Friday, May 10, 2019

Part Of The Conversation | Lefsetz Letter

I don’t like fantasy. I never read a comic book, other than “Archie,” and the only shows I watch on HBO are Bill Maher and Jon Oliver.

So I don’t watch “Game of Thrones.”

Last week I was on the Howard Stern WrapUp Show. There’d been a kerfuffle during the main show, over the dark “Game of Thrones” episode. Jon Hein said it was brilliant, Howard said it sucked. Furthermore, Howard said Jon Hein lost credibility for defending the episode. This was the first segment of the WrapUp Show, I couldn’t comment.

Tonight I had dinner with Jake in Toronto. He told me he’d caught up with “Game of Thrones,” all 67 earlier episodes, it took him three weeks, because he wanted to be part of the conversation.

Leo, the same thing. He texted he was on a GOT marathon.

I’m not about to dig in, but I do feel left out. Doesn’t bother me, but how many topics do we all have in common these days?

There’s Trump. Jake talked about how the far right was gaining traction in Canada, how Ford was cutting services, how Alberta had gone really right. He believed the trigger was Trump. Nothing happens in a vacuum. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan…

But that’s the world we live in today. We’re looking for points of nexus, where we can weigh in, be part of the conversation.

Used to be music, everybody had an opinion. Now we don’t even listen to the same thing. Give credit to GOT, it appeals to all ages and demos, but there’s not a single song that does. Even Little Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” It’s number one this week, but I’ll posit at least half of America has never heard it. How do we create the heat, how do we get everybody to pay attention?

Of course we have niches, but concomitantly we have superstars.

Maybe you saw the story in the WSJ about the touring 1%. “Sixty percent of all concert-ticket revenue world-wide went to the top 1% of performers ranked by revenue in 2017.” That’s double what it was in 1982.

You can read that article in the “Wall Street Journal,” it’s no longer behind a paywall:

Music Superstars Are the New One Percenters

But by having no soft paywall, the WSJ takes itself out of discussion for most people. So it has less cultural relevance. Sure, it speaks to business people and right wing acolytes, but…

Then again, the readers of the WSJ are the movers and shakers who influence the world. So if you don’t read it…

You’re left out.

Now if you really want to know what is going on in the world, read the WSJ, NYT and the WaPo. But most people don’t have the time, so they’re left out. Happens all the time, I get into a political discussion with someone and all they know are the headlines, which is about as deep as they go on TV. You can’t get the news from television, there’s not enough in it.

So, let me restate this. The best way to reach everybody is to have free access. Call it the Spotify free tier or YouTube. These are good things, otherwise most people would be closed out, they’d never be aware of your product, because 100% of the people don’t pay for any one product online. Maybe 70% use Google, but that’s free.

So, we have the haves and the have-nots.

In news, music, across the board in today’s internet world.

Those acts in the top 1%, most of them are legacy acts which broke before the balkanization of music. U2, Springsteen, GNR, the Stones, Coldplay. They benefit from the ubiquity of the old world, it’s much harder to break through today. Furthermore, Beyonce and Adele made it at the tail end of the old world too. As for Bieber, he was an internet phenom, and 1D…that was a combo of TV and the net, I’d say the new model, but since that time TV means ever less.

So the winners are those where everybody has an opinion, where they know the music.

But, speaking of Lil Nas X… His track “Old Town Road” eclipsed Taylor Swift’s “Me” for number one. “Old Town Road” had a 100 million streams this week, “Me” half that. (Sales are de minimis, forget them.)

So we live in a world where the supposed biggest act in the world can’t even eclipse the fad. So, despite wall to wall coverage, on TV and in print and online, most people did not have a need to be part of the Swift conversation. What does that say about less successful acts?

Well, it does say that we’re interested in the new and different, ergo the success of Lil Nas X, but even “Old Town Road” hasn’t reached everybody. How do we reach everybody?

The major labels are satisfied reaching the niche. They missed the internet and now they’re missing marketing in the late teens. There’s an alley right up the middle appealing to more people, but they release niche product. And the audience has been burned to the point where people don’t even bother to check out the new stuff.

But this is season 8 of GOT, over ten years, we don’t invest that long in the music business anymore. We throw it up against the wall and…almost everything is evanescent.

Same deal with “Breaking Bad,” it didn’t break until it was on Netflix.

People want to be part of the conversation. The key is to deliver product they’re interested in. We’ve learned what appeals most is edgy stuff, unrestrained by censors, that has deeper meaning, that affects your emotions, and that it takes years to reach everybody, I didn’t hear of anybody doing GOT binges until this year, the final year, when the hysteria has reached fever pitch.

Hell, we don’t even tune into the Super Bowl for the game anymore, it’s about the penumbra, i.e. the party. Even the commercials are forgettable.

You see if you stay in your own lane long enough, doing the same thing over and over, you fade, it’s inevitable, you’ve got to cannibalize yourself to stay on top. It’s innovation that intrigues people. Hell, baseball attendance is dropping precipitously, used to be a day out in the sun with beer, now it’s a car payment.

As much as we are divided , we’re looking to be brought together.

We all don’t have to agree, but we all want to be able to weigh in.

It’s those who create product that brings in everybody who will win in the future. That’s where the money is. The niches can be self-sustaining, touring clubs with no manager, but America is based on scale, and if you want to scale, you’ve got to dream and play big. You can conquer the world if that’s your target. Especially producers who step to bat so frequently. But too many are afraid and brain dead. And the truth is only the creators can touch the public with their vision, in a world where we venerate the suits.

But we will have more touchpoints that we all can talk about.

Human nature demands it.


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