DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in Silicon Valley (2)


2014: The Glorious Bubble of Scripted Television 

End of December, and time to take stock and make lists. Here I go again with a series of posts to discuss my favorite media experiences of the year.

I begin with television, our intimate, ubiquitous, omnivorous medium, which of course now includes digital-native content. (Here are  my 2011, 2012 and 2013 choices).

My focus here is mostly scripted TV, and my, oh my, there is a lot to consider – as many as 350 new and returning scripted series ordered for the 2014-15, and that doesn’t include digital-only networks, which are investing hundreds of millions in new product. Says Variety: “Industry executives are quietly starting to use the B-word” (bubble) with worries that the bubble will inevitably burst.

What’s behind this surge? (besides greed)... well, it’s us – the audience – a “staggering level of engagement viewers now have with favorite programs,” according to John Landgraf, who heads cable’s FX Network. 

Transparent (Amazon Studios) – The irony in this outrageous dramedy of Angeleno family dysfunction is that the most “normal” person in sight is the guy in a dress, namely the divine Jeffrey Tambor, born as Mort Pfefferman, but finally coming out as Maura, a transvestite. His ex-wife, played by Judith Light, is the apotheosis of the Jewish mother, and together they raised a brood of world-class neurotics. Episodes unfold as each of the three kids – Sarah, Josh, and Ali – learn of their father’s new life, and we (the audience) learn via flashbacks of Mort’s journey from college professor with a secret to full-fledged commitment to his emotionally appropriate gender identity. Be forewarned, you have never heard dialog like this on TV, I mean never. Nor had I, at least, ever experienced quite the tone of melancholy, joy, sadness, pain and craziness all jumbled up into a coherent and satisfying package. Bonus: authenticity in the representation of Los Angeles’ many neighborhoods.

The Americans (FX) – Season 2 got even better, as we dive into both sides of the spycraft culture in 1980’s Washington, D.C. under Ronald Reagan. Our KGB agent couple Elizabeth and Philip Jennings and their neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman, are tangled in a complex web of missions and actions, believably tied to the real world Cold War struggle we all lived through, but unable to escape their own personal demons, just to spice up the action. The cast is breathtaking, and so are the wigs. I’m particularly fond of Margo Martindale as the ruthless old KGB handler, though we got much less of her this season. The palpable uncredited star of the show is the deadening suburban culture to which both sides have been sentenced and from which the world of spycraft offers an escape. This is a world of truly harrowing assignments, tarnished ideals, persistent doubts, lies, double- and triple-crosses, and yet, love and an odd, asymmetrical form of beauty seeps into scene after scene. This is spy love without the cynicism. 

Peaky Blinders – Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix/BBC) – A crime family to rival the Corleones, the Shelby clan are Irish ex-pats living in Birmingham after the first World War, clawing their way up from a hardscrabble neighborhood to London over the course of 12 glorious episodes. Led by Cillian Murphy, a monster mobster with one a beautiful screen face and an awesome haircut, this BBC production is typically pristine, with design and photography that often simply takes away the breath -- perfect for a nice weekend binge, which is what Netflix enabled me to do when I was down with a flu. Performances by A-class actors like Helen McCrory, Sam Neill, Tom Hardy and Noah Taylor provide almost as much pleasure as a propulsive narrative tale of intrigue involving British toffs, Irish (both orange and green) IRA terrorists, spies, counter-spies, labor agitators, Bolsheviks, and dueling gangs of Jews, Irish, and Italians.

Silicon Valley (HBO) – Mike Judge nails the geek gestalt of today’s tech start-up culture with laugh-out-loud insanity. Just when these characters teeter beyond the edge of stereotype, we get something so wonderfully specific and crazy that, well, we just laugh out loud. The pinnacle of the season was, of course, the finale, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency,” which combines so many geek tropes and fanboy obsessions that to simply describe the scenario defies belief, but, believe me, it was delish.

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My hiatus is over. What follows are four "catch-up" posts in which I attempt to review thought leadership on four topics I'm tracking right now (Start-up Culture; Crowdfunding; Storytelling and Transmedia; and Video/Distribution).

I start with Start-up Culture, this amazing phenomenon that is a hallmark of our current, tech-driven era -- including investing, accelerators and incubators. 

I've written about the potential for an incubator for the entertainment industry, and I'm advising a new Lab in Toronto that seeks to apply many of the start-up principals to early stage content developers. This is an idea whose time has come -- and two LA based efforts seem to bear out this prediction. 

The Creative Artists Agency, one of the world's biggest talent agencies, has a long history of helping content-related start-ups emerge from its core business -- the best known example is Will Ferrell's Funny or Die comedy website, but there are many others. A CAA-spawned startup called Moonshark will soon begin rolling out celebrity-based apps for iOS and Android. This USA Today article reports on this and other "accelerator-like" activities by CAA's biz-dev guru Michael Yanover.

io/LA is a new hybrid incubator and co-work space in Los Angeles -- Hollywood, not Santa Monica! -- with a specific focus on "bridging entertainment and technology," according to Liz Gannes's reporting. Co-founder Aber Whitcomb is looking for companies into  "digital distribution and efficient content creation." (see also this HuffPo coverage.)

Amidst the frenzy of start-up accelerators and incubators -- there seems to be a dozen new launches every week -- Canadian business consultant Lyn Blanchard analyzes whether and how they work in a very thoughtful post (HT to  Knowlton Thomas who cited it here).

In a related vein, Fortune reports on some entrepreneurs who are opting out of the accelerator game, and why.

Jorge Barba, one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Tijuana, muses on various models for incubators and accelerators. Thoughtful post, and evidences how pervasive the model has become in so many countries.

Silicon Valley, of course, is the engine that drives the start-up culture, nothwithstanding successes elsewhere. Ken Auletta, who brilliantly covers the media business for the New Yorker, has delivered another deeply informative piece called "Get Rich U" -- an in-depth look at the central role of Stanford within the Silicon Valley culture. A must-read piece for anyone interested in start-up culture. 

The contours of start-up investing continue to change. Here, Semil Shah articulates seven forces that are disrupting traditional venture capital investing: the cloud (specifically Amazon), Angel investors AngelList, Kickstarter, Y Combinator and accelerators, "new venture capital" and secondary markets. 

Thousands of blog posts enumerate problems and pitfalls for the start-up entrepreneur.Now Noam Wasserman has aggregated such pitfalls in "The Founders Dilemma." (HT to Read Write Web's coverage.)