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A Conversation with Michael Eisner and Mark Cuban at SXSW

mark cuban, michael eisner at sxsw

There's a packed house to watch Mark Cuban interview Michael Eisner: two billionaires in the room:

"This is a joint panel session for both SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive registrants, and will be a one-on-one interview with the founder of The Tornante Company and new media studio Vuguru, will feature the former head of Disney turned media mogul discussing his past, present and future endeavors, as he builds new companies and models for entertainment consumption. Interviewing Eisner will be former SXSW Interactive Festival keynote speaker Mark Cuban."

Michael wanted to see if the time had come for story-driven professional content to be monetized on the Internet. Can contnt owners make money from content? It's almost the time, but pretty soon this distribution channel will explode and it will be like what's happened before: one plus one will equal three. He has seen this numerous time in his career. For example, the addtion of movies and television was bigger than either one alone.

Michael would like to say he has a research group figuring out what to do; he doesn't. They're trying things out. For example, he talked to Chrysler, who put him in a Nitro and said "go to SXSW and look young"!

The people working in online video will be the Spielbergs of the future. Michael says he has a talent for finding such talent.

Why do we see so many changes in business models by content producers on the net? Partly it's because they know it will be huge and they want to get as big a slice of the pie as they can. This happened to Prom Queen, where distribution deals were renegotiated after it went big. There is no unique business model. That's why all you can do is to find the people who are doing interesting things and raised $5 from family and friends to make their video.

What type of approach should content producers take? For one thing, Michael says, "Stay away from media moguls like me". Those who get in a band with two other people, stay in a Day's Inn and work on a shoestring see media moguls as a last resort. Then there's the 12 year olds in the user generated arena, and you can sometimes see something pretty good. Michael is not interested. But the group that's very interesting are those youth studying film production in schools: they are educated, smart and professional.

Of what you see online, 99% is awful and 1% is good. The intention is not to do crap, but it's hard to know this before the fact. Lots of bad movies are made, but no one intended them to be bad.

Michael thinks that within 5 years, content on the Internet will be as important as content on television or cable. Already, content is a huge deal.

Will this be primary content or secondary content? It will be both. Nothing will be different, just the distribution channel. This will be media over broadband. Mark Cuban disagrees, though. People are rushing out to buy HDTV more than they are PCs. There are no standards. (Michael agrees that 90% of America that has TV on their PC are sitting in this room). Eisner says he doesn't dwell on the technology. If there's a story that makes you laugh or makes you cry, somebody else will want to see it and there will be a way to distribute it online. If you have the patience and you are interested in dealing with new people and new ideas, this is the place to be.

Question and answer

How will Eisner acquire a large volume of cool content? How will Michael upgrade the quality of content in volume?
The point is to make a good show and you can have millions to perhaps a billion people watching it. If you know how to monetize this, then you have a business. Michael's skill is in identifying good content. But talent agencies are looking for talent as well. This is becoming a business. As long as the cost is low enough, the talent acquisition and management business will grow.

Every new technology predicts the demise of the movie theater. Artistic decisions need to be made if you're shooting something for HD ... there's way too much detail. Should content creators be making these decisions at the beginning of the process if they're filming for the net? Yes and no. What's hard to do is the emotion. If you have good emotional content with heart, it will work on any screen, including the big screen. So it's a matter of cost and budget, during the production process. One of the best things of producing on the cheap is that you can redo it, if it works.

What's Eisner's take on Creative Commons and the remix culture?
Michael says he's conflicted, because he has a long history of defending copyrights. What sets this nation apart is paying people for intellectual work, which is just like paying people for physical work.

What about the growth of product placement as an advertising mechanism?
It's very important. In the creative process, it's very important to have it done right, because bad product placement can ruin good content. Eisner objects to 30s pre-rolls. There's a lot of experimentation going on, but the combination of sensitive insertions and voice overs can work. We're used to advertising in entertainment, because most would prefers ads to paying a subscription. If you have common sense, you will understand what's annoying.

Opinions about the added capabilities that digital brings to content (interactivity) and do these need to be integrated into the content creation process? This is the one thing that makes the internet totally unique. Eisner likes to have control over the content, but he likes the interactivity. It's clever, compelling and works. He is adding interactivity to content, and admits he is not clever enough to think of all the ways to take advantage of interactivity. Mark mentions there are problems with interactivity. On the advertising side, there are no standards, so if you have different distribution channels, you need to encode each one specifically and think about how the players are different, so you can adapt the ads. Cables and satellite are gearing towards interactivity now. Mark is putting emphasis away from interactivity on the net and is moving to digital cable and satellites.

What about the published written word in the digital landscape? How do big media companies adapt? Michael says he has no idea. He says his Kindle died after about three days. He says the written word is the essence of everything he has ever done. It's hard to go out and shoot and get lucky. He doesn't believe the days of the written word is over. Mark thinks we're approaching screen fatigue, and there will be a resurgence of book reading ... rather than reading stuff on the screen. And there's an excitement to getting out of the house and into the movies. So these media are not going away.

mark cuban at sxsw

March 11, 2008 in Starting up | Permalink


Great write up, thank you for putting it up.

Posted by: Andrew Hyde | Mar 11, 2008 2:46:36 PM

This is good stuff! Good to get insight from those two.

Posted by: Andre Blackman | Mar 11, 2008 3:01:34 PM

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