IS HOLLYWOOD PREPARING A LAST STAND AGAINST BIG TECH?

Just as the Silicon Valley Death Star has fixed its planet-buster-beam on Hollywood, the studios may be on the brink of getting the one thing they’ve desperately needed: hope.  But are they strong enough to play their hand and take advantage of the rare turn of misfortune for their greatest foe?

To recap: as we move towards the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals, Hollywood’ ancient, industrial superpowers stand on the brink of being swallowed whole. IE, having their seats taken away by the giants of tech, which are roaring into town to assimilate all the world’s content creation companies into their own algorithmic, post-carbon bliss.

The fundamental imbalance here is, of course, that the studios have to play by basic rules of economics, physics and acceptable cultural norms, while the tech giants can create havens for Nazi-propaganda and teen suicide boosterism; run ads around jokes about beating up Rhianna; blow tens of billions on unwatched misfires; and call it all data collection. Not to mention compromise the American electoral system, put tens of millions out of work.  And as punishment for that –  get handed zillions more from Wall Street.

While  Hollywood is subject to taxes, regulation, and antitrust regulation, Silicon Valley is given a giant hall pass on…all of that.. and told, hey – if you break anything, just leave a note so we can clean it up for you.

That’s a tough fight for Hollywood to win.

Over the last few months, however, the kaleidoscope has twirled. Not only is Facebook under very high profile fire, but a steady drumbeat of critics, including very recent tech boosters, Have been calling for anti-trust actionagainst Big Tech, in particular, against the Big Four (Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon) all of whom have their sites aimed on Hollywood at this moment. [LINKS] And public perception is falling in line.

The question is: will the titans of Hollywood have the spine to ride into the breach, sabers aloft? Or will they continue to hide under their desks hoping the apocalypse rides by?

This moment could easily end up–after a lot of harrumphs and table-pounding about concentrations of power—seeing Congress pass some toothless laws on data protection and then move on. Anyone watching the record of the past couple decades would have to put that at the high end of possible aggressive outcomes now, with sound and fury leading to nothing still the most likely scenario.

This would be a prime moment for an industry that knows something about communicating with the public to mount a campaign–overtly, covertly, through their many well-paid lobbyists, coded messages, TV ads, leaflets on phone poles, what have you—and take advantage of the changing perceptions about Big Tech as a force for utopia.

I’m hearing that very, very, very privately the poohbahs and mandarins are tickled to death that the Golden Children of San Jose are finally getting their moment under the klieg lights. But that said, whatever their delight, any scenario that depends on the Hollywood poohbahs growing spines and carpe’ing the diem is, of course, madness.

What I hear is that the wounds are still very fresh from the 2012 SOPA battle. “They are still really shaken by how that all unfolded,” one insider told me.  The industry titans still bear the scars of a lost fight against Silicon Valley, which was then at the peak of their halo-lit days.  There is little eagerness to repeat an experience which saw the studio chieftains painted as frumpy old industrial dinosaurs, trying to keep the fun-loving, idealist kids of the internet chained to the galleys of their slave ships.

Quietly, I’m told, industry lobbyists murmur and kibbutz–but very, very quietly, out of fear that Silicon Valley may turn the tables again, and make this whole thing about big, mean Hollywood trying to keep the boy geniuses down.

Well, it’s been six years, and the world has changed you might say. Public perception is beginning to catch up.  And if there were ever a time for the honchos to do a little more than quietly murmur, this is it.

On the other hand, however, there is a minority chorus in the industry saying that all this commotion is just the studios’ excuse for failing to deliver and move their companies forward. “They should shut the hell up about the tech companies,” said one Ankler friend. “There’s never been more money flowing through Hollywood, and instead of complaining that it’s all unfair, they should look how to rebuild their companies. Look at Iger,” he told me. “He’s not whining. He’s making moves.”

Who knows where the future will take us, but if we look how far the industry has come since House of Cards debuted five years ago, and think about, with the Big Four polishing off their war chests, how much change will likely be ahead in the next two years, this is a moment that’s not likely to come again in any studios’ lifetime. Sleep through it at your peril.

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