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Entertainment on the Web

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When it comes to entertainment, the Internet functions best as a resource for entertainment information and distribution, not as entertainment itself. Chaz Austin looks at the relationship of the Internet and Hollywood.
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According to the 2001 UCLA Internet Report, arguably the definitive study on Internet usage and its effects on our culture, the five most popular online activities are these:

  1. Emailing and instant messaging (IM)

  2. Browsing

  3. Buying

  4. Finding entertainment information

  5. Reading news

So where is the category called "Entertainment on the Web"? What happened to Hollywood's promise of the Web as the new entertainment medium, supplanting movies and TV? As a 10-year-veteran of the "industry" (that would be the interactive multimedia, multimedia, digital media, interactive, or Internet industry, depending on what we're calling it this week), I've been hearing that promise and the hype surrounding it (I'm talking about Hollywood, after all) for almost that long. Yet it still hasn't materialized.

While there are still sites dedicated to providing online entertainment—http://atomfilms.shockwave.com/ and http://www.distantcorners.com/, to name two—and eye candy (http://www.heavy.com/), some of the more memorable failures have included P.O.P. (Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, et al), Icebox, Warner's Entertaindom, Digital Entertainment Network, and AOL's Entertainment Asylum.

In most cases, they failed for these reasons:

  • "The market wasn't ready."

  • There wasn't a "sustainable business model." (Translation: They couldn't find enough advertisers to stem the dollars they were burning through every month.)

  • "Not enough homes had broadband."

Broadband has long been touted as the Internet's "killer app" by the entertainment community. The belief (more accurately, hope) has been that sufficient broadband penetration in the marketplace would mean that rich media content (movies, TV shows, concerts, and so on) could be streamed and downloaded to millions of homes on a subscription or fee basis, bypassing movie theatres, TV and cable networks, and video stores. According to the model, this would usher in a new age of entertainment and entertainment distribution, in which consumers would be able to deal directly with the sources. No more middlemen. "You want entertainment? Click here, and get what you want, when you want it. Commercial-free, right on your PC. And then all you have to do is sit back and relax."

But wait—who sits back and relaxes on his or her PC? Item number 4 on the UCLA Internet Report is "finding entertainment information," not "entertainment."

We do not sit in front of our PCs to be entertained; we sit there to communicate, learn, and buy. Those activities require us to do something. One of the joys of television and movies is that they require us to do nothing.

The Internet wasn't designed as an entertainment medium, nor does it work very well as one. It's really more like an "entertainment pit stop": You visit an AM/PM at your local ARCO station to buy gas, pick up a newspaper to learn the show times for a movie you want to see, and buy snacks to enjoy at the movie—but you don't stay there to have fun. You buy groceries at the supermarket, but you don't cook them there. You obtain information about the clothes you want to buy at Gap.com, but you have to go to the store to feel the fabric and try them on. The Internet functions very well as the place you go to learn where to find entertainment, but it's not where you stay to enjoy it.

Hollywood needs to realize that the Internet will function best not as a passive entertainment medium such as movies or TV, but in one of the following ways:

  • A place to research information about entertainment

  • The platform for interactive entertainment (users are actively participating)

  • An entertainment marketing medium

  • A distribution medium (the place where viewers collect content rather than watch it)

Researching Entertainment

For people who work in entertainment, the Web has become the preferred place to research information about the entertainment business. I know studio executives and theatrical agents who increasingly rely on the Internet. When they're checking the credits of someone involved in the "industry," (if you work in Hollywood, there is only one "industry"), the Internet Movie Database is their definitive source.

Among others, there are also http://www.imdbpro.com/ available on a subscription basis; Box Office News http://www.entdata.com/bonews/bonewsframes.html; and http://www.showbizdata.com/.

And the online subscription versions of the two "must-read" daily trade papers, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/ and http://www.variety.com/, deliver the latest news and gossip to my colleagues much faster than do the printed versions.

Other useful sites include these:

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