First, here’s what’s “old” and will continue, unchanged, in the way humans regard entertainment. People like sex – not only having it, but also watching it, and watching things that remind us of it, such as love stories and pretty girls. The Greek Gods had more sex, intrigue, and backstabbing than Melrose Place, Shades of Grey, and Dynasty combined.
People like action: From the Roman Coliseum to Terminator 2, it’s the same rush, just a bit culturally altered. (The Roman gladiators were such cultural icons they actually had sponsorship deals for products.) People like to laugh: From Aristophanes to Scary Movie, funny is funny. People like to be scared, albeit in a controlled environment.
In other words, people like to have fun. In some generations, we just didn’t have much time. Rural Americans in the 1800s didn’t have time for anything other than fighting off the elements. The generations of this century will have plenty of time to entertain themselves. Technology gives us that: Every minute a dishwasher is turned on, for example, is a minute our grandparents didn’t have.
What is radically different about entertainment in the next century are the many, the varied, and the all-encompassing ways we will have to consume it. We will have all those things, plus the unfettered, 100 percent ability to watch, see, play, or interact with whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want.
We will be able to reach people all over the world -1.3 billion in China, 250 million in Indonesia, over 1 billion in India. Our phones, watches, cars, and appliances will entertain us. I made a movie called Strange Days, about a device that allows you to share the feeling of another’s actual experience without being there yourself. It seemed a lot more like science fiction when it was made all of six years ago than it does today.
So what we want will not change. The future does not offer a new production opportunity. Entertainment will not redefine itself in any great way. How, when, and where we get it will change dramatically. This creates a distribution opportunity.
Global entertainment brands will rule. In a crowded, confused marketplace, people will seek the familiar. They will seek brands they know and love, and they will seek them everywhere. It’s already happening (Mortal Kombat, a global entertainment brand whose entertainment I produce, has been made in every form of media that exists over the past five years and has grossed more than $6 billion in retail). But we haven’t seen anything yet.
The entertainment pie will grow dramatically. More people will consume more entertainment than ever before in history. The slices of that pie will increase in number, meaning each slice will occupy a smaller percentage of the whole.
This is all a great opportunity if one is a producer of entertainment like me. But while I can philosophize all I want about human nature and basic, primal urges, I still face the same problem that prehistoric Grog, who ran from campfire to campfire telling stories, faced: Is it good enough? Will they like it? It has all the right elements, but Orog at the other campfire is getting bigger laughs.
With all the technology and all the accumulated knowledge we have about humanity, we will never be able to blueprint a surefire way to tell an entertaining story. We can only reach for the upside, protect our downside, and keep trying. But, at the end of the day, just like Grog and Orog, to produce great entertainment, you have to be a good – no, a great – producer. And that will never change.