Internet Communications

How has technology changed the entertainment industry?
Answered by Stephen Tobolowsky, Chris Jordan and 1 other
  • Stephen Tobolowsky

    Stephen Tobolowsky

  • Chris Jordan

    Chris Jordan

  • Elizabeth Blackwell

    Elizabeth Blackwell

  1. Stephen Tobolowsky Actor - Writer


    Technology's changed everything.  In just a physical sense, there is the possibility of a lot more, and a lot less being done.  You take cameras.  It used to take four men to operate a camera.  Now, with high def, one man.  That means 75 percent of the workforce is looking for a job.  The medium has changed.  The type of entertainments people seek have changed.

    You could almost see the focal point of where the truth is changing.  For example, back in my heyday film was the thing.  That was the cauldron where ideas and great performances were created.  Now, film is kind of recycling '60s and '70s television shows -- for movies based on video games.  It's not really the cauldron of great ideas anymore.  Now, in a way, the cauldron of great ideas is cable TV.  Who would have thunk it?  That you can actually come the closest to creating a novel -- something like "Six Feet Under," or "Deadwood," or "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

    The changes in technology have made it inexpensive enough to create novels in this novel way.  That has been a huge change.  I think the Internet is going to continue to change what the actor's role is.  That's why, for me, it's always important to know not just what project you're working on, but what story you're telling.  Because that is going to guide your path.

    And that's going to inform the people you meet; in a way, the old Marshall McLuhan thing -- that the medium being the message -- is the truth. We are in a realm now, where we're meeting geniuses from fields that we never would have encountered as actors doing plays on Broadway. Now, you encounter people from so many different fields and other disciplines; it's mind blowing.  And you have to be a student again.

    I always think you have a choice in life of either being the student or being the master.  And I found that life is so much better if you're the student.  You just have to always remember to keep asking the questions.

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  2. Technology has become the great equalizer of the entertainment industry. Creative tools that were once way too expensive for average folks are now dirt-cheap.  And that means anybody can be the next Scorsese or Madonna given the right talent and know-how.  While the entire entertainment landscape has been transformed by the spread of technology, it's the music industry that's been most profoundly affected -- for better or worse.

    In the music business, CDs used to be king.  In 1999, the average CD cost $14, and CD sales accounted for billions of dollars in revenue.  But no more.  When illegal download site Napster made music available for free that same year, CD sales plummeted.  And they've never recovered.  Even after illegal file sharing sites were shut down and pay-per-purchase sites like iTunes became popular, sales still suffered.  Digital music sales have yet to replace CDs in terms of moneymaking power [source: Goldman].  While music lovers may enjoy instant access to downloads, digital music has been a thorn in the recording business's side; its music has been devalued.

    Digital downloads also create copyright problems.  Since anyone can get his hands on digital music, it's hard for the music business to police how the public uses its product.  If a DJ wants to create his own mash-up and then post it on online, there's really no one to stop him.  That's exactly what DJ Danger Mouse did in 2004 when he combined the Beatles' "White Album" with JAY-Z's "Black Album."  The illegal mash-up went viral and garnered a lot of publicity.  While JAY-Z's record company didn't seem to mind, EMI, the owner of the Beatles' catalogue, sure did.  It sent Danger Mouse a cease-and-desist letter, but it didn't matter.  Danger Mouse gained fame and went on to high-paying projects.  His "Grey Album" is still available.

    While digital technology has clearly had a negative impact on musicians, it's had positive side effects too.  Not only is it cheaper to make music, but it's easier to find fans through social media tools.  Technology has also made it possible for bands to diversify.  In addition to music, bands now sell ring tones, a major moneymaker, and other products online.  Metallica even offers fans the chance to download live concert recordings from every stop on a tour -- what mega-fan wouldn't want the recording from a concert he saw?  The early 2000s may have been bleak the music industry, but the possibilities of digital technology promise big bucks for smart entrepreneurs.


    More answers from Chris Jordan »

  3. Technology has brought sweeping changes to the look and form of modern entertainment. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has vastly improved the quality of special effects, allowing climactic movie battle scenes and superhero stunts to look more realistic than ever. Movies such as “Avatar” have pushed the limits of what a film looks like by showing the artistic possibilities of 3-D projection.

    New technology has also generated a huge expansion in entertainment options. Just as the advent of cable brought an explosion in the number of TV channels and programs, videogame systems such as Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s X-Box have created a boon in at-home gaming. With the growing popularity of smartphone applications, games can now be played almost anywhere.

    The upside for consumers? They get easy, convenient access to an enormous variety of entertainment, all available whenever they want it. Movie lovers can rent a movie for $1 from their local Redbox during a trip to the grocery store or stream a movie directly through their TV using Netflix or Apple TV. Music fans can listen to their favorite band’s album online while trading digital files of songs with friends. 

    While all these new choices are great for consumers, the rapid changes in how audiences receive their programming have threatened the underlying economic structure of the entertainment business. Traditionally, the industry relied on a top-down structure, with large media companies wielding the power. Studios created programming for movie theaters and TV networks, then generated additional income when shows sold on DVD and in foreign markets. Record companies paid star performers huge contracts, then recouped the investment through album sales.

    Now, thanks to innovations such as streaming video, those business models are breaking down. The digitization of music -- which makes it easy for music to be copied and shared -- has decimated the recording industry, with album sales falling steadily. While major artists used to sell tens of millions of albums, only 13 albums in 2010 sold more than 1 million units (that's the lowest since the electronic sales data system SoundScan began) [source: Christman].

    Although movie-studio revenue has gotten a boost from higher ticket prices for 3-D films, overall attendance is down at movie theaters [source: Bowles]. There are continual threats of copyright infringement, including pirated DVDs and illegal online streaming of films. Meanwhile, the costs to market a major studio film continue to skyrocket. Reaching today’s potential movie-goers means buying ads not only on the major network channels, but also cable shows, entertainment Web sites and movie-centric blogs. It takes more money than ever to cut through all the noise.

    Technology can be credited with ushering in a golden age of choices for movie and music lovers. But for companies in the entertainment business, only those who think creatively about how to sell and deliver content -- such as Apple and Netflix -- will reap the benefits.

    Later communicators, like these replicas seen at the "Star Trek -- The Exhibition" in Los Angeles on Oct. 10, 2009, were activated at the touch of the character's hand. Similar devices are available today. (Michael Tullberg/Getty Images Entertainment)

    More answers from Elizabeth Blackwell »

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