Padding Consumer Choices


Typical Sunday morning at Starbucks. I’m doing the line ritual as I await my fix … the combo yawn-stretch followed by a scan of my surroundings. Trying my best to avoid the get-a-room couple in front of me, I spy the stack of Sunday papers for sale and without warning a thought pops into my head: “Wait, I don’t need to buy one … I have an iPad.”

Bingo, my own private paradigm shift, and actually before my first cappuccino of the day.

The iPad in my backpack has turned this part of my Sunday ritual into an effortless and rather empowering experience. Locked and loaded with apps for USA Today and the New York Times, I consume only what I want, and I do it instantly. I even manage to save a few trees.

My friends would say, “Yeah, and? You’re a geek and a technology addict. You’ll dive into any new gadget the moment it comes out!” OK, true. But I’ve found using the iPad to consume text is easier than getting it from the printed page, something that – for me, at least – had never happened on even the smallest of laptops or the most portable of PDAs.

No doubt millions of consumers are enjoying their own pad revolution epiphanies, with a menu of devices and even larger menu of applications transforming the way we digest content and – even more important – how we customize our diets.

I stifle an audible chuckle at the thought that I’ve been caught off-guard by this shift, and I was actually one of the more prepared consumers out there. A graduate of New York University’s interactive telecommunications program who has spent the better part of 20 years pushing the boundaries of new-media technologies, I remember the unwarranted freedom with which theorists tossed around the word “convergence” in the ’90s. And, no, you’re not alone. That term makes me cringe as well.

My point is that technology has not only caught up with vision, but it is also far more ubiquitous. Gone are the dial-up days, when downloads lasted tens of minutes. Mobile and pad devices provide instant connectivity without “plugging in,” due to the expanding availability of wireless Internet access. The technology is also now cheap enough to make it as common as the telephone. Add more than 1,500 different content applications for the iPad alone, and you can see how that Starbucks newspaper display has been hit by only the tip of a media-devouring iceberg.

To call it a consumer game-changer is stating the obvious, but what does the pad revolution mean for Hollywood? One look at L.A.’s already struggling production business paints a far less optimistic picture.

Once the monopolizing epicenter of all things film and television, L.A. has begun to see this business fragment to neighboring states and countries … those offering reduced costs, tax rebates and other incentives all too impossible to pass up in a weak economy.

Runaway production

“If an average drama costs between $2.7 million and $3.7 million an episode, and a network is paying between $1.5 million to $1.7 million in license fees, that 10 percent to 25 percent tax rebate suddenly looks very good to a studio exec,” noted Variety’s Michael Schneider in a June 10 article.

Los Angeles has simply become too expensive. The impact is widespread, with everything from talent and production companies to prop houses and craft services hitting the road in order to stay alive. Enter the game-changing force of pad computing, and that exodus will only accelerate.

As Angelenos – the quintessential early adopters they are – gobble up mobile and pad devices like Scooby snacks, they are also beginning to consume content in a number of forms simultaneously. L.A.’s former stronghold on video becomes just one small part of an entire media cloud that works more like the business model for a software company than a studio.

To stay competitive, content creators will have to develop a brand across multiple channels concurrently because people will expect it. Every property will launch with multiple formats of content, because there are so many different ways to consume it. And with cost such a huge factor in the new-media cloud equation, non-L.A. locations will find themselves on increasingly equal – if not favorable – ground.

The question is … do the studios wait for their own coffee shop epiphanies, at which point the paradigm shift is already ingrained in our subconscious? Or can they take action now by embracing the “transmedia” revolution and its new business model? Perhaps the first step is as all-at-once simple and complex as to look at where the business is going.

Joseph Walker is co-founder of Lincoln Butterfield LLC, an animated content development company in Burbank.

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