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

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

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