All right, on a break, so I'll pop this down, if only to get the idea locked down as originating here before somebody else writes my damn book. (However, everything on this site is under Creative Commons, so feel free to do whatever the hell you want with this. Just don't walk on Hammes' copyright.) It's still pretty rough -- you'll get to see it evolve.
In his bookThe Sling and the Stone, Col. Thomas Hammes USMC expands on the idea of the evolution of warfare. (Let's ignore the discussions of the validity of the "generation" model he uses, that's for the warfare guys to parse out).
Warfare, as the model goes, evolves, each "... evolutionary step of warfare requires a preceding evolution in political, social, economic and technical structure of the society using it." He takes us from 1st gen warfare, where the rise of the nation-state and the resultant armies created massed firing lines; through 2nd gen, where defense became king ("Artillery conquers, infantry occupies"); to 3rd gen, warfare of maneuver, to what is widely considered 4th Generation Warfare -- the warfare of insurgency. Hammes, in his excellent book, analyzes the evolution of insurgency warfare in its rise to the pre-eminent form of war in the Twentieth Century -- the only form of warfare, where an militarily inferior force can defeat a superior opponent. And has done so. Repeatedly.
I'm paraphrasing like a bastard, but 4th Generation Warfare moves past direct destruction of your opponent's forces (1&2 Gen) and even past 3rd Gen, where one attacks the opponent's command, control and logistics, and instead takes the fight directly to the political will of the opponent. Most importantly, the 4th Gen army is not bound to the traditional battlespace. 4GW is trans-national, highly networked, and is not bound by the army of maneuver limits on a battlefield.
Now, this made me think about the media. Specifically, the rise of the internet, broadband, DVD, P2P, BitTorrent and personal branding, vs. the big media conglomerates. What is the "battlespace" we're referring to?
The traditional "battlespace" the BigCons are used to fighting for are the mainstream media dollars. They fight each other, using tactics of maneuver, to try to control more and more of a dwindling traditional media delivery system. First they fought for ratings among three networks, or box-office. Then they fought for ratings among seven, ten, a hundred -- now they're bringing in big legal guns to control the "new front" of internet file sharing. (Enjoy fighting that two-front war, boys...)
They are, however, not just fighting a losing battle, they are fighting in the entirely wrong battlespace.
An effective 4GW army projects its force past the battlefield in order to directly affect the political will of the opponent.
An effective 4GM entertainment source projects its force past the mainstream media distribution system in order to directly connect with its audience.
(*for expansion later -- The real battle of the future is not for control of the audience's access to entertainment, but for the audience's perception of where entertainment comes from.)
There are two contexts here. 4GM as a way of describing how small independent entertainment sources propogate -- and 4GM in describing new media in its antagonistic relationship with the BigC's.
For example, in the first context: like 4Gm, 4GW consists of little cells of individual interests, loosely networked but each acting essentially independently. When it suits them to team up, they team up. When it's more efficient for them to form other alliances or separate, they do so. But crucially, the don't really compete. Each cell has its own strategic goal, its own operational plan, and adopts whatever tactics they see other cells using and succeeding with.
But the basic thrust of the idea I'll be developing in that second context is that the BigC's are analogous to the DoD -- enamored of high-tech and power, believing if they can just get advanced enough, they can beat that pesky insurgent army. But as has been shown again and again over the last seventy years, that's just not the case.
To apply the metaphor directly, 4GM is outside BigC's OODA loop (observe/orient/decide/act). Crush Napster, and Kazaa arises. Crush Kazaa, along comes BitTorrent. Smack BitTorrent, and something more ingenious will come along. Much as in insurgent warfare, the problem with being the big dog in this fight is that the more you win, the faster you cull the inefficiencies from your opponent's forces. The more you win, the faster you force your opponent up his evolutionary chain.
The crucial problem here is that every BigC is fighting a two-front war. One, in which it must band together to regain control of media distribution -- essentially trying to funnel the battlespace back into a shape they can handle -- and then continuing their fight with each other over the shares of that marketplace. 4GM has one goal: connect to the audience. Once it's extremely streamlined production cycle is married to a viable economic system, it has an unparalleled advantage.
Now, up until this point, 4GM has been limited in its economic scope. I believe there are three reasons for this: a.) anyone with a lick of business savvy sees there's gobs of money to be made in the BigC world, and has fled there for the last decades, b.) anything in the TV or movie business requies a LOT of start-up capitol and c.) the pipeline for direct connection to the audience hasn't existed before now. And by pipeline, I mean both the way to get the product TO the audience, and the way to get the money FROM the audience.
Personal brands are now more important than corporate brands -- or at the very least, more efficient. Nobody -- and I say this full-knowing the outcry from some suited friends -- goes to see a movie because it's from Paramount. Or Fox. Or Warner Brothers. Or Sony. Not a human on this planet says "Well, I wasn't going to go, but it's a Paramount flick." People go to movies because the media campaign -- usually integrating strong personal brands, hey, look at that -- has convinced them this particular project from the studio is worth their time.
Now, I hear you saying, "Yes, yes, this is all old news, entertainment's decentralized, it's a global entertainment system, blah, blah", but I'm not really trying to do anything different in that discussion. My point is more that once you move the current discussion of emergent media into the 4th Gen model, it creates a framework for both analysis and execution. Right now, new media is fighting with 4th Gen TACTICS. By applying this framework, we may be able to work out a STRATEGIC and OPERATIONAL LEVEL of planning for DVD, P2P and broadband entertainment.
Warren Ellis, Joss Whedon, Penny Arcade, etc. are all using 4Gw tactics. It's time to grow up, expand -- and conquer.
And, not to be a quisling against the revolution, but this framework could be the guide for the BigC's to understand that they don't need to be fighting the new media, they need to be aggressively adopting its methods -- but can only do so by making a massive evolutionary step in their understanding of what it is to "win" in modern media. But what's weird is that"winning" means doing something which, in a capitalist society, is in theory at least desirable: becoming more efficient and better-connected to their consumer.
A quick thought on that: At least, in the BigC world, movies make a certain common-sense. You want to see a movie, you pay X dollars. some %of X goes to the moviemakers. However, we all know that the secondary DVD market on movies is now what's driving the business. Its superior profit margin has been estimated at, conservatively, 4-to-1.
TV is incredibly obtuse. TV networks survive off advertising, where they earn money by measuring the consumer as a metric of success. TV studios (in the pre-DVD days) made money off of syndication, or in plain language the perceived secondary-market value of those shows as measured by the already one-step-off metric of ratings. Bloody hell.
The simple, hard-ass center of the new media revolution is that, in order for a show to show a profit on TV in the old model, it needs to stay on the air. To stay on the air, in order to generate enough perceived value for advertisers (for the network) and syndicates (for the studio), a show needs, regularly, ten million consumers a week. Five or seven on a smaller network.
In order for a show to create a profit on DVD (the fat pipe model of the present), it needs one million consumers.
There are a whole lot more risks one can take down here when you only need a million consumers. My proposal, actually, is that the better new media model (as the pipeline broadens, and the BigC's lose more and more control over both distribution systems and the perception game) is of an insurgent, cell theory of entertainment. (*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss).
It makes more sense for a BigC to cultivate a large number of small, streamlined productions, each of which cultivate a passionate (insurgent) fan base who will make multiple purchases of the entertainment product, than to continue to try for the largest common denominator. In effect, the first BigC who gives up will win. And win big.
All right. First shot across the bow. Rip it apart.