Being in Los Angeles for the first time feels both familiar and exciting. Places seem familiar from the movies (the outdoor stairwell in the hotel is straight out of Pulp Fiction, and walking along the beach in Santa Monica is from countless end-credits).
And exciting to see those road signs you’ve known all your life – Beverley Hills, Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood.
The tour guide who showed us all these places (yes, we’re being touristy) explained that agents and managers in the film industry were having a difficult time at the moment. Their clients – the actors – can’t command the fees they used to because it’s not them who are really selling the movies today; it’s the owners and authors of the concepts. “Content providers are king”, he monotoned over the bus intercom (really touristy).
The big movie opening this weekend is Hunger Games. Queues round the block, takings forecasts on the news, book tie-ins piled high in the Barnes and Noble windows. And the biggest player in all this doesn’t appear on the screen. Suzanne Collins, the author of the trilogy (Catching Fire and Mockingjay coming soon to a movie theatre near you) has co-written and co- produced the film. She’s the content provider, she’s got the power.
This is, of course, what made JK Rowling so wealthy – as content provider, she held all the cards (until the previously unknown stars became essential to the films, later on in the Harry Potter franchise).
And this move to content as king is happening in brand-world too. You still can’t turn on the TV over here without being bombarded by ads promising this life change or that amazing discount RIGHT NOW. But so much of it feels like the desperate shouting of an increasingly ignored door-to-door salesman.
Which is why brands, even here, are turning to content provision. Because if they can own the story, rather than interrupt it, they have the power.
It’s creating job opportunities for another group of writers, the journalists whose opportunities had seemed more limited with the struggles of print media. J Crew and Sephora are just two examples of brands hiring journalists to inject editorial expertise into their marketing.
The transfer of power to the content providers is visible in actors’ off-screen lives too. When Greta Garbo used to stay at the Chateau Marmot (we’re back on the tour bus now), she enjoyed relative privacy. When Lindsay Lohan stayed there, every detail of her life became valuable content for hotel staff to sell to hungry media. Like the man says, content providers are king.
Photo credit: Shinya Suzuki