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January 25, 2012

Y Kill Hollywood

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Y Combinator is Paul Graham (and partners') early-stage seed-funding organization. Part angel investor, part venture capital introduction, and part hip techster scene, it often has an impact well beyond the small amounts of capital it invests in early stage companies. Graham is also a respected essayist on the Web in his own right. So when Y Combinator puts up something called "RFS 9: Kill Hollywood" that gets some raised eyebrows.

The page appears to be a response to the recent fracas over SOPA/PIPA and Hollywood's insistence that its 1960's-era business models are deserving of special legal protection regardless of the disruption that would cause to the 21st-century Internet. But I digress. "Kill Hollywood" is looking for companies that want to "hasten the demise" of movies and TV. The underlying theory is that in 20 years people will (should) do things other than passively consume entertainment and that funding companies now will lead to that sort of social change in a couple decades.

It's a reasonable theory and part of the job of a good angel investor is to find, promote, and take risks on long shots and gambles that may not pay off for decades. But the hostile approach doesn't necessarily sit all that well with people who like movies, despite what they may think of the studios. One such impassioned response came from in their Moviegoer blog, titled of course "Kill Y Combinator".

Moviegoer itself is an (iPhone) app-centric company, dedicated to the idea that going to the movies is a social experience for which a mobile device app can be a boon. So naturally they have a strong bias toward continuing to encourage people to go to movies and do movie-related things for decades to come. The blog post starts off drawing a line - placing Moviegoer on the anti-SOPA/PIPA side of the discussion but arguing that Y Combinator's call is a kind of "road rage" response.

Certainly the anti-PA group is clear that Hollywood's approach has been aggressive - and not helped by Dodd's attempt to talk tough on Fox News, a tone he abruptly changed. But does one side's nerdrage justify a call to kill it off? Moviegoer argues no, with the sort of circular reasoning that if movies and TV were no good we wouldn't all be torrenting them. That's true so long as you don't think there are no alternatives. Cold pizza isn't as good as some things, but it's still pizza, right?

The Moviegoer piece makes several other interesting points about things like changing the business model, adapting theater showing to capture long-tail effects, and so on - you should read it - but I wanted to pull out one that seems so screamingly obvious even I have tripped over it again and again. What if every bit of content was available for pay, for a reasonable price, nearly everywhere you were connected, 24/7? What if you didn't have to go through subscription sign-ups and long-term contracts and incompatible formats and region encodings and and and all of which put enough friction into the system that it's easier to fire up Bittorrent and type in a search term?

The technology exists to do this right here, right now, today. Apple very nearly did this with iTunes and made a kajillion dollars even though it was format-incompatible and had some DRM hindrances. tried and got crushed under the weight of lawyers. What's lacking is the will on the part of the Cartel (afraid much, guys? do you sleep better now that Jobs is dead and you know he's not coming for your movies the way he did for your music?) and someone with the big brass balls and funding to put the tech pieces together. Will Moviegoer (or its parent company) be that someone? I dunno, but I sure hope someone will.

In the end I find myself mostly agreeing with Moviegoer's philosophy. Good movies are good and the art form has survived and thrived for decades because there is good stuff there. Sturgeon's Law applies, of course, but I do like that ten percent. And my 10% is probably not your 10% is not my parents' 10% and on and on. Lean-back entertainment may not be the most fitness-encouraging nor mind-engaging thing human beings can do, but it's fun. And that's worth keeping alive.

Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Helen on January 26, 2012 3:27 AM writes...

You can support technology and innovation as an art form and the creator of future business models and customer interaction and support movie creation and investment. Tech companies make tons of money out of ideas when they develop hence tech start ups and Y connector. People who create movies also need investment and create a return to re-invest in the creation of the content you wish to exploit. I'm sure your tech ideas come loaded with patents and IP so its a bit rich to complain that the world or movies and music are seeking to protect their copyright investment when tech companies and their investors seek to do exactly the same with their copyright backbone.
Shouldn't we be supporting creativity across al areas and not turning on each other. Hollywood needs our support the music industry needs our support or you will have no content to deliver under your new tech ideas. Will you and your investors not protect your patent and IP?

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2. DrWex on January 26, 2012 10:13 AM writes...

Helen I'm not sure what point you're trying to make so I'm at a loss to know how to respond.

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3. andy on January 26, 2012 11:46 AM writes...

Sign Me up!!

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4. Apocryphon on January 26, 2012 12:43 PM writes...

"so its a bit rich to complain that the world or movies and music are seeking to protect their copyright investment when tech companies and their investors seek to do exactly the same with their copyright backbone."

As insipid as some of the legal battles over smartphone patents are right now, at least the tech companies haven't been pushing for legislation that could lead to serious curtailment on free speech and other fundamental rights like the film and music industries have.

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5. Michael Mikikian on January 27, 2012 2:22 PM writes...

Here's our response to Paul. We're on it for reality TV:

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6. DrWex on January 30, 2012 11:12 AM writes...

Michael: There's something ironic about positioning a Facebook video-chat game as a movie killer, but if you can make it work, more power to you. It may be a sign of my age but I see these things as fundamentally different. I do a lot of gaming, and I watch a lot of movies and they're not directly substitutable for each other.

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