The way people consume media continues to change at a faster clip than ever. In just a few years, advances in technology and communication have upended traditional media. The media space at large--including publishing, music, and entertainment--will continue to evolve rapidly as business models shift and older players are scrambling to find their place in the new world.
Yet, this has almost all happened before. Lots of times.
Have you ever watched the movie Singin' in the Rain? It's a movie musical from the 1950s starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O'Connor. It's funny, it's a cute romantic comedy, and it has great songs and performances. It's delightful.
But that’s not why it's one of my favorite movies.
I’m fascinated with Singin' in the Rain because it's a story about media disruption.
Although the film was made in the 1950s, Singin' in the Rain is set in the 1920s - specifically during a period when technological innovation entirely upended the film business.
You see, Singin' in the Rain is a loving satire about Hollywood's struggle with the somewhat awkward transition from silent films to talking films.
(Of course, being a Hollywood musical, years of trial and error are boiled down into about 90 minutes. If you want a more complete account, I recommend the book The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution - 1926-1930.)
Significantly, when Singin' in the Rain was released in 1952, Hollwood's business was being disrupted by yet another technological innovation. In the 1950s, a luxury item known as the "television" was suddenly available in millions of homes. This, along with other factors in a changing marketplace, led to receipts at the box office dropping 50-percent or more.
As my wife and I rewatched Singin' in the Rain recently, the film still resonates in the 21st century. Hollywood is grappling with new business disruptions caused by today's innovations - including home theaters, streaming media, and an explosion of alternative options.
As fellow creators, you and I can learn a few things from Singin' in the Rain...
#1) We're not the first to deal with this kind of stuff.
Technology has been disrupting the media for as long as there has been technology. Or media. This goes all the way back to when "media" was a guy standing and talking. When somebody invented "writing down stuff," the talking guy was probably worried he'd become obsolete.
#2) Better to work with the future than to fight it.
In high school, one of my science teachers always said, "The one thing that will never change is that there will always be change." We can't stop the inevitable. You and I should face the future and find our place in it.
#3) It's going to be OK.
In the 1920s, many working in Hollywood considered the rise of the talkies to be catastrophic. (Put yourself in the shoes of the actors and actresses who suddenly had to worry what they sound like on film.) But like the characters in Singin' in the Rain - not to mention the thousands of real-life men and women who went through it - those who embrace change can ride it out.
Remember that talking guy who was worried about becoming obsolete? Today, we have more ways to communicate than ever, but we also still sometimes stand and talk.*
*(Please don't bring up the telegraph right now. I'm on a roll.)
Wow, this got a little heavier than I expected. I just wanted an excuse to say, "Hey, my wife and I just watched Singin' in the Rain again and we still love it."
If you like old movies and have never seen Singin' in the Rain, I highly recommend it. It's a fascinating picture of what happens when a media business model is disrupted.
The songs are nice, too.
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