This is what I am noticing:
1) The book publishers are hurting so they are trying to get into the television business.
2) The toy companies are hurting so they are trying to get into the television business.
3) The music companies are hurting so they are trying to get into the television business.
4) The television companies are hurting so they are trying to get into the Internet business.
5) The Internet companies are hurting because they cannot figure out how to monetize their websites, and;
6) The DVD business is dead.
So what should we do?
I suggest we have a party. And I suggest the theme of that party should be, “Come As You Are.” In order to gain admittance you must tell the bouncer, with complete honesty, what you are good at. If you are truthful, you can enter the party. If you lie you will be sent home.
I, for example, would have to say, “I create and produce preschool shows.” If I said, “I am a production company that dabbles in toys, social networking and graphic novels,” I would be kicked out along with anyone else who is delusional.
This sorting out process is for our own good. It will ensure that we don’t waste our time trying to do something that we don’t know anything about. Now, I know that everyone else’s business looks easier than one’s own but we all know deep down that it isn’t. So, just as Little Airplane is unlikely to make a very good toy anytime soon, I suspect that even the best toy company is unlikely to produce a very good preschool TV show anytime soon.
Once my party begins we will all be reminded that our businesses have succeeded thus far because we are all good at one thing. And that one thing took us many years to master. We will all be told that there are other people at the party who are very good at just the things that we’re not good at. And because they’re having problems of their own, they would like to meet us. And perhaps, in this way, new alliances will be made to the mutual benefit of all partygoers. That’s why it will be a good party.
Now, this all sounds so easy. But it’s really not. Why not? Mostly because of pride and greed. Pride makes us feel like we can learn someone else’s business quickly. Which we can’t. And greed makes us think we can profit more by doing (and owning) everything ourselves. Which we can’t. Because we’re not good at everything. None of us.
I read an article in the New York Times recently about The Weinstein Company. It said that the Weinsteins, by their own admission, had become so comfortable with their ability to make films that they assumed they could just phone them in and focus their energies instead on their new non-film businesses. They found that this did not work. They ended up making bad films and failing at their new endeavors. In the end, they returned to their core business of making films. Why? Because that’s the thing they’re good at.
I suspect that the same lesson is about to be learned by the new “media hybrids” that are revving up their engines this year. Like the Weinsteins they will attempt to chew gum and pat their heads at the same time and succeed at neither. And, in some cases, the public will reject the media hybrids outright. This will occur if the businesses try to mix apples and oranges that simply should not be mixed. For example, if someone should create an unholy alliance between a toy company and an educational preschool TV network, parents simply won’t watch this network. I am not hoping this happens, exactly, but I have no doubt that it will.
This week I noticed lines forming outside the doors of two New York establishments: The Magnolia Bakery where the best cupcakes in New York are made and Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal St. where the best falafel in New York is made. Though I don’t know for certain, I believe that the quality is so high in both of these establishments because they specialize. And I suspect that if the Magnolia began selling falafel or if Mamoun decided to try his hand at cupcakes, both businesses would find themselves lineless.
But what if your business does not have a line out the door? What if your business is failing? You have to do something, right? Yes, you do. But let’s say you run a sushi bar and you have no customers. Do you add hot dogs to the menu to try to bring the people in? Or do you simply get better at making sushi? If your passion is sushi, if your background is sushi and if you employ sushi chefs, then I would suggest you stick with making sushi. Because even a good hot dog is a very hard thing to make.
I know there are smarter people than I making the decisions to expand, merge and vertically integrate within my beloved children’s television space but I predict that most of these new media hybrids will fail. Why? For the very same reason that Mamoun’s Falafel and Cupcake Stand would fail. It is just very difficult to be good at more than one thing. And if you don’t believe me, ask AOL/Time Warner.
This is why I stick to preschool TV. It’s what I know and what I love. And it’s sufficiently difficult that anyone who does not truly know and love it doesn’t stand a chance at succeeding in it. I suspect the very same is true for the good publishing houses. And the good networks.
As the Greeks said, “Know thyself.” So, if you’re not a toy company, please don’t pretend to know how to make a toy. And if you’re not a preschool TV creator or producer, please, for the children’s sake, don’t try and make a preschool TV show. We will all be better off in the end.