I was recently on the lot at Warner Brothers in Burbank, and the movie studio has indeed undergone some major changes in response to threats from the Internet industry. What used to be a marketing department has been transformed into a cubicle farm now known on the QT as the Department for Breaking the Internet. Similarly, the building where writers once banged out classic screenplays is now the Division for Chilling Free Speech. And while there is only speculation that file sharers are being abducted and tortured, I was pretty sure I heard screams when a door swung open on a soundstage claiming to be home to the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Meanwhile, back in reality . . .
You know how we still see headlines that tell us Hollywood and the Government are in cahoots to . . . (insert violation of civil liberty here)? Well, you can feel secure calling bullshit on that premise at least insofar as lobbying dollars go because Hollywood is a penny-ante player in that game. Despite the persistent notion that the almighty MPAA wields some unlimited lobbying budget with which it manhandles Washington, here’s the facts, Jack: According to this report from Consumer Watchdog, 10 major tech firms spent $61.5 million on lobbying in 2013 with Google (who else?) leading that crowd with its own $14.06 million. By contrast, the MPAA, whose budget comes from combined contributions from the major media companies, spent a little under $2.2 million in 2013 according to the Lobbying Disclosure site hosted by the US House of Representatives. That’s a 30:1 ratio for the 10 firms v the MPAA, or a 7:1 ratio looking just at Google v the MPAA.
So, sure we can have a big ol’ national palaver about the influence of money in politics, but anyone who thinks big tech is the David to the media industry’s Goliath is just a sucker. Meanwhile, like them or not, what major motion picture studios spend their money on is film and television production. Protecting IP and fighting piracy is a pain the ass and an expense to protect investments. By contrast, the lobbying dollars spent by many of these technology companies are an investment in rewriting policy — copyrights, patents, privacy, etc. — that could have a dramatic effect on their future growth. This is one reason we’re not likely to see the MPAA ever compete on a level, lobbying playing field, even if they had the financial resources to do so. At the same time, the major studios and networks combined employ more Americans than Google, and even all those jobs still don’t represent the majority of people who work in the motion picture industry. So, really the whole narrative of Silicon Valley as underdog is multi-dimensionally false as well as insulting.