Saturday night, after watching No Country For Old Men (great movie, very heavy though), my band of reprobates and I descended on Jimmy Watson’s to down a few bottles of Dry & Dry (dry vermouth, dry ginger ale). One of the crew is a good mate from England who spent many years working in traditional media, think newspapers, Sky TV, etc.
We got into a debate around the future of advertising and entertainment (because on Saturday night we clearly had nothing better to do…), using The Sopranos as a case study. My friend is not old, but older than I, and definitely from a different school thought. He does currently work in marketing though and has lectured at universities on journalism – he is by no means an idiot. With this in mind I was astounded by how little he grasped of the web 2.0 world, convinced that changes in consumer behaviour only came about because traditional advertising and media companies decided to alter the lay of the land.
I initially thought he was taking the piss, but upon further exploration he was deadly serious. His argument centred around a rather bizarre core, stating that if advertisers and media companies didn’t remain in control, then productions such as The Sopranos would simply cease to exist because of a lack of advertising dollars. My point that a market for quality entertainment would forever exist, citing everything from Homer’s Odyssey to Quarterlife seemed to fall on deaf ears; sure levels of production quality are bound to vary from project to project, but people don’t tune in for the lighting, they tune in for compelling characters and stories they see something of themselves in.
My friend’s issues ran deeper than the quality of story-telling though. Once of his fundamental concerns was, essentially, “Who will pay the salaries of the people who book the ads if nobody comes and books the ads?” I told him nobody, because we don’t need the ads, and that seemed to trigger a small nuclear explosion inside his head. In the mind of my educated and intelligent friend, it was inconceivable that ad-centric business models in traditional media would not survive ad infinitum. More than that, he couldn’t conceive of people who weren’t part of these establishments being the ones that changed everything, even though he himself uses things like MySpace and Facebook.
It reminded me of a moment I had a month or so ago on a tram going to work. I was reading RSS feeds on my BlackBerry, everyone else was reading a newspaper; I was the odd one out, but somehow had not removed my head from my ass recently enough for this to come as anything other than a surprise. It is so easy to get lost in the Brave New World™ of Web2.0 and forget that Facebook is still pretty novel for most, that the things we spend so much time discussing are not even blips on the horizon of the general public.
In the end, I opted to change the subject. After all, it was Saturday night, and my choices were to persist with my ad-hoc oral essay entitled “Everything you know is wrong”, or I could order another round.
Better make it two then…
N.B. For a thought-provoking look at how consumption of media is changing, check out this post on Fred Wilson’s blog.
*Update* The inimitable Bob Lefsetz hits the nail on the head.