News media needs to become more like Hollywood

How the New York Times can fight BuzzFeed & reinvent its future:

However, that is only part of the story. The trick is not to get married to just the oohs-and-aahs of the Snow Fall, but to think of it as a business opportunity, much like the way Hollywood studios creatively monetize their blockbusters. My question is why can’t newspapers and magazine companies take the same approach and build a business model that actually factors in various opportunities that something like Snow Fall can offer?

So instead of starting with a newspaper story and adapting it to different formats, the Times should start with the Snow Fall. If you look at Snow Fall closely, you can see a cohesive approach to content, one that adapts and morphs to not only the medium of access, but to diverse business models — much like the movies.

Om’s argument is that traditional news media has failed – with a few exceptions, like Paul Krugman and David Carr – to properly adopt the blog format on their sites. Instead, they have simply tried to post traditional news articles as blog posts.

As he notes, blogging is about tying together all kinds of media and sharing it through the lens of an individual’s take on the world:

Blogging is a way of editing the world and presenting it to my community, and that means everything from photos, links, tweets and videos, in addition to sharing my raw thoughts and fully packaged features, scoops and even basic news. Every act of sharing tells you what I am interested in and what I am willing to learn and talk about.

Rather than trying to shoot for tens of thousands of hits per short blog on their site, Om thinks that The New York Times should drop $25 million on making dozens of pieces like Snow Fall – long-form pieces with huge budgets that pack in tons of media and use fancy scrolling in the hopes that the spectacle will lead to millions of page views.

I think Malik is being a bit too optimistic here.

There’s a reason most blockbusters come out in summer – they’re a way to escape from the heat, relax, and keep the kids busy while they’re out of school. They have a reputation for being big dumb explosion fests because that’s what people want.

A long piece of excellent reporting like Snow Fall, however, is the opposite of that for most people: it’s thousands of words to read through with multiple pages and no indicator of how far into the story you’ve read. It’s work.

Now, I’m not saying  that making more pieces like Snow Fall would be a mistake in and of itself. It did get millions of page views. But to shift such a massive portion of the Times budget to making such pieces – even with the lower costs from already having the technology ready – would overestimate the demand for long-form journalism.

There’s a reason The New York Times has so many more readers than The New Yorker: people want news. Big stories are awesome, but NYTimes.com gets 35 million monthly page views is because people trust it to have the best reporting on the most important news happening right now around the world. Articles with word counts in the tens of thousands simply don’t meet that need.

Instead, the best thing the Times could do is to let the technology that came out of Snow Fall trickle down to average news stories. Just as CGI has become prevalent enough in Hollywood that even the lowest budget films don’t completely break the fourth wall whenever an explosion happens on-screen, The New York Times can move on from the shitty image galleries that most sites have for image-heavy articles and integrate videos more fluidly with text than the simple embeds used today.

As for Om’s point about using better native advertising (like including a Land Rover ad with Snow Fall)  – there’s no reason that doesn’t have to apply to almost every piece of news. The Times just need to put its sales and technology teams to work at making better software on the backend to let advertisers more accurately target individual articles related to their products.

Steven Soderbergh on why it costs so much to release a movie

It turns out that the movie studios basically have no idea how much money they’re going to make from a given release, so they just throw money at the problem. End result: more blockbusters with massive budgets and fewer “singles and doubles.”

So then there’s the expense of putting a movie out, which is a big problem. Point of entry for a mainstream, wide-release movie: $30 million. That’s where you start. Now you add another 30 for overseas. Now you’ve got to remember, the exhibitors pay half of the gross, so to make that 60 back you need to gross 120. So you don’t even know what your movie is yet, and you’re already looking at 120. That ended up being part of the reason why the Liberace movie didn’t happen at a studio. We only needed $5 million from a domestic partner, but when you add the cost of putting a movie out, now you’ve got to gross $75 million to get that 35 back, and the feeling amongst the studios was that this material was too “special” to gross $70 million. So the obstacle here isn’t just that special subject matter, but that nobody has figured out how to reduce the cost of putting a movie out. There have been some attempts to analyze it, but one of the mysteries is that this analysis doesn’t really reveal any kind of linear predictive behavior, it’s still mysterious the process whereby people decide if they’re either going to go to a movie or not go to a movie. Sometimes you don’t even know how you reach them. Like on Magic Mike for instance, the movie opened to $38 million, and the tracking said we were going to open to 19. So the tracking was 100% wrong. It’s really nice when the surprise goes in that direction, but it’s hard not to sit there and go how did we miss that? If this is our tracking, how do you miss by that much?