Friday, June 15, 2018

The TV/Music Analogy | Lefsetz Letter

“The Sopranos” was the Beatles.

There was music before “I Want To Hold Your Hand” hit the airwaves in ’64, before the band was on “Ed Sullivan,” quite good stuff indeed, like the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys, but the Beatles were different, a quantum leap forward, in their wake came a slew of British acts, the so-called “Invasion,” suddenly everybody was picking up an electric guitar, suddenly everybody was listening on their transistor, the same way people are watching television today.

There was TV before “The Sopranos.” Quite good stuff at times, like “thirtysomething,” but “The Sopranos” not only showed TV could be as good as movies, but also something different, it was not limited to ninety minutes, it was a whole series, you got hooked, and suddenly HBO was the go-to, unlike the theatre.

Now after the Beatles came FM radio. Format changes make a difference. FM is like television streaming, it opens up the possibilities! Before FM we were limited to the hit, after FM the album burgeoned, what was in between the hits was suddenly important. Many people didn’t get it at first, they stuck with AM and singles, greatest hits albums, just like many moviegoers pooh-poohed the television revolution. And then came streaming Netflix, along with Amazon and Hulu, and suddenly we were in a golden age of television, it was where the action was, where we all wanted to be. We talked about TV the way we used to talk about records. Everybody had their favorites, you lived to sit in front of the flat screen and consume, and then debate.

Many people resist revolutions. The Beatles, et al, wiped out whole styles of music. Perry Como was no longer on the hit parade, Elvis either, and despite present nostalgia for eras past, the truth is many were left behind as the pioneers went forward. Just like those who still go to the movie theatre, or watch network television in real time today. That’s another breakthrough with streaming, you get what you want when you want it. In any event, the people yearning for the music business of yore have been left behind. Streaming is FM, but only rappers seem to know this, they own the new format.

So we lived through an era of music domination, when TV was square. Then it was all consolidated in the seventies and crashed. But MTV, a new technological breakthrough, gave music new legs. Until videos became extravaganzas and how you looked became more important than how you played. Napster added excitement, but radio stayed behind, is still behind, and then TV came along to fill the gap.

Despite there being over 400 scripted series a year, way too much product, it’s even worse in music. And acts don’t get canceled in music, they keep putting out tracks, vying for attention. The consumer rules, but the consumer has been ignored in music.

So what comes next?

Further consolidation in television. With ultimately a few streaming outlets. And then fewer shows, and fewer payments for those shows, and then, eventually, something will come along to fill TV’s place. Another location to experience story.

What comes next in music? The truth is rap is long in the tooth, and rock is positively calcified. Those deep in the trenches believe if they just slog hard enough they will succeed, nothing could be further from the truth. To capture hearts and minds there must be something different, a new sound. But it’s nowhere to be found. No Beatles who put in 10,000 hours in Hamburg before most people had ever heard of them.

Now in between music and TV came the tech revolution. Everybody bought a computer to play, now everybody has a smartphone to play. But only a few entities control the sphere. We depend upon them, we’re addicted, but the excitement of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries is gone.

After TV becomes consolidated and loses its excitement what follows?

I don’t know. Will it be something we have never contemplated, or a spin on the old?

Music is mature. Corporations own not only the labels, but the touring outfits.

Tech is mature. It’s Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
TV is still in flux. Yesterday’s court decision re AT&T and Time Warner is significant, other shoes will now drop.

But then?


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