Peter Bart, who runs Variety, penned the article as a concise overview of the problems facing Hollywood today, including declining studio audiences, budgets and (Oscar) accolades and the resultant impact on the stars, their agents and publicists. Overall, it's a thoughtful piece and a great perspective from someone who has seen it all.
As I look at his analysis of Hollywood's troubles, I see several parallels to the world of technology and software and the potential of some lessons to be learned as a result.
Essentially, the world of film is dominated by 5-6 corporations-- the household names if you will. Due to the high cost structure (historically) of producing and distributing film, independent studios have been acquired or subsumed by the major studios; essentially a scale economy argument for consolidation-- he who controls the customer, controls the industry. This is similar to the world of enterprise IT where 5-6 names dominate as well, and smaller companies and products have had a hard time making it into the hands of customers directly. Look no further than EMC-- they have become a giant distributor of products, driven by incremental innovation and aggressive M&A activity to build their product lines. In short, they don't make new products any more.
Among the studios, the high cost of production has driven two axes of decisions around cost and investment. The first is to supplant artists and mavericks (high cost, high risk) with businesspeople (lower cost, dependable) who come armed with analytics and data. This leads to the second cost decision-- the data tells the studio which projects will, and will not work. And while this all looks good on paper, the results are not encouraging-- by the metrics of ticket revenue, awards, critical acclaim and profitability-- the studios are suffering through their worst performance in 40+ years. Clearly the scale economy argument is failing, and here's why.
Just as in all other facets of business today, consolidation for scale comes with a hidden cost-- one that ironically has the power to kill businesses altogether-- it kills innovation and creativity. As studios have sought to maximize financial performance, they have inadvertently killed the creative engine (storytelling) to the degree that cable TV, not film, is where the best content and shows are to be found. In other words, high costs mean high stakes, and high stakes breed risk aversion. Risk aversion foments a dumbing down, or creative conservatism about which pictures get the green light. The result-- lots of lesser (not low) cost movies that no one goes to see. In short, studios have lost the passion for their art, and in doing so, have lost their connection to their customers.
To be fair, cost controls have been long overdue. Though star-power has a direct impact on gate ( we love to watch our favorite stars ), the cost and terms of the contracts themselves are not bearable given the low yield. Flat out-- stars are paid too much money for the most part, and their high cost has driven the studios toward conservatism and risk management, rather than continuing to tell great stories (and sell tickets).
So, is this the deathknell for Hollywood? No. It's still the bastion of talent and creativity in the western world. Will the studios rise again once business economics and creative forces re-establish level ground and prosper again? Some will, some will not. The ones that will will bring the realities of cost into alignment with the need to tell great stories. Thankfully, armies of creatives continue to arrive, ready to work at lower cost to showcase their talents. For a proxy, look at the stuff being created and published online right now-- some good web serials with $1,500 budgets per episode! There is great talent and passion among many writers, directors and performers who want to tell a great story and work hard. The studios that will continue to languish will be the ones caught up in their unit cost analyses who fail to regard the passion that fuels the success of filmmaking.
So, let's net it out: success will return to Hollywood once again when the gutted creative process and talent is re-established at a bearable cost. And it will be on the shoulders of the creatives, not the accountants, that a return to greatness is achieved.