Friday, February 15, 2019

Delayed Disruption | Lefsetz Letter

The first decade of the twenty first century was about instant disruption, the second has been about delayed disruption.

Instant disruption is when a business is affected overnight. There was Napster, and before that digital photography, and then the death of newspapers and magazines. It was right in front of our very eyes, people were talking about it, and then it happened.

Whereas delayed disruption happens after the initial momentous event. Just when you think you’ve survived, OOMPH, you’re hit again and possibly devastated to the point of extinction.

Like the movies.

The problem is the audience got younger and streaming platforms got better.  Since they weathered the advent of television, conventional wisdom was that movies would continue to survive. But they haven’t, they’re heading for a huge cliff. Movies did what television did not. Now it’s the reverse. All the human stories are on TV, whether it be cable or Netflix or Hulu. The film companies have climbed to higher ground, in reality lower ground, with their Marvel movies. But despite the huge results for some of those pics, the type of pic that can succeed is very limited, and only one pic a week succeeds. You call this is a business? Of course not. On demand viewing at home is more convenient, with a better selection of product. The only reason to go to the theatre is to literally get out of the house. But the experience is lousy. The flick doesn’t start when you want it to. You waste time driving/arriving. So, the only people who still go are those accustomed to it. i.e. oldsters, who seem convinced that the Oscars matter. As for excising awards from the telecast because the show is too long…THAT DOESN’T MATTER TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE WATCHING! Most people don’t watch to begin with. Making the show half an hour shorter makes no difference.

So you’ve got magazines like “Vanity Fair” focusing on the Oscars and driving headlong into irrelevance. The audience is limited. Glamour without gossip triumphed in the eighties and nineties, but today, who is the magazine appealing to? Only those already subscribing, new adherents are nowhere to be found. This is the story of the mainstream media in general, it is aging with its audience, and MTV proved that this is death. They fired the beloved original VJs and replaced them with younger people. “Vanity Fair” is aging to extinction. As for the WSJ, NYT and WaPo, they do nothing to entice a younger generation which they do not understand and do not report on. They thought that since they survived the great newspaper washout, they’d triumph. But they do not understand the new game, what does Gen-Z think?

It’s not even the millennials anymore. They’re making new people every day. Gen-Z does not remember an era before the internet. Google was always here. Gen-Z has taken over music, and baby boomers and Gen-X’ers just can’t fathom it. As for millennials, they’re caught between two eras, just like Gen-X’ers before them.

And then there are record labels. Which were supposedly threatened by Napster, but survived. But the truth is now they are truly threatened. Primarily because the deal is too poor in the internet era when you can do it yourself. They’re like loan sharks, giving you cash and extracting a pound of flesh, forever. The truth is most music made today will not be played on the radio, and won’t get on SNL, so why do you need a major label? The majors survived by wielding the power of their catalogs, but that’s now history. Spotify is bigger than any label. You can’t pull your catalog and survive, you need that streaming revenue. Furthermore, Spotify promises promotion if you go direct. Just when they’re getting comfortable, the labels are going to be challenged. Vivendi should sell Universal Music NOW! Sure, there’s still a little upside left, but if you’re trying to eke out every dollar, you risk getting caught on the downside, which is a very slippery slope.

It’s even happening to Facebook. While the media rails against the company, the truth is no Gen-Z’er would be caught dead on the service, they’re all on Instagram, which Zuckerberg presciently purchased. The record labels’ revenues were falling and what did they do? THEY TOOK MORE! Wanting a piece of all action. You prepare for the future by adding more value, not by taking it away.

So we’ve got a coterie of people who won’t buy magazines, won’t go to movie theatres and don’t care what the label is, they can’t see it online anyway.

And what are the enterprises doing? Exulting because they think they’ve survived. But the truth is the challenge is only beginning.

The internet made all content available. But it made every success smaller than ever. What old media thinks is known by everyone is not. All the metrics are antiquated. How do you quantify a world where everybody is listening to something different and old tracks are as popular as new ones?

Instead, we’ve got inside manipulation. Whether it be record companies including physical product and merch to make a chart only meaningful to themselves or terrestrial radio failing to innovate as it keeps boasting about its reach.

Meanwhile, the Grammy telecast was down 5% in the 18-49 demo. Oh, overall it was up just a smidge, but if you think advertisers or performers want to reach those without money or the nearly dead…you must be broke or one breath away from passing yourself.

The ball keeps moving when everybody thinks it’s stopped. They’re busy pounding their chests in triumph just before the end comes.

Kinda like BuzzFeed. Like the HuffingtonPost before it, once the shine wears off, people realize they don’t want junk news. BuzzFeed is a risk to news purveyors like your kid is a threat to the Premier League.

And a star is not what he or she used to be. But the old media keeps trumpeting faces no one knows. And keeps paying lip service to “influencers” as if they’re the future.

But today’s kids are savvy. They know the influencers are doing it for the money. Which is why the influencers burn out and fade away, there’s no there there.

But there’s plenty of there there on Netflix. And on Spotify. The new platforms that are smorgasbords of content. Meanwhile, every day I get e-mail about the “faltering finances” of these two companies…have you ever heard of AMAZON? You play to dominance and you win in the end.

Spotify is not selling some records, THEY’RE LEASING THEM ALL!

Netflix is not charging you $15 for a movie at a particular time, they’re serving more than you can watch any time you want to turn on the set!

It’s a public addicted to on demand. With the world at its fingertips.

But the surviving companies run by boomers can’t fathom this, believing they’re forever when they’re not.

Everything has a lifespan. Everything percolates on the outside before it breaks through. Who knew the public wanted long form documentaries like “Making A Murderer” and “Wild Wild Country”? Credit Netflix for taking a risk. Denigrate record companies for putting out endless me-too hip-hop records in a world where people are not restricted to hearing only them.

The truth is there is no hit parade.

When are the oldsters going to realize this?

When they lose their jobs.


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