All that's left is to change, to adapt. It's a painful process, especially for companies that have held the reins of control so tightly for so long--and there will be casualties. Everything rises but to fall.
Cloudy as the future may be, my magic 8-ball says the current fight will end pretty much the same way it did with the music industry: The movie and TV industries will be dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era, whether they like it or not. If they keep fighting it tooth and nail, well, then, my money's on "not."
And yet fighting it they are--and their tenacity would be almost admirable were their motives not so self-serving. In recent weeks, both Showtime and Starz have said they will be dialing back and delaying Netflix's access to content from their networks. Industry executives have said pretty openly that they plan to use Netflix as a dumping ground for their "least-valuable material." The radical statements by Hulu's Kilar have reportedly put the streaming site at odds with its network backers.
But while they're fiddling, Rome is burning and the Visigoths are pounding on the door. YouTube is investing big money in original programming. Netflix even outbid traditional networks to secure rights to an original series, produced by top-tier talent like David Fincher and Kevin Spacey, that will broadcast online-only starting next year. Independent studio Miramax has made multi-year deals with both Hulu and Netflix to bring its extensive catalog of popular and critically acclaimed films to the streaming services.
This is how it ends: not with a whimper, but with a bang. If the content producers are going to take their toys and go home, then the upstarts are just going to come up with a new game that doesn't need those toys. Despite comments from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings that he doesn't want to incite World War III, it seems undeniable that the new and old guards are on a collison course. All it might take is one big player--for example, HBO, which has already proved that customers will pay for premium content--to step away from the conglomerate of producers and distributors, and it's a whole new ballgame.
I can't help feeling that there's a perfect phrase to sum up the precarious, untenable nature of the content producers' position. And in a stroke of coincidence, it also just happens to be the title of that first original Netflix series: House of Cards.
[Dan Moren is a Macworld senior associate editor.]
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