This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
When Bob Crane, the star of TV's Hogan's Heroes, was found murdered in an Arizona motel in the late 1970's, among his personal effects were several hundred pounds of video equipment. Crane had state-of-the-art equipment for 1974: a huge video camera, a heavy playback tape machine (roughly the size of four microwave ovens stacked together), and enough lights to form a small production company.
Crane was a porn freak. And back then, being a porn freak wasn't for the casual hobbyist. The airline overweight luggage charges alone were suitable barriers to entry, and the enormous cost of what was essentially professional television equipment managed to keep the riff-raff out. Or in, depending.
All of that changed, of course, with the introduction of the VCR and a camcorder the size of a plump quail. Add to those two items a slim notebook computer for whip-fast editing, and you have a compact kit so small and light that it would barely show up in crime-scene photographs. Thirty years ago, poor Bob Crane had to schlep back-breaking crates all over the country to satisfy his creepy hobby; now it all fits conveniently in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. Golfers have more luggage.
This wasn't a coincidence. New technology relies on "early adopters" to pay more for ground-breaking equipment. Audiophiles subsidized the introduction of the compact discs with their single-minded pursuit of perfect sound reproduction. Computer geeks brought us the BlackBerry. And Bob Crane gave us the VCR. He lugged all that stuff so that we could slip in Shrek 2 and keep the kids quiet for a couple of hours. From there it was a short high-tech hop to online video -- which, as you'll pretend not to know, was developed and perfected because enough citizens want to watch other citizens be naked together to make it worth the time and expense of figuring out a way for them to do just that, without leaving their home or their desk.
Pornography is a bellweather. People in search of dirty pictures blaze a trail of technology, which people in search of less dicey things – like Chinese guys lipsynching, people putting Mentos into Diet Coke, my funny cat, here we are at Carlsbad caverns, whatever -- follow, a year or two later. So if the pornography business is always a few steps ahead of the rest of the entertainment industry -- in distribution and business model -- why not check in with it and see what's up? What's up are online revenues, to almost $3 billion. What's down are DVD sales, by at least 15 percent. What's up are individual brands -- porn stars like Jenna Jameson creating their own branded content and what's down are production costs, a consequence of the fragmented, tighter margin business. In other words, what's going on in the pornography business is what's going to be going on in the rest of the entertainment industry in two years: costs pushed down; online distribution; individual brands eclipsing studio brands, like Tom Cruise buying MGM; smaller, more decentralized production and distribution. Everything, really, that you might expect.
If you're a writer, this can be a very exciting time. The country club era of fat studio deals is over, but the exploding diversified entertainment market -- the web, the 600 channels of content, the indie film market -- mean a lot more places to sell your wares, and a lot more entrepreneurial opportunities to take advantage of.
Want to see the future of the entertainment business? Just take a look at our financially flexible, technologically innovative tacky second cousin.
As a writer, there is one development, though, that bothers me. Pornography isn't really what we might call "writer driven." People don't pop in a porn DVD and say, "You know, I really loved that dialogue. Crisp. Subtle." So let's hope that among the many developments in the future, no one figures out a way to do it without writers.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll answer our own phone. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.