Emerging technologies were the focus at Variety‘s three-day ShowBiz Expo, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Confab wound up Sunday.
One conundrum attendees faced: There’s no such thing as a free ride — except, of course, on the Internet, at least so far.
As more content sites launch that offer free entertainment to Netizens, execs are faced with trying to monetize something that consumers are already taking for granted as gratis.
On a Friday panel focusing on the ways in which the Internet is changing the entertainment industry, new-media execs debated the means by which content can be converted to cash — and if this transformation is even possible in the first place.
Free content attractive
Positioning himself as a counterculture leader, the “Jim Morrison” of the Internet as he put it, Hollywood Stock Exchange founder and vice chairman Max Keiser said that the lure of free content will always win consumer eyeballs.
“Everything is inescapably going to a price point called free,” he said. “Your competition will always have something up for free.”
Keiser’s comment drew the ire of just about every other person on the panel, including Kevin Tsujihara, exec veepee of new media at Warner Bros., who railed against the notion that “Piracy.com” will be the victor if superior content is available on sites supported by advertisements.
Others agreed, and pointed toward the ongoing traumas in the music industry, where artists are assailed by the Internet paradox: Does online attention — legal or illegal — lead to more or fewer offline sales?
“The person whose choice it is to make music free is the artist,” said Sandy Climan, managing director of Entertainment Media Ventures. “If they want to put it out there, that’s fine. But if they say, ‘No, no, no — this is my life blood, I need money to send my children to school,’ we need to enforce an economic model, or this medium is not going to work.”
Climan said it’s a race between traditional media companies and startups to determine if advertising models dominate or if Napster is only the beginning of the free content movement.
“I look at this as not a debate over privacy,” he said. “The big challenge is whether the old aggregators can create new models before new companies come in.”