Monday, April 20, 2009

What the NY Times can Learn from Warner Bros.

I was watching Casablanca, again, over the weekend. Made me think about the old studio system and its demise, and made me wonder whether newspapers and magazines often resemble the old movie studios? Remember that era? Studios “owned” the talent, controlled the method of production, and dominated distribution channels. With the big three under control – content, production, and distribution – movie studios formed a classic oligopoly.

Today, movies don’t “own” hardly anything, and they need to contract with all sorts of talent, with various production companies that bring highly specialized know-how (e.g., Lucasfilm), and even with movie theatres that have consolidated and are independent of the studios. Further, every movie is an independent business of sorts, assembling a wide variety of independent components that are assembled and integrated into one (hopefully) seamless product. As jarring as this transition must have been, the movie studios did it.

What of our friends in the newspaper and magazine business? The experience of the movie studios offers the following lessons:

(1) Successful movie studios have become “systems integrators,” not that much different than Boeing when you come to think about it. Boeing doesn’t manufacture all the parts, software, and systems that make up a modern aircraft – in fact, Boeing partners make most of what goes into our 747s. They have thrived by becoming superior integrators. Why not newspapers and magazines?

(2) The mindset of movie studios has shifted from one of control and push to one of modular and pull. It is necessary to provide an incentive to the best talent to want to work with you (“pull”), and that talent is not taken from a list of employees but drawn from a wide pool of expertise (“modular”). Why not newspapers and magazines?

(3) There is one thing the movie studios have been doing for a long time that continues to work. They are absolute geniuses at creating and maintaining a star system that attracts customers not only because a movie is a “good” one in any objective sense, but also because customers need to see certain movies to develop or maintain their place in the popular culture. The studios use entertainment magazines to promote their products, create glamour that attracts interest, and mass produce awards shows like the Academy Awards and its brethren that cement their position in the popular culture. Why not newspapers and magazines?


  1. Syd, you have a great point here. I think many businesses (I've witnessed this growing on the tech side) will move to this "systems integrator" model, leveraging small and large partners to help sell, deliver and service.

    Newspapers have a long way to go here. Some of their online practices, such as rarely if ever linking to external content, demonstrate this clearly.

    regards, John

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