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Distribution Rules

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Distribution is king, now more than ever. Meet the new gatekeeper, same as the old gatekeeper, only different.

If you want to get your message out, you must do it on a social network. I.e. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter. Tumblr’s a moribund also-ran and Pinterest has hit a ceiling and is no longer a part of the discussion. It’s been a run for the roses, and mixing metaphors now the gold has been awarded, and it’s gone to those outlets above. Is social media forever? I think in an overwhelming interconnected world we’re about to hit a backlash where it’s more about person to person, maybe enabled by the web, but live nonetheless. No, I’m not one of those anti-technology people, lamenting the present, never mind the future, I’m just saying that the more we’ve moved online the more alienated we’ve become, the more information we have the less we know, and this has become personally unsatisfying. No, the problem isn’t porn or violence or digital books or any of the rest of the bogeymen, it’s just that there’s no there there. You want to find the pulse, and you cannot, you always feel left out, like you’re missing something. The only thing we have in common, that we can talk about, is politics, and even there we’re starting from different points, we all get different news. So just like millennials have turned to experiences, their elders will too. Once again, this is ENABLED by technology, you meet people online, i.e. dating apps, you organize online, but you end up in real life. As for the documentation of events via Instagram, et al, that’s gonna fade like live-tweeting awards programs. When given the option people want to preserve privacy, and although they’re coughing it up regularly, they can see that there’s a cost, and they don’t want all their adventures online. So, expect boasters to continue to say how great their lives are, but many people will either make their feeds private or refuse to post whatsoever.

But that’s on the receiving end. What if you are selling?

1. Be where the eyeballs are.

Don’t make a deal with Hulu, never mind Apple or Amazon, you don’t want to be the one plowing the way. There’s no critical mass on Apple, so you’re not being paid enough to bring people in, assuming they come at all. Same deal with Hulu.

2. Don’t sign with someone in transition.

It’s like putting out physical product in the era of iTunes, never mind Spotify. You don’t want to make a deal with an outlet that’s got no path to the future. Other than HBO, almost no cable outlet stands alone, they’re all features of the challenged cable universe. So when cable goes, so do they, unless they find a bridge to the future, but they’re so busy protecting their old model they refuse to do this. So you’re better off on Netflix than TNT or TBS or even CBS, which has an app with little traction.

3. Prepare to get lost.

Netflix will pay you, but they won’t promote you.

Look at the Chris Rock special. It never even made it to the cultural zeitgeist. Chris got beaucoup bucks, but no one is talking about it. And Letterman has stumbled with his interview show, which will be resuscitated when Howard Stern appears, but then will probably fall straight back into the dumper. Letterman is now niche. Rock needed to do his own promotion. Sure, he could have made a deal with HBO…

Which brings us to the next point of transition… YOU CAN BE TOO EARLY! If you’re a big star and you’re playing short term it might be advantageous to do it the old way. HBO promotes passionately, it still reaches people in a way Netflix hype does not. If you’re already a star, stay there, temporarily anyway, but can you turn down the big bucks? Because Netflix is all about word of mouth, and if you don’t have any, you’re forgotten, all you’re left with is the dollars in your pocket. That sounds good in a cash-focused economy, but the truth is you don’t measure entertainment careers that way, it’s about longevity, sacrificing now for future dollars, always think of the long-term cost of your endeavors.

So, if you’re nobody, you might be found on Netflix. If you’re somebody, you might get lost and lose career momentum.

This is the great conundrum of the present. How to take the plethora of productions and get them through the sieve into the eyes and ears of the proletariat. Right now, the sieve is a firehose and the people are drenched and wanting to get out of the way. The question is will it stay this way or will the pipeline narrow? Will we end up with a zillion niches and no ubiquity or the other way around? Now, with so few killer outlets online, i.e. Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Netflix, it appears that we will see concentration in not only entertainment distribution outlets, we will end up with big winners and a ton of losers. Who will anoint the winners? Probably the distributors. Will Netflix suggest what you made for people to watch? Will Facebook feature your news?

4. Past is not prologue.

Google just sold Zagat.

We’re led to believe the leaders can do no wrong. But Amazon released a flop phone and Google couldn’t succeed with Plus. Turns out Steve Jobs and the Beatles were one of a kind, with everything they did being a success. Oh yeah, Jobs failed with the Cube, but there you’ve got the modern world in a nutshell. People with no power who feel left out are playing gotcha. Do not succumb to the blowback, these people are meaningless, the only ones who have not gotten the memo is them. And when they do… They’ll change their lives like those at the top of this screed. They’ll learn that yelling online is a waste of time, they’ll focus on their in-person lives. We’ve got too many messages to pay attention.

5. Creativity is not quantifiable.

So listen to nobody but yourself. Greatness doesn’t come from painting by numbers, but reaching down deep inside and then vomiting up humanity. We want to feel connected in a disconnected world.

6. Do not spoon-feed.

We live in an on-demand culture. Your goal is to create that demand. And when people have it, let them hoover up everything you’ve done. Waiting is passe. Put it out when it’s ready and hope that the public will embrace it and spread the word, hype is more meaningless every day. Look at the movie business, every weekend they spend millions promoting projects that fail. People have too many distractions. If they get the urge, you want to satiate them, let them go deep down the rabbit hole.

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