By Dom Serafini
Would you like to know what the future is reserving for the TV industry? Well, look back, because the future is retro! Forward thinking is passé; retro thinking is the new school.
Retro is now even considered “visionary,” as expressed by Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes in an interview with the U.K.’s Royal Television Society’s Television magazine: “Time Warner needed to do something more visionary: Separate the distribution of media from its creation — thereby reversing the conventional wisdom behind two decades of media industry thinking.”
And he’s not alone. Reuters wrote that, “Chief steers G.E. away from financing and back to basics.”
Have you noticed that vinyl records are back in? What about the fact that stock dividends are back in fashion? That the world of finance is aiming at old fashioned rules? “Back to the future” is how a news commentator from France24 explained the drive towards the gold standard for currencies. That Italian car maker, Fiat has dusted off its 500 model from the ’60s for its Chrysler? That U.S. politicians are looking back at the Tea Party movement?
Television programs are also looking back. Take Hawaii Five-O (CBS) a series that originated in 1961, for example. Also from 1961 is the new remake of The Defenders (CBS), while ABC borrowed the title of its new series The Whole Truth from a 1950 British Film and it is now reviving the 1970s hit Charlie’s Angels. And this without considering the success of series like Mad Men, set in the ’50s. Indeed, retro is now forward. In Italy, in order to stimulate a subdued film festival, the organizers of the Roma Cinema Fest could only look back and revived Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La Dolce Vita.
We all know that the arts anticipate social changes, which in turn conditions the political world that shapes the economic landscape and influences the academic world that ultimately dictates political policies. For example, the Chicago School of Economics at The University of Chicago is credited with starting movements such as neo-conservativism that created deregulation and globalization, which resulted in Reaganomics, and subsequently U.S. presidents Clinton’s and Bush’s laissez-faire policies (almost bordering on anarchism).
But, let’s not get ahead of the story.
By now, some of our readers know that I’m not fond of seminars at trade shows. It’s not that I dislike all seminars; some of them can be interesting. It’s only that they don’t belong at trade markets where the focus should be the buying and selling of audiovisual content rights. If event organizers want to add seminars to their trade shows, conferences should not be staged concurrently with the market itself.
It is therefore in this spirit that I’d like to offer the following suggestion to conference organizers that have the task of coming up with seminar topics.
This editorial incipit clearly stated that forward thinking has shown all of its limitations and that retro thinking is now the neo-philosophy. Not that this doctrine is really new. In 1732 the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico wrote about the “course and recourse of history.” Subsequently, a similar concept was expressed by the German philosopher Hegel, who came up with the maxim that Karl Marx popularized: “History repeats itself.”
So, to be innovative, conference organizers should stage a seminar whose title can be taken from Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier’s 1778 Rien ne se perd, rien ne se crée, or “Nothing is lost, nothing is created.” And, for this seminar I’d invite: Norman Horowitz, Herb Lazarus, Larry Gershman, Michael J. Solomon and Irv Holender.
Horowitz has been president of Columbia Pictures TV, Polygram and MGM/UA.
Lazarus has headed Cannel Int’l Distribution, Silverbach-Lazarus, Columbia Int’l TV and 20th Century Fox TV. Currently, he’s president of Carsey-Werner Int’l. Gershman was a broadcaster before heading Viacom Distribution and becoming president of MGM/UA. Solomon was at UA and MCA before starting Telepictures, and becoming president of Lorimar, and subsequently, of Warner Bros. Holender was Sr. vp at Desilu, CEO of Lorimar and chairman of Liberty Int’l. Those five retro people could keep a conference room amused, informed and especially educated about the….future!
Do you want to know how innovative some of the companies they worked for were? Take Screen Gems for example. In the late ’50s, just when TV was gaining popularity in a few countries, Screen Gems International opened a local office in all major countries staffed with local sales talent. It even did domestic syndication in Brazil!
Can the industry learn from the past? Sure, especially in the unregulated TV business, as it was in the ’50s and ’60s. Let’s look at the facts. Over the years has the industry created a new paradigm? Not really. There are still five ways of making money: Subscription, a-la-carte, advertising, program sales and fees (be it public TV license fees or private among operators). Has the TV sector lost anything? Only hard transport like cassettes and DVDs, which morphed into downloads and streaming.
Let’s face it: the spectrum is the same, only it now transports digital information instead of analogue. The TV set is the same, if only thinner and larger, and the programs are the same, though slicker and in color. Yep! To face the future the industry has to bring the past forward.