Minimum Viable Product in Hollywood: Case Study and Correlation to Any Enterprise

I'm an avid sci-fi fan, it probably speaks deeply in my personal core belief that not only technology is a great tool, a manifestation of our imagination and intelligence, but also a great equalizer.

I'm more than happy to see companies like Netflix, take advantage of cloud computing, micro-service architecture, continuous development, etc. to disrupt the entertainment industry. If anything, this competition results in better entertainment for us, the consumers. It's also a reason I've never really been an avid fan of 'choosing sides' when it comes to tech, e.g. .NET vs. JAVA, Sony vs. Xbox, or Android vs. Apple: any competition in the marketplace should mean better value for everyone.

 

A current experiment: Star Trek Discovery and CBS All Access, CBS's 'counter disruptor'

I'm not a "trekkie" by any means, but I do like all the Star Trek series sans-the original; it was just a bit before my time in terms of patience to consume.

So here I am, weeks into the new Star Trek Discovery, a show launched with CBS All Access. I'm enjoying the show immensely: the stellar cast, the complexity of the characters belying a trending appetite from viewers (i.e. Game of Thrones), the steady building of the characters, and the special effects are exceptional for a TV series.

 Producers business connections for efficient special effects showing up!

Producers business connections for efficient special effects showing up!

It's no wonder that the shows primary producer, Alex Kurtzman, is behind this. Historically Alex Kurtzman, and his collaborator Robert Orci, have produced a few highly successful films, The Transformers series being one of them. And although the Transformers movie series are not a hallmark of creative vision and narrative, they are ridiculously profitable, grossing over $3 billion. The movies are cliche in almost every respect, but hit on almost any demographic worldwide; hence the success. Truly Orci and Kurtzman have a wealth of analytics to derive decisions from.

It's also no wonder that Orci and Kurtzman are stepping away from films altogether, and embracing MVP as a path forward through TV and streaming; smaller formats.

Thinking about the business strategy here I was wondering why CBS is taking on Netflix with such an endeavor. CBS has the capital and assets to leverage and invest in almost anything. Wishing this new series was on network TV and more easily accessible, I'm afraid this risk may result in this show's cancellation. The staying power of a show on network TV is still very much related to 'maximum viewership' to get adverting to pay for it; e.g. 11 seasons of Big Bang Theory.

Is this just Edison employing Tesla?

What is evident is the strategy, and business mentality behind this endeavor. Market wise, Netflix is now a juggernaut, and garnering more capital investments than ever to promote original programming; an all encompassing and clearly successful venture to take over Hollywood, it's working. There is a reason why agents are pushing big named movie actors like Will Smith and Kevin Spacey into Netflix; the see the writing on the wall.

Not only does Netflix account for 40%~ of internet traffic worldwide, but the data they collect will enable Netflix to see opportunities at a faster rate than anyone else: a better way to keep pulse on viewer and consumer expectations and trends. As Amazon is poised for worldwide domination of material goods and shipping, Netflix is poised for worldwide domination of entertainment. Thanks internet!

 MVP works.

MVP works.

 

Disrupting the Disruptors, a short-sighted strategy?

Disruptors are a pretty common buzzword nowadays, companies that challenge the market by using technology to their advantage; we're seeing technology outpace how fast large enterprises can enact change to a shifting market. All disruptors need to do is dip and dodge faster than the monolithic status-quo, and the results are apparent. One can argue that the disruptor, like Netflix and Amazon, is now the status quo. Disruption is not a new concept, Hamurabi disrupted the world, when he introduced the concept of 'law'. Disruption isn't new, but MVP is; the ability for an enterprise to invest in traditional risky ventures, through the power of globalization, can either be a small failure or a gigantic new profit center.

So here we see CBS rolling out their Netflix competitor, CBS All Access with a highly expensive production in Star Trek Discovery. It's their gamble that a consistent user base of loyal fans, with a savvy business minded producer, and high production values will 'disrupt the disruptors'. I can only imagine a CBS executive saying in a boardroom "Get these kids off my lawn!" But is this too late? Has the ship sailed, and should CBS be looking toward the next era of disruption? Is disrupting the disruptor, just a new way of talent-derived activist investing? If anything, many startups have the goal of acquisition in mind, their singular mindset; I've seen this firsthand on hundreds of occasions in the last decade while assessing new IT platforms, products, or services as an Enterprise Architect.

 CBS Stock decline history, plumeting from the S&P 500 in 2014.

CBS Stock decline history, plumeting from the S&P 500 in 2014.

Is this just Edison employing Tesla? Metrics in Hollywood have been a real world pre-cursor to Big Data, Hollywood and the entertainment industry have been using 'viewer statistics' before computers were commonplace in most big companies. These large networks SHOULD have seen this coming.

Innovation is a bottoms-up, decentralized, and unpredictable thing, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be managed.
— The Lean Startup

So what can we learn from this? Watching CBS and the success or failure of Star Trek Discovery may be good litmus test to see how 'disrupting the disruptor' works. This lesson can be abstracted and applied to almost any industry and enterprise. Is counter disruption even a worthwhile venture? I'm sure there are many examples of this test, ongoing and definitely historical.

I'm torn a little bit on what side to cheer for, experience and intuition tells me CBS All Access and sadly Star Trek Discovery will fail. But I really like the show!

 

Andy Rooney-esque Footnote / Sociological and Cultural Impacts

MVP and disruption are very real practices and concepts, and if anything this will perpetuate all facets of a global society, eventually.

But what does this mean to viewers and users? It's not uncommon a favorite show of mine will be cancelled, e.g. Penny Dreadful. Our ability to digest information faster compared to just a decade ago has increased dramatically; Youtube, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon Prime are prime examples of the consumers want and need of this. We want what we want, and we want it immediately; listen to Grammy winning Arcade Fires latest album "Everything Now" to hear  further cultural commentary on this. It's also a demoralizing personal aspect, as I write these articles, it's clear that if I don't embrace full-on marketing my perspective may not be heard; reading may be en'vogue, the dying journalism profession is a good example. 

More impactful long-term, many innovators and start-up founders can relate their inspiration to something they read, watched, or consumed from a creative source. Will may we lose these sources of inspiration if the trend continues, will the innovators of the 2100's have nothing but vintage Transformer films to inspire them or short lived MVP books, programs, or music that 'failed' but resonated after a season or a few albums? And more importantly, if Ray Bradbury never existed, what would that impact could have been? Would someone have filled the gap? 

(on a side-note, "5 seasons and a movie" line from Dan Harmon's Community fits perfectly here.)

Jesse Myer