Recently, I’ve been enjoying a lot of interesting conversations with my son, who works in Hollywood, about the future of our entertainment consumption and creation. When I was a child in pre-glastnost Ukraine, families would gather in the common area to listen to a radio show or to watch our one black & white TV. Nowadays, we ingest podcasts and TV shows on-demand from wherever we are. More and more folks don’t even have a TV at home anymore and, instead, are streaming programming on mobile devices and laptops. Hollywood may still make our movies, but Bay Area companies are holding the keys to how that entertainment reaches us.
As this Forbes article points out, Silicon Valley isn’t only leading pop culture but is also creating it. We listen to Pandora (Oakland), stream original Netflix (Los Gatos), discover new stars on YouTube (San Bruno), and read news on Facebook (Menlo Park). While the recent Oscars aired, folks globally took to Twitter (San Francisco) to share moment-to-moment reactions.
Original Netflix series, like House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black, can’t be accessed through a normal cable box. These series are winning awards and accolades just the same as shows on traditional networks, but there’s nothing traditional about them, as their whole financial model differs. These shows aren’t sponsored by commercial advertisers in the same way as most cable shows are. While they may still have some sponsored product placement and so forth, we’re not interrupted every ten minutes for commercials — and we’re willing to pay Netflix for that luxury.
That’s where Silicon Valley has really taken on Hollywood: in the pay-to-play realm. We want our content when we want it, and we don’t want it to be interrupted. If we subscribe to Apple Music (Cupertino), we can stomach commercials or pay to opt out; the same is true of Spotify (Swedish, with offices in San Francisco). We sign into accounts on these service providers from our mobile phones, iPads, laptops, video gaming systems, TVs, and more. We want our entertainment delivered to us at our convenience instead of chaining us to our living rooms. Much like the workplace is getting more flexible and mobile, so, too, is our recreation. To our great benefit, Hollywood theater-quality pictures are possible even on the tiniest of mobile screens.
Underneath this interplay between the old-school glamour of Hollywood and the fast-paced advances of Silicon Valley is a tension that may not be so evident to those simply eager to be entertained at their leisure, though. Content distribution is a sore spot, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill backed by the Motion Picture Association, died only because of intervention from Silicon Valley (Google, in Mountain View, among them). Proponents of the legislation claimed they seek to protect intellectual property while opponents cited the danger to innovation that the bill posed. The bill, which failed, went so far as to enable law enforcement to take down an entire website (like all of Facebook) if a single user (like you or me) posted something illegally on our page. Hollywood has legitimate concerns, but technology, fortunately, was not made to grind to a halt while addressing them — at least, not yet. As the Valley continues to innovate, I don’t doubt the subject of that thin line between protection and distribution will continue to be the center of much debate.
Is Silicon Valley the next Hollywood? With all of the innovation mentioned above alongside advanced animation giant Pixar (Emeryville), once owned by Steve Jobs, and Lucasfilm (Marin), both now owned by Disney, there’s a case to be made that not only Silicon Valley but the greater Bay Area has supplanted greater Los Angeles as the world’s leading maker and purveyor of entertainment. Certainly, Hollywood couldn’t continue to thrive without Silicon Valley. Beyond the incredible movies made here, many more innovations that will make our down-time all the more accessible and enjoyable from wherever we are and whenever we want it are afoot. I find this to be one of the most entertaining things to watch.