Can USC’s Edison Project Turn The Light On In A Struggling Hollywood?

David Bloom is a Deadline contributor.

USC will launch a three-year research effort called the Edison Project to figure out key issues of the emerging entertainment economy surrounding new creators of content, new platforms and distributors of that content, new business models to finance their work and new metrics to measure success. USC Annenberg professor Jonathan Taplin, who heads that school’s Innovation Lab, announced the project’s general outlines during a keynote speech Friday at the Digital Marketing & Analytics Summit in Los Angeles.

Taplin told a ballroom of entertainment and tech executives that sector after sector of the entertainment business is showing signs of  trouble, from the long-staggering music industry to a movie business that launched numerous bombs this past summer, to an ad business that’s consolidating and automating. These problems are happening even as the world’s entertainment-consuming middle class is booming, and creation of digital media has jumped nine times. Traditional entertainment, meanwhile, is seeing revenue growth barely keep pace with inflation. And, he said new ways of thinking about entertainment are needed to deal with such issues as piracy.

Taplin said the time has come to see the challenges of an Internet-driven economy as “signposts of opportunity,” beginning with a new way of thinking about traditional distribution windows as more online-video distributors and creators such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Intel come into the market. “I think you should just regard these guys as stores,” Taplin said. Current exclusive deals are “silly. They’re just storefronts. Everybody should just have access to every movie. This whole (distribution) windowing thing has got to go out the window. If you do that, you can reach the 3 billion (entertainment consumers worldwide) that’s growing to 4 billion and will become 5 billion.”

Researchers will focus on four areas:

- the impact of new ways to consume content, such as the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, Google Glass, high-resolution 4K TV screens and Samsung Gear watches, and what those mean for creating, distributing and consuming content.
- new business models that can make money for creators and distributors while also slaking the fast-growing world consumer demand for entertainment that helps drive piracy.
- new creators and producers, such as YouTube-based video stars, some of whom are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the material they create for little or nothing in their back bedrooms, and the companies that help them find and build audiences.

- new kinds of metrics and analysis that can better measure what’s working in the new entertainment environment. Taplin said as one example that no good metrics exist to track and understand the impact of ‘super fans,” the ardent followers of a show who blog about every plot twist or bit of news, create and share all kinds of related content and promote it to others.

The Edison project will launch at the start of the year with 14 professors from five USC schools, including the liberal arts, cinematic arts, communications, engineering and education programs, including such notables as Henry Jenkins, the influential new-media guru that USC enticed from M.I.T. about three years ago. The project is financed by a more than a dozen major tech and entertainment sponsors, and will also provide executive education programs.

Comments (17)

  • Instead of this academic guessing game over a 3 year period, why don’t the media companies just do test runs to see if the new business models are profitable and report back?

    “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries has a great framework for doing market test with minimum costs.

    Comment by Mick — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 5:56pm PDT  
    • Exactly. Six- and seven-figure salary media executives now need academics to tell them how to do their jobs?

      Comment by CYA — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 6:20pm PDT  
      • Well yes, because their job is to sell advertisements to eyeballs not make content or build sensible business models.

        Comment by mad — Saturday September 28, 2013 @ 1:57pm PDT  
  • In past years, the answer might be as simple as good stories and better writing…but today, since most of America exist in cloudy-drug-induced comas, it’s anybody’s guess.

    Comment by pete — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 6:13pm PDT  
    • Speaking from experience? Just guessing…

      Comment by FTCS — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 8:40pm PDT  
  • “…14 professors from five USC schools…”
    That’s a big payroll to feed, especially at U.S.C. One can imaging spending 200k getting a Bachelor’s degree in such a major, only to find there are no jobs after the 4 years of study.
    Here’s to their futures!

    Comment by pixelmixer — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 6:26pm PDT  
  • Think it should be called the tesla project since edison didnt do jack shit. Big part of history constantly overlooked!

    Comment by zac — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 8:08pm PDT  
    • Indeed.

      Comment by lalilulelo — Saturday September 28, 2013 @ 2:27am PDT  
    • You cannot for a moment argue that both men were not utterly genius. Edison’s brilliance was selling us an expensive, unreliable current and Tesla’s brilliance was creating it. Edison was a salesman. A genius salesman. Think of it like Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak. Truly.

      Comment by Casting — Saturday September 28, 2013 @ 8:39am PDT  
    • I total agree. Tesla Project!!

      Comment by artumus — Monday October 7, 2013 @ 5:36pm PDT  
  • … Plus the irony that the original Hollywood studios were basically a result of a backlash ( and subsequent exodus from the NYC film industry to the west coast) against Edison’s monopoly about a century ago.

    Comment by Franklin — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 9:11pm PDT  
  • This “project” is a waste of money and time. “Hollywood” is like a piece of land that has been over-farmed and now nothing grows there anymore. The next great creative development for films is not happening in Southern California. It’s springing up all over the place with new talent who will not need the middle-men (agents, lawyers, studio execs who will eventually find themselves irrelevant). The technology will enable the artist and his/her audience to directly connect, minus the 30% cut to Apple, Netflix, Google, Vimeo etc…

    Comment by Ben Vista — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 9:52pm PDT  
  • Honestly, what left is there to research? Netflix alone is one of the major users of all internet traffic. People want more control of their lives, this is why DVRs have become so popular. The film industry and a good portion of the major networks are just dragging their feet while everyone else is flying by. Soon all stations will be a la cart’ off the web and companies like directv and cable companies will be long gone.

    Comment by BW — Friday September 27, 2013 @ 10:12pm PDT  
  • I agree 100% on exclusivity deals being bad for business. They splinter up the pie and force consumers to have limited access instead of the ability to access any content.

    I remember when the pay cable channels used to regularly carry a large selection of theatrical releases which essentially allowed a pay movie channel subscriber to have access to most movies on a delay. These days the combined big pay channels only ever air a very small fraction of the movies that come out. They have to carry themselves on creating content now because it is not possible to put together a portfolio of Hollywood films that is worth paying fifteen bucks a month to see then six to eighteen months after release and only then in limited windows.

    Then you move to streaming services with their exclusivity deals and it becomes worse.

    Making it so consumers have to purchase access from four or five providers just to get a full profile of content is not going to be sustainable. I realize the front end companies don’t want to be marginalized as commodity pipes but that is why they can create their own content. I just don’t want third party content being sliced and diced exclusively all over the place.

    Comment by Aeiouy — Saturday September 28, 2013 @ 5:39am PDT  
  • Piracy is never going away so long as the NSA has a heavy hand in watering down encryption standards and the government in general must support the “electronic freedom” policy preferences of their intelligence “partners” like Google. Meaningful encryption for intellectual property would be inconvenient to intelligence gathering activities. Further restrictions on piracy would be detrimental to Google’s bottom line. Hollywood is hosed.

    Comment by Garbo — Saturday September 28, 2013 @ 12:31pm PDT  
  • What happens when the studio execs paying for the study are told that they are the problem, are obsolete and need to go?

    Comment by WilliamBudd — Monday September 30, 2013 @ 9:17am PDT  
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