Charlie Sheen as Internet Metaphor
In an essay that is, unfortunately, behind a subscriber wall, Rob Long casts Charlie Sheen as the harbinger of the entertainment industry’s Internet doom:
… Charlie Sheen is the living embodiment of what everyone in Hollywood fears. Leaving aside, for a moment, the creepy prurience of his 2 mil1lion Twitter followers, or the death-watch quality of his Ustream.tv viewership, Sheen has taken his insanely valuable network-television scarcity — his take-home was something along the lines of $2 million per episode — and squandered it on freebie Web appearances, hourly Tweets, and low-rent antics. He makes Lindsay Lohan look like Princess Grace. He makes Snooki seem stately. Charlie Sheen has become the lowest kind of celebrity. He has become a reality-television star.
That’s what drugs will do to you, of course. But on another level, that’s also what unlimited bandwidth — the crystal meth of the media business — is doing to the old Hollywood business model. We are all moments away from cheap, knock-off stardom. Click around YouTube and you’ll be astonished at the number of people who regularly post videos of themselves. These are people you and I have never heard of, and yet there they are, talking into the camera, for millions of subscribers.
The analysis brings to mind the Newport Daily News organization’s decision to charge more for online content than for the paper itself. The old model worked; the new model doesn’t yet make a profit. The Internet may bring a new level of readership, but they don’t come with a revenue stream.
In the case of the Daily News, the gamble is that online media organizations won’t be able to profit, either, thus building a long-term competitor for news content in the city. The broader news and entertainment industry, however, might not even have that gamble to make. As the media in which their content is delivered converge — that is, as movies and audio become stream-able digital content that can be freed of viewer restrictions and distributed instantly — they are having to compete with the YouTube stars on even turf, not Web versus print.
It’s tempting to celebrate the democratization of media (why should Charlie Sheen be famous and not you?), but the reality is that it takes money consistently to create compelling, high-quality content. The only hope may be that technology will reveal some new feature, as the TV, computer, and telephone all become the same device, that opens up a new avenue for revenue and thereby encourages the extra effort of big-budget productions.
Frankly, I don’t think Two and a Half Men was very far from Internet schlock to begin with: mainly a vessel for dirty jokes and a long-time star. For that matter, network television created the culture of reality TV. So maybe the first step for Hollywood (broadly meant) is to up its game and use its manipulative influence to raise the bar on what counts as entertainment.