Subscribe · Featured · Recent · The Cold Start Problem 📘

Product creation in entertainment

I attended the Future of Entertainment conference today at Stanford and enjoyed it immensely. Here were the keynote speakers and here were the panels. As I watched, the first keynote really resonated with me, and I elaborate below. In general, it was great to listen to this vastly different culture talk about intellectual property, distribution, and all the other things we nerds like to discuss.

Andrea Wong and new show creation
First up was Andrea Wong, an executive vice president at ABC in charge of all our favorite shows, like "The Bachelor" "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" "Dancing with the Stars" etc. She talked about a bunch of subjects, but the one that resonated with me was the process she used to create new shows. Ultimately, whenever I’m thinking about technology products for consumers, I often think how you’d approach it if you IGNORED technology, business model, etc., and just tried to build for mass appeal. I think film, music, and TV are good representations of what it’d be like to just cater to customer tastes, rather than building features for the sake of features.

Her group at ABC would do a couple different things to get ideas:

  • Getting pitches from production groups (Mark Burnett of Survivor, for example)
  • Looking at successful shows from other countries, or in the past
  • Brainstorming based on peoples’ emotions and common themes

I’ll mostly focus on the last one because it’s the only one where you’re trying to create ideas from scratch.

Tapping emotional roots
She said that ultimately, getting inspired to create new shows is all about taking large-scale, emotionally resonant themes and developing shows on them. Andrea’s team would take an idea like "psychics" or "falling in love" or "judging how other people live" or "belief in God" and develop shows based on those deep emotions.

Interestingly, Andrea said that because of her background in engineering
(EE degree from MIT), she was trained to take a very complicated
problem and reduce it to simpler ones, which was quite opposite to how her brain needed to think. That sort of reductionist,
deductive logic is what defines an engineer. However, the act of
creating a new show is to take a very small nugget of emotion and building out complexity
from that.

Media as a "failure-driven" business
Another key point was that for all the success she’s had, she’s also had some really big failures. Andrea said that 95% of shows are failures, and that every year, they launch an entire season of new ideas and new shows, and maybe 1 or 2 ever become real properties.

Part of the key then, of course, is to try a lot of different things and realize that you’re facing difficult odds. The only way, then, to success is to throw a lot of stuff at the wall and not get discouraged when the majority of your ideas fail.

Looking at technology products as entertainment, not tools
There’s a huge bias in the tech industry to look at our products and services as tools for getting things done, rather than as entertainment. For example, one looks at eBay and sees a consumer-to-consumer marketplace, that helps you get rid of your junk.

But what if you look at your products as entertainment, something that drives fun based on characters and story? Is there a better way to look at eBay, beyond its functional uses? Perhaps the "story" of eBay is one of winning and losing auctions, of drama and tension created by the countdown timer, or one of surprise and discovery based on finding awesome one-of-a-kind things? Is that what makes eBay fun, rather than merely a tool?

I think this is a surprisingly fresh way to look at consumer products that hasn’t been explored much. And we should, as it would make our days more interesting :)

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

Views expressed in “content” (including posts, podcasts, videos) linked on this website or posted in social media and other platforms (collectively, “content distribution outlets”) are my own and are not the views of AH Capital Management, L.L.C. (“a16z”) or its respective affiliates. AH Capital Management is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration as an investment adviser does not imply any special skill or training. The posts are not directed to any investors or potential investors, and do not constitute an offer to sell -- or a solicitation of an offer to buy -- any securities, and may not be used or relied upon in evaluating the merits of any investment.

The content should not be construed as or relied upon in any manner as investment, legal, tax, or other advice. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. Any charts provided here are for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, I have not independently verified such information and makes no representations about the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation. The content speaks only as of the date indicated.

Under no circumstances should any posts or other information provided on this website -- or on associated content distribution outlets -- be construed as an offer soliciting the purchase or sale of any security or interest in any pooled investment vehicle sponsored, discussed, or mentioned by a16z personnel. Nor should it be construed as an offer to provide investment advisory services; an offer to invest in an a16z-managed pooled investment vehicle will be made separately and only by means of the confidential offering documents of the specific pooled investment vehicles -- which should be read in their entirety, and only to those who, among other requirements, meet certain qualifications under federal securities laws. Such investors, defined as accredited investors and qualified purchasers, are generally deemed capable of evaluating the merits and risks of prospective investments and financial matters. There can be no assurances that a16z’s investment objectives will be achieved or investment strategies will be successful. Any investment in a vehicle managed by a16z involves a high degree of risk including the risk that the entire amount invested is lost. Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by a16z and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results. A list of investments made by funds managed by a16z is available at https://a16z.com/investments/. Excluded from this list are investments for which the issuer has not provided permission for a16z to disclose publicly as well as unannounced investments in publicly traded digital assets. Past results of Andreessen Horowitz’s investments, pooled investment vehicles, or investment strategies are not necessarily indicative of future results. Please see https://a16z.com/disclosures for additional important information.