digital reporter

Hollywood too often misses the moment

I'm done with Sacha Baron Cohen. I've instant-messaged "Borat" clips. I've linked to the deleted scenes on YouTube. I have read and watched and blogged about him ad nauseam.

Now the "Borat" DVD will be released Tuesday, and I won't buy it. The reasons why speak directly to the heart of Hollywood's new-media woes. Hear me out, and I promise not to reiterate the en vogue trope of Hollywood's untimely death and instead offer a few avenues for a stay of execution.

Just consider for a moment why "Borat" is passe. We've already had our fun with him online. We've mashed him up, linked to him and blogged about the movie. The cultural "moment" has passed. What can we do with that DVD that we haven't already done? It's not a question.

Media is changing from entertainment into utility. Media that can't be manipulated is almost useless. When I listen to NPR, I wish I could freeze the broadcast, pull a link from the radio and send it to a friend. When I watch TV, same thing. When I go to the movies, same thing. But I can't. I can only do that online.

Those tiny transactions I make online make a greater imprint on my psyche than any single media event inside a theater — or inside a DVD — could have. It's simple reward/response psychology. Online, I can track who watches my clips, who reads my posts, who liked my mash-up. The Internet flatters us with attention in a way Hollywood no longer can.

Movies were once a cultural barometer. Now we have many cultural barometers — we call them "traffic stats."

Moreover, Hollywood is what I would call occasional media as opposed to the Internet's constant media. Think of the movie release schedule as a yearlong wave with high amplitude and low frequency. Every few weeks, there's a movie "event." Now consider a second wave with a lower amplitude on average but also a superfast frequency. Sixty thousand videos are uploaded to YouTube each day. Some of those generate millions of views — an amplitude that competes with Hollywood.

I depend on that second wave for entertainment. Since "Borat's" theatrical release, we've been entertained/enraptured by "Saturday Night Live's" "Dick in a Box," the parody "My Box in a Box," Britney Spears shaving her hair off and the death of Anna Nicole Smith. We watched it online in our cubicles.

If everything I've said is true, then it must also be true that the studios' strategy to maximize profits by marketing a smaller number of blockbusters is exactly the wrong way to approach the market. Why? Because Hollywood's products are above the fray, but the fray is exactly what everybody's interested in.

You've got to join the gabfest while the gabbing is good. So first things last: Get rid of distribution windows, or shorten them dramatically. Between the theatrical release and the DVD, seed the Web with deleted scenes. When the DVD comes out, include shareable clips and tell people to upload them.

And put the entire movie online. Allow people to stream it, download it, whatever.

Invest in more interactive experiences. Budweiser's new online entertainment network, Bud.TV, has a segment called "Finish Our Movie," which allows users to insert video of their own creation into a story that has a beginning and an end but no middle. That's genius. Do more of that. And start making more online shorts — easily digestible videos that are easily shared. You could even tape a movie's filming process and post the videos during production. Give us more things to talk about more often.

These are just baby steps. But Hollywood should be in front of our eyes at all times. You either join the rabble or rue its success.
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