Forget Disruption. Think ‘Undisruption’

Undisruption Entertainment Not By Appointment

Guest Column: Innovation in media consumption is bringing viewers back to the future, where entertainment isn’t by appointment

“Disruption” has become the buzziest of buzzwords, being used by more and more commentators to describe how everything from the Internet to mobile to videogames to Netflix is turning the media world upside down.

But I’m afraid the word is a bit misguided, and I would like to offer an alternative: Undisruption, which is really what we’re seeing in the media these days.

For centuries, people consumed media when they wanted to. They read books and newspapers on their own schedules. They went to plays on the nights they wished. With the arrival of cinema in the early 20th century, they went to movies at any time of any day the box office was open.

Then came radio, followed by television. Suddenly something totally unprecedented was happening. Millions of people were consuming the very same piece of entertainment at the very same moment.

And, except for key live events, it will probably never happen again.

In the 1970s, things first began to undisrupt. That’s when the VCR was introduced. This allowed people to timeshift — a word that hadn’t been invented yet.

Today’s wide-ranging delivery systems have one thing in common: They are returning choice to the entertainment consumer. No longer are viewers constrained to the schedules of three broadcast networks.

That said, linear TV is not going to go away. Throughout history, in not one instance did a new form of mass media replace an earlier form. This insight is guiding the strategies of our company, DreamWorks Animation, in today’s expanding media universe.

Earlier this year, we acquired AwesomenessTV, which is one of the most subscribed teen networks on YouTube. This past July, the digital network debuted a show on Nickelodeon, called, not so surprisingly, “AwesomenessTV,” and it is a hit.

Online isn’t just complementary to linear by driving additional traffic to traditional TV; it can also drive the content itself to linear channels.

In addition, this year we made the biggest firstrun deal in Netflix history, for more than 300 hours of original content. We’ve also struck a multiyear partnership with Super RRTL to provide thousands of episodes of TV series.

We have committed to creating a total of 1,300 episodes with all our partners over the next five years. Just a year ago, a commitment of this magnitude would have been unthinkable. We would still have only been in the business of selling individual series to networks and, at best, would have gotten full-season orders of 22 episodes.

Thanks to these long-term commitments, we can offer long-term experiences. We don’t have to be so concerned with finite episodes, but can pace the arc of a story over a longer timeframe.

And the experience doesn’t have to end with the closing credits. Our audience’s relationship with shows can continue through videogames, social media and behind-the-scenes footage.

Our long-term deals provide one more advantage: They allow companies like ours to attract the best talent. For obvious reasons, any artist or technologist who has a choice between joining a production team that will be dispersed as soon as there’s a network cancellation, or a team that’s built to last, will likely choose the latter.

As we look to the future, we see only one limiting factor. It is true that we now live in an age in which anyone can shoot a broadcast-quality film and potentially reach an audience of millions via the Internet. While this is nothing short of phenomenal, it misses a crucial point: The fact is, what drives success in any and all forms of media is great storytelling.

This brave new world of media may require us to be brave, but it isn’t all that new. It does not make it possible for just anyone to create great stories. And all those shiny new devices are in fact returning us to how things used to be.

Welcome to undisruption. It is a beautiful thing.

Marjorie Cohn is head of television at DreamWorks Animation, where she oversees production and development. She joined the company in July after 26 years at Nickelodeon.

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  1. John Shea says:

    Excellent article! Like Mark Twain’s death, the demises of verbal storytelling, theater, printed books, recorded music, movie theaters, radio, recorded movies, and broadcast TV have all been greatly exaggerated.

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