Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Interactive

So I spent Thursday at the first conference outing by paidContent, the excellent news site dedicated to covering the business of digital media and helmed by Rafat Ali. As a conference producer and host with Walt, I know all the myriad challenges of organizing such an event and the paidContent team (including, but not limited to, the tireless Staci Kramer and the bemused Jimmy Guterman). They pulled it off incredibly well for a maiden voyage. Lots of great information imparted, useful schmoozing and very nice brownies at one break.

I was struck by a lot of what I heard there, starting the night before with a dinner at Spago hosted by Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business Information. That bastion of Hollywood show-offery was the perfect venue for a short Q&A with Variety Editor Peter Bart and longtime Hollywood producer and mogul Peter Guber, who have a show on cable focusing on chats and debates with the entertainment industry’s bigwigs called “Sunday Morning Shootout.” They are definitely an amusing duo, kibitzing back and forth like the old pros they are.

They talked about the continued importance of mass audience and of “hits,” like the recent surprise success of the movie “300.” Check.

Guber noted that Hollywood’s “whole world is changing in terms of reach,” adding that the entertainment industry was no longer limited by geography. I couldn’t agree more–Beverly Hills 90210 and beautiful downtown Burbank no longer rule the roost.

They were relatively upbeat in their assessment of the future of the theatrical movie business. About that, I was a bit dubious, as more digital choices and home-theater improvements give everyone a plethora of options about where to spend their time.

But I nearly fell off my well-upholstered chair when Bart said, in an off-the-cuff remark, that YouTube might be history within four years. He came out with this particular nugget in the midst of a discussion about the nature of the audience and its desires, which Bart said did not change that much from era to era. He noted that great love stories always were going to do well (he actually used “Love Story” as the example) and that basic tastes don’t really vary.

I could agree with that, until he also noted that today’s youth could be compared to that from the 1950s. Well, except for those iPods and mashups, except for MySpace and video games, except for cellphones and blogs and, most of all, except for the fact that they have complete comfort in a highly interactive universe and, in fact, are not ever going to allow the kind of top-down control that Hollywood has wielded for so long.

When I piped up that kids today really seemed to have a lot more digital tools at their disposal and also seemed to like the whole Internet thing a lot, with all its social networking and user-generated content and interactivity, both Bart and Guber said that that kind of media was still not very compelling and has not produced the kind of hits that Hollywood was famous for. I am not sure they were exactly calling the current digital era a fad, but it was telling to me that Hollywood attitudes still center on the unshakable belief that their businesses will outlast all comers.

Despite the fact that the entertainment industry is second to none in terms of costly dud-making, I could only agree that there really have been no comparable Web hits. Except that, to me, the whole phenomenon is the hit, a trend that seems inevitably to be something that will change the entire nature of entertainment and the structure of Hollywood going forward.

Indeed, there is little on YouTube and many other sites on the Web now that could ever gross what the next “Harry Potter” movie will, but what is there definitely costs a lot less, is improving in quality quickly and will eventually (remember, these are the first innings) yield just the kind of hit that Hollywood loves. I am betting that hit will not be from Hollywood.

Perhaps the more important point is that the nature of exactly what a hit means is changing rapidly and no one, even a pair as experienced and successful as Bart and Guber, quite knows what that landscape will look like.

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google (owner of YouTube).