they’re not in the board room. When what they say doesn’t ‘threaten’ the relentless growth juggernaut.
Put simply, apparently people do not want, don’t have the time, money or motivation to contribute to matters of environmental or social change. The media industry doesn’t even seem to be having the discussion in any cohesive way – it’s not in the budget! But is this because we are all held captive to this language of helplessness – that there’s no alternative, the constant buck passing, the resentment of being ‘told what to do’.
Buckminster Fuller, the renowned 20th century inventor and visionary born in Milton, Massachusetts in 1895 dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity and operated as a practical philosopher who demonstrated his ideas as inventions that he called “artifacts”. One of his famous quotes says: ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
After over a decade of trying to get under the bonnet of why an industry that holds such potential to tell stories that make the world a better place is so strangled by a singular objective of profiteering and showing at times seeming audience contempt, (rhinoplasty brides anyone?) I’ve been delving into the history and story of money in contemporary society and it’s started to shed some light. It allows us to understand better how we’ve got to this point, coinciding with the development and proliferation of a technology, the blockchain, that has mainly been used to trade digital currency to this point but can now scale and promise undeniably hopeful answers to some of our seemingly relentless free market yet centralised issues.
I’m a business person through and through, I’m fascinated by how humans organise to endeavour to create something and share the spoils so we can make best of our resources. It’s my assumption and it certainly was true for me when I started out, that I wanted to work in the entertainment industries because I wanted to be close to those I saw as having a creative purpose. They wanted to make beautiful films or art, to inspire, educate and entertain and shhhh, make a difference.
If we look over the top of the media garden wall, we know business can’t continue to mow through resources and people in the blind pursuit of growth as it has for the last 50 years, our people and planet simply can’t sustain it. So, do we wait for ‘the people at the top’ to have an epiphany? A few individuals through persistence, action, energy and commitment to get things moving and make some improvements but never shift the balance of power. These are laudable efforts of course, but the separation between ‘I, you, them and us’ helps only to serve this rhetoric of compromising values and leaving your purpose at the door when you come into work.
What LiveTree ADEPT is proposing is a new choice for creative people, companies and fans to come together and build something new, to do as Buckminster said, and render the old model obsolete. This doesn’t mean the old guard comes crashing down from day to night. Just that, if there’s a real possibility to open up a means for anyone with enough talent and energy to tell stories, that have an audience who want to watch them, decided by that audience, not by a cabal of self-interested studio owners or commissioners, then what possibly is the objection to that?
There is a small percentage of people who got into the media business simply to make as much money as possible and to feel as powerful as possible – just as recent research from the University of San Diego has found there are around 20% of senior managers who are psychopaths. But what about the other 80%, what about them, what about you?
Where’s this perceived resistance in change? Aren’t we all then part of the resistance, calling out others to take the responsibility to enable change, when in the end, in our hearts, we know we’re all one.
The Media CSR Forum is an ‘independent’ body looking at issues of sustainability in the media sector. Its admirable, yet I might suggest limiting work, comprises a cohort of 25 media organisations, including major broadcasters, some publishers and advertising agencies.
It produced a report in 2013 entitled ‘Does It Matter Material, Strategic or Operational?
An analysis of sustainability issues in the media sector’. The resounding and depressing conclusion was that no, not much. I’m not sure that’s true, I’ve got a hunch. In the foreword of the report, it says ‘Sometimes we need to readjust our social architecture so that it better enables us to make habit patterns out of our good intentions.’ This has never been truer. The media industry has such enormous power and its very existence thrives on the creation of ideas and the ability to deliver these to mass markets. Set it free. Be the leader. Come and set up in the LiveTree, the view of the future is quite beautiful.
Let’s take a trip back into digital prehistory. We’re in 2004 and improved internet speeds and connectivity mean you no longer need a physical DVD to watch your favourite film or TV show. You can stream your entertainment over the net, in your own time, in your own place.
Netflix, a Californian entertainment company founded in the late Nineties as a DVD-by-mail operation, has recently gone public (2002), selling 5.5 million shares at a price of $15.00 of common stock (approx. $85million, LiveTree’s current Seed Token Sale cap is approx. $50m more on this later). It is also busy migrating its postal business into a streaming business in an effort not to die with DVD. But to its credit, Netflix persevered. And we all know the happy ending to this particular story.
Happy ending for Netflix, that is. The jury is out as to how happy the ending will be for the creative community.
Today, Netflix has become a household name, a meme and a synonym for streaming video. It’s on virtually every device with a screen. It’s become a powerful force in modern culture. From an end-user perspective, Netflix provides a great service. But there’s a darker side to the Netflix phenomenon, namely its practice of using your data to maximise its profits.
Next time you switch on Netflix, check out your ‘personalised content’ feed. This is compiled via algorithms similar to those used by Facebook’s newsfeed. It works like this: Netflix gathers data from its users’ viewing habits, which it then uses to rate everybody and everything involved in a production — actors, directors, set designers, even romance levels, plot conclusiveness and the ‘moral status’ of characters — to judge whether a piece of content is worthy of transmission. This user-data-based scoring system has a single objective: to maximise Netflix’s profits.
I personally find this annoying — I seldom want to watch what Netflix has decided I should watch — but, more importantly, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for creativity. It’s dangerous for consumers. And we need to rethink it.
Netflix is a centralized operation. In other words, the power resides in the top execs and it is answerable only to its shareholders, not to its users or the creatives who produce its product. In essence, it takes your data and controls it within a non-transparent structure.
The unstoppable growth of the centralized online giants — and I’m not just talking about Netflix here, but also YouTube, Amazon, Apple — is creating an entertainment marketplace dominated by content whose sole function is to make money. Brave, thought-provoking, game-changing content that adds to society’s creative and cultural stock isn’t part of their remit. I call that scary.
Netflix doesn’t share the data it uses to drive the algorithms that determine what content it shows to its subscribers. Even the people who create its content aren’t allowed to see the data. This is bad news for consumers, because it limits choice and will ultimately result in a world of cookie-cutter content. And it’s bad new for content-makers, because creativity and originality will be sacrificed on the altar of profit.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. Digital rights management (DRM) is shaping up to be the next battlefield. Netflix’s DRM policy is to license content in perpetuity. This means that content-makers cannot realize the true value from their IP from any other channel, Which in turn means that their IP’s long-term value is lost. Irretrievably. Again, this is disturbing, not least for the distributors whose job is to navigate the increasingly murky waters of DRM to realize the best price for content. Distributors are also beginning to be cut out of the deal. You may think this is no bad thing — but if the alternative is a single gorilla that could overpower you in a heart beat, it’s a worry. In October, Netflix had 109 million subscribers worldwide, including 52 million in the US. A rudimentary calculation shows that, at a subscription of roughly $5, it’s netting around $545m per month.
Pause to catch breath.
I keep thinking that, if just one month of Netflix’s revenue were invested into LiveTree’s new digital token, Seed, it would be enough to reinvent the entertainment industry. It would be enough to create a new marketplace that’s fairer, more efficient and more transparent. More importantly, we could create marketplace that would be sustainable because it would protect and nurture the product — creativity — that drives it, rather than exploiting it for short-term gain.
In today’s world, dollars equal power. Netflix is using this power just like the Hollywood studios — themselves centralized ecosystems — to increase their power, profit and control. For example, it is now making lock-in deals directly with Hollywood stars, including Will Smith. Netflix also declines to license to cinemas, which means none of its films will ever be seen on the big screen. Ergo more money and control to Netflix; less choice and diversity for consumers and creatives.
All this has me worried about the future of creativity. Imagine if Netflix decided to up its subscription fee to $10? Or $15? Or $50? After all, who’s to stop it? That would put a severe dent in not only your entertainment choices, but your entertainment budget. The spectre of creativity governed by profit rather than passion was one of the reasons we at LiveTree ADEPT started to think about what could be done to turn the ship. It’s possible, achievable and, actually, not that difficult. We’ve got the technology, we’ve got the vision. All we need is your help.
For more information, or to register to participate in the LiveTree ADEPT token sale, please visit adept.livetree.com.
The way we engage with content is changing. In a little over 10 years, we’ve gone from Blockbuster video —remember the days of VHS and “Who taped over the wedding with the football?” — to Subscription and Netflix Video-On-Demand (SVOD the “S” is for subscription). There’s no question that access to content has improved, but we are beginning to see new problems with the digital entertainment model. The centralized internet behemoths are replicating many of Hollywood’s bad old practices that exploit through a lack of transparency. We have come to accept this behavior as normal, but not for much longer. Today we now have the technology to help change the dynamic.
Entertainment is a powerful societal force. Great scenes in films and catchphrases from TV shows are part of our cultural fabric, collective consciousness and personal frames of reference. Entertainment guides our culture, our values and, if you believe some Trekkies, our future. No disrespect to Trekkies. I’m a closet one myself.
This blog examines the future of entertainment and the learnings we can use to make that future decentralized, better and fairer. I’ve broken it down into what I term the ‘ages’ of the internet, on the basis that the profound change in our relationship with content has been driven by the progression of that technology.
Web 1.0: the birth of the hyperlink and email
Before 2005 (roughly) the internet was a slow and cumbersome beast. We’d crank up our modems and wait.
For those of you who were there, this will bring back memories:
For those of you who weren’t, listen and wonder at our patience and fortitude.
We lived in a world of progressively loaded images — remember fuzzy-to-clear pic downloads? Gopher and bulletin boards were the norm; receiving emails was an infrequent pleasure. The online universe was positive, optimistic and full of opportunity. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of an internet built on egalitarian principles had been born.
Streaming media was all but non-existent — bar the likes of Winamp (I was fortunate enough to work with the founder of Winamp – but let’s save that for another blog.
Back in the early days of Netflix, you may remember its DVD postal rental business. It would mail DVDs to you and you would then have to mail them back. You could also buy DVDs. It’s worth remembering that Blockbuster still managed to blow Netflix away at the time (Blockbuster peaked in 2004).
Web 2.0: centralized internet giants dominate markets using your information
My background is in computer science/artificial intelligence (AI). The reason AI wasn’t a mainstream proposition when I studied it was because you needed to process a mountain of data to make machines seem intelligent. The truth is that computers are dumb. To make a computer appear intelligent, it needs a considerable amount of processing power (CPUs) to compute and match algorithms (patterns) against huge sets of data. To figure out key features — the things that really matter — it has to process a lot of patterns. And I mean a lot.
Information is the key to our markets. As human beings, it is the most valuable commodity we possess. Prior to 2005 (roughly), cloud computing didn’t exist. Networked “big data” hadn’t really been invented. Google was actually a pioneer in this field with the launch of the Google File System, which stores and processes data across multiple machines.
With ever-faster internet connection speeds, along with unlimited data storage and processing power (‘big data’) available at giant data centres, we are now in the age of Web 2.0. But we are also facing its less attractive consequences.
Web 2.0 also saw the rise of Amazon, Netflix, Facebook and ‘big data’. What we have today is AI used over huge data sets to manipulate markets and dominate industries. Moore’s law — which posits that overall computer processing power doubles every two years — remains true. The tech giants have taken advantage of it. They have hooked up the old AI theories to a network the machines powerful enough and with enough storage capability to imitate intelligence. Intelligence they then use to ‘help’ you into thinking you want to buy what they want to sell you.
Web 3.0: the decentralised future of entertainment
Web 2.0 is all about centralised trust. You hand over trust in the form of your data to centralized corporations in return for services. We have no option but to trust these centralized companies —internet overloads— because they hold the power. In the entertainment industry, they dial out creativity in exchange for your money. They are building Hollywood within a centralized system, and replicating the “Hollywood Exec’s” bad old ways with algorithms.
Is there a solution?
I believe there is, which is the reason I founded LiveTree. Our mission is to create a fair, transparent, community-powered film, TV and content network. I’d like to say here that I dedicated LiveTree to Aaron Swartz, the late, great computer activist. I’ll be writing another blog to explain how Aaron’s spirit lives on in our operation.
Now the technology is finally here to meet the challenge. It’s called blockchain. No longer do you need to hand over your life and security to a centralized entity in return for the content and services you need to survive in our complex, connected world. Decentralized systems are a way of creating peer-to-peer trust. They enable you to create a contract with someone without the need for a third-party — a Netflix, a Facebook, a Google — to manage it and, significantly, profit from it. It’s shared, immutable and unchangeable. So it builds confidence, no hiding or dodgy dealing.
At the heart of LiveTree ADEPT (Advanced Decentralised Entertainment Platform for Transparent distribution) is digital-rights management. It enables creators to connect and create contracts (licenses) directly with each other. It’s a genuine once-in-a-generation paradigm shift. With ADEPT, you control what gets made, rather than Hollywood, Netflix or one of the traditional content gatekeepers. You then reap the rewards from that content, as well as the community you have created to help realise it. You are in control of the algorithms. Better and better, the whole process is completely transparent and open source. And you earn from entertainment’s digital token — LiveTree Seed — which moves the control from centralized powers to you.
In other words, you get to be part of how the content gets created which generates a community, you get to control, your profit and your future.
For more information, or to register to participate in the LiveTree ADEPT token sale, please visit: adept.livetree.com and you’ll be directed to a secure server where you can register your interest