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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conan O'Brien vs. Mainstream Media Monopoly

There's an interesting point in the Conan vs. Leno vs. NBC debate. Why doesn't Conan O'Brien start his own TV channel? This is not seriously discussed as a possibility.

This article on the Huffington Post hinted at the answer, but not directly. They were proposing that Conan O'Brien self-publish his show on the Internet. The fallacy is that, going that route, he'll make a lot less than he would on a mainstream media channel.

Self-publishing on the Internet makes sense for an unknown starting out like me. It doesn't make sense for a celebrity with a mainstream media reputation, unless they were discredited via some scandal for telling the truth. The mainstream media creates an artificial shortage of celebrities by hyping some and not others.

Conan O'Brien is viewed as an awesome talk show host because he got to do it for many years on NBC. Other people might have done as well or better, but they don't get the opportunity due to the mainstream media cartel. NBC spent many years promoting Conan O'Brien as a good talk show host. He was given the 12:30 timeslot instead of someone else, partially as a reward for other good work he did. Someone just as skilled, but lacking the opportunity, would not have a chance. The mainstream media State bureaucrats are gatekeepers between an artist and a potential audience. A pro-State troll says "Good, that ensures quality is high!" The reality is that leads to censorship. That leads to shows that cater to the least-common-denominator, rather than shows that target an intelligent audience.

The Internet is changing things. "Self-publish on the Internet!" seems like a good strategy for me. However, I don't have an established reputation as a mainstream media star. The mainstream media probably would be very reluctant to promote me, due to my "radical" (i.e. correct) beliefs. The author of that Huffington Post article was promoting his website Revision3. He probably would be better off hiring and promoting a bunch of skilled unknown artists, rather than paying the huge chunk of money Conan O'Brien would demand.

Another advantage of "Self-publish on the Internet!" is that you might be able to finance your show via ticket sales, rather than relying on the broadcast as your primary source of income. If you can sell 200 tickets a day for $10 each, that's $2k/day or $400k/year (assuming 200 shows per year). That's enough to pay your own salary and a few other people. Some amateur/indie bands are financing themselves by giving away music for free with no DRM, and then selling tickets to live performances.

Why can't Conan O'Brien start the "Conan O'Brien Channel" and get cable corporations to carry it? The answer is that the mainstream media cartel exercises tight control. Most/all new channels are actually owned by one of the big media corporations. They are marketed under separate brands so that the slaves don't notice. On your cable TV package, you see 100+ channels, but fewer than 10 corporations own all of them.

If Conan O'Brien tried to start his own TV channel, then he would have a hard time getting Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision, etc. to carry it. Why would Comcast carry a new channel that competes with their own programming? It's better to have a monopoly and control all aspects of the content chain. The trend now is for the network, shows, and cable distribution to all be owned/controlled by the same person. Comcast now owns NBC/Universal, in addition to other channels they already own. Ted Turner sold out his network, because he realized that he couldn't compete unless he also owned a cable distribution network.

It's very easy to start a new cable channel when you own the distribution network! Similarly, it's practically impossible to start a new channel when you don't own the distribution network. Why would the cable monopoly carry a channel from an outsider that competes with their own programming?

Most actors, writers, and comedians work as wage slaves. This makes it easy to control them. If they say or do something inappropriate, then they are fired and it's practically impossible to find a new job. I'm particularly surprised that executives at NBC are mad at Conan O'Brien for insulting them. That seems particularly stupid. They're even putting a "non-disparagement" clause in his severance agreement! Some of my biggest scumbag employers had non-disparagement clauses in their employment contracts. Also, scumbag parasites tend to sue you if you publicly say anything negative about them, even if you have no contractual relationship with them.

What are Conan O'Brien's options? He can't go to CBS, who already has David Letterman. He can't go to ABC, who has Nightline and Jimmy Kimmel. The only option is Fox. If Fox wants Conan O'Brien, they aren't negotiating against anyone.

Conan could self-publish on the Internet. The problem with that method is that he would not make as much money, even if he had the same size audience. Advertisers are reluctant to pay as much for an Internet-based show. Self-publishing on the Internet is a good option for someone with no reputation. No mainstream media star has made the transition yet. One way to make the "publish on the Internet" model work is to also sell tickets to the live performance, like many indie bands are doing now.

One problem is that producing a mainstream media program is expensive, due to all the unions. If you self-publish on the Internet, then you would have to eliminate the overhead. Most people would be unwilling to take the risk of staffing their show with non-unionized labor. For example, the minimum salary for the cameraman's union is more than $100k/year. The minimum salary for the Screen Actor's Guild is more than $150k/year. If you aren't unionized, you could hire amateurs looking to get into the industry for less. As usual, minimum wage laws hurt people whose labor is worth less than the minimum wage. Unions in the entertainment industry are a type of minimum wage law. The contract is backed by State violence. If I work for a mainstream media corporation, I have to follow the union contract; I can't set up a separate division that doesn't follow the contract. I could set up my own filmmaking business and sell to the product to the mainstream media corporation, but insiders might be reluctant to promote a filmmaker that they didn't own/control.

All mainstream media corporations are incorporated in a manner that gives insiders control, even though they are publicly traded. If the insider misbehaves, then it's easy to push down the stock share price and arrange for a leveraged buyout.

Via their magic money-printing power, the banksters bought up all mainstream media corporations. With negative real interest rates, any purchase at any price is profitable, as long as you can keep borrowing money. Inflation means that debt has a negative cost. The borrower profits from inflation, when the money is used to buy tangible assets or a State-backed monopoly.

One interesting much-derided character in the scandal is NBC president Jeff Zucker. He's the genius who made the decision to move Jay Leno to primetime. Then, he decided to move Leno back to 11:30 and cheat Conan O'Brien.

The problem is that Jeff Zucker has no useful skills. He is not a writer. He is not an actor. He is not a comedian. How can he tell the difference between a potential hit and a miserable flop? Jeff Zucker is a perfect example of a State parasite.

I was wary of The Jay Leno Show just based on his attitude during promos. Jay Leno had the air of "I'm Jay Leno! Of course I'm successful! Of course my show is awesome!" He was obviously coasting off his past success, rather than trying to make a great show in the present. Moving Jay Leno back to 11:30 might flop, especially if he's against Conan O'Brien on Fox. However, there is a core audience that might appreciate Jay Leno: parasites. Nearly half the population are parasites, and they might like Jay Leno even though he sucks. You can have a profitable show where the target audience are parasites! In fact, parasites are more likely to be fooled by manipulative advertisements. That's why some insiders are angry at Jay Leno. He's an intelligent person who's writing a show that targets stupid people. That's a type of sellout.

Of course, due to the nature of the State, there are very few shows that target intelligent people. The people pulling the strings are usually parasites. They would veto any show that might start the slaves thinking for themselves.

Ironically, Jeff Zucker does not have an MBA or law degree. He rapidly rose though the ranks at NBC via excellent parasite skills.

Jeff Zucker is not someone who could successfully build a business in a free market. He's the classic example of a parasite exploiting a defective system. He rose through the ranks via a crony capitalism process.

This story illustrates it.

Using a combination of moxie and managing upward he jumped to run The Today Show, then sit atop NBC’s entertainment operations, and finally to run the entire NBC operation when Bob Wright retired in early 2007.

Somehow Zucker never got tarred with the failure. Instead, he got the top job, and got out while the getting was good.
Jeff Zucker always took credit for success, while other people always took the blame for failure. That's exactly how a parasitic reality distortion field works.

Jeff Zucker didn't build a successful business himself. Instead, he conned other parasites into appointing him as leader. He's a skilled parasite, like them, so he got the job.

It makes more sense when you realize that Jeff Zucker is an agent for the banksters. NBC is a State-owned monopoly, and Jeff Zucker was appointed to lead that bureaucracy. Jeff Zucker is the beneficiary of crony capitalism.

Jeff Zucker himself cannot write or act in a successful TV show. Via the State, an unqualified bureaucrat/middleman is always making the decisions. Skilled actors and writers have no choice but to work for the State monopoly and scum like Jeff Zucker. Conan O'Brien is thinking/acting like a wage slave and not like an owner.

Jeff Zucker has no useful skills. He has to rely on focus groups to decide what new shows to air. An intelligent person could look at a pilot or look at the team of writers/actors and see which ones to back. By blindly following focus groups, this makes Jeff Zucker blameless when there is failure.

Even though Jeff Zucker failed miserably, insiders at NBC get to keep their State-backed monopoly. Even if NBC went bankrupt, then the banksters would pick different insiders to run NBC for them.

There was another bit that made me think "WTF?" Allegedly, Conan O'Brien reached a settlement with NBC. He will be get a severance payment, and he's free to seek employment with a separate network. As part of the settlement, Conan O'Brien signed a non-disparagement clause. He is barred from saying anything negative about NBC or its incompetent/scumbag executives.

That's a common parasite trick. State parasites make you sign a non-disparagement clause as part of an employment contract or settlement. They might sue you for libel if you publicly criticize them.

For example, if there's a lawsuit over negative drug side-effects, followed by a settlement, the settlement details require that all the evidence in the trial discovery process is sealed. This hides information from other people who may have been injured by the same drug.

Only a corrupt State judge would approve such a settlement. Via non-disparagement clauses and other such tricks, the slaves are prevented from sharing information about evil.

There was another interesting quote. "It isn't about making a good show, it's about money." or "It isn't about making a good show, it's about power and control." In a really free market, you maximize your profit by maximizing the quality of your product. In a really free market, you maximize your power by maximizing the quality of your product. NBC has a State-backed monopoly. There is no free market in the mainstream media. That's why power and money considerations are not related to concerns of "make a great product". The executives at NBC value power and control and CYA more than doing a great job. Insiders at NBC are risking other people's money. They value protecting their jobs more than taking reasonable risks or doing the right thing.

Putting Jay Leno in primetime is an example of a stupid risk, because it should have been obvious that Jay Leno is a washed up loser rather than a great comic. The problem is not "A primetime comedy/variety/talk show is a stupid idea." The problem is "That specific show was lousy." This could work to my advantage if I try to create a comedy/variety/talk show. Nobody else would be trying it, because The Jay Leno Show was a flop! It's just like there were no primetime big money game shows until "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", and then every network was making game shows again.

There was another interesting bit. Conan O'Brien loses the rights to all the characters he developed. They are owned by NBC. Another comic obviously can't use them, because that would be offensive to the audience. The net result is that those characters can't be used by anyone. This is a spiteful act by NBC. As I've said many time, intellectual property is not property.

If I ever get influential enough to get a mainstream media contract, I should make sure:
  1. There's no non-compete clause preventing me from moving to another network.
  2. Any characters I develop are owned by me or placed in the public domain.
However, I'd probably be eager enough for the contract to accept it. On the other hand, I probably won't be able to get a mainstream media contract until I'm making a decent income self-publishing on the Internet.

Overall, the dispute between Conan O'Brien and NBC illustrates the problems with a non-free market. Conan O'Brien can't start his own competing TV channel, because the mainstream media cartel wouldn't carry the signal. Conan O'Brien has limited choices if he wants to switch networks, with Fox being the only option. Stupid intellectual property laws will prevent Conan O'Brien from using his old characters and sketches. Stupid non-disparagement clauses will prevent Conan O'Brien from publicly discussing how he was mistreated. Jeff Zucker is the classic example of an "empty suit". Jeff Zucker is a State parasite/bureaucrat who himself lacks the skills to create a successful TV show. If Jeff Zucker can't make a successful TV show, then how is he qualified to pick what other shows will succeed and what will fail?

Most actors/celebrities/comedians/writers are wage slaves. They must dance for their corporate masters, or be shut out of the market. The Internet is changing the equation somewhat, but it's still hard to earn a decent salary self-publishing on the Internet.

Even though Conan O'Brien is a good comedian/writer, he still is a wage slave. He's in a bigger cage than most slaves, but he's still a slave.

1 comment:

dionysusal said...

I couldn't agree more about everything you wrote here. I'm a big fan of Conan's and was lucky enough to see him when he came to Chicago to do his shows a couple years ago. Watching his final shows this week, especially last night's rousing send-off rendition of "Free Bird" with Will Ferrel singing (and playing cow bell-- LOL) and Conan playing guitar, was bittersweet. I couldn't help thinking that if his show was consistently this good, he would have been left alone by NBC and they would have just told Leno to go fall in a ditch. The fact is, NBC didn't give him enough time to build an audience. I'll bet anything that when stupid Leno first took over from Carson, he didn't set the world on fire ratings-wise right away. They gave him time to build a following. But I guees that's the "instant gratification" times we live in-- if you're not a hit right away, you're discarded. It's a shame, but I'm sure Conan will land on his feet. And 40-plus million is a nice consolation (assuming it isn't eaten away by inflation; but if it is we're all in trouble).

And you're right about the entertainment industry not being a free market. As you like to point out, there really isn't a truly free market anywhere left in this "country."

I think if he was 20 years younger, Conan might have struck out on his own like you suggest, but not now. He's too invested (including emotionally) in the current paradigm.

If you ever do decide to start your own show or something and you need writers, don't forget your buddy dionysusal :P I've been working at my wage slave computer programming job for over 20 years now and I'm simply fed up with it. I'm ready to try my hand at something else. I'm a true student of comedy and have a good working knowledge of it.

Excellent entry. Jeff Zucker can cram it with walnuts, the weaselbrain.

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