In a Flyover State: The Longest 380 Miles in the Country

Divide between Hollywood and Silicon Valley starts and ends with business models

Having transplanted from Southern California to Northern California in the past year, I now have a new perspective on a unique rivaly in our nation—the one between residents of these two regions. Actually, to be fair, it’s not really a rivalry, per se, since that would require two equally agitated sides.

But I’ve learned that Northern Californians really do seem to have it in for Los Angelinos. When you tell people here that you have moved up from L.A., they (often unsuccessfully) fight the urge to hug you. They really seem to want to throw you a parade, heaping praise upon you like you have just escaped from a North Korean prison camp.

But the problem with calling this a rivalry, of course, is that Hollywood types don’t care. You know, about anything. Except perhaps about getting the kids into the right private schools, keeping their cars spotless and making sure they—God forbid!—don’t show up to anything on time. So, hating a bunch of treehuggers from the Bay Area? That’s something their nannies or assistants can handle.

The sports rivalry, however, is actually slightly more interesting. I say slightly because there are two major problems. First and foremost is the aforementioned lack of caring in SoCal. I have said in this space before that Los Angeles is hands down the worst major-market sports town in the nation. I would at this point like to amend that statement: It is the worst majormarket sports town in the world. All the proof you need is the massive L.A. fan uprising in support of the chatter about getting an NFL team. Oh, that’s right…no one in L.A. cares if they get an NFL team.

The second issue with the sports rivalry is it gets no national attention because the games are too late for most of the country. If the women’s banjo teams from New York and Boston ever have a five-string playoff, outlets like ESPN and USA Today would treat it like Obama-Romney. (Is it November yet?) But San Francisco-L.A.? Unless the human asterisk Barry Bonds himself buys the Dodgers (hey, he can’t do any worse than the last clowns), no one east of California cares.

But the deepest divide I have come to witness between North and South out here is actually in the media business. The nation got a little taste of it recently with the SOPA/PIPA battles, though that ended up being as much about rhetoric and Election Year paralysis in the end.

But the Hollywood-Silicon Valley chasm runs deep, and with a fundamental disconnect. That’s a great shame, because when all the smart people in these two places finally get on the same page, which they eventually will, out of necessity, we in the media business will be a lot better off.

The divide starts and ends with business models, or the perceived lack thereof.

Many legacy media company execs think the business model for a new media start-up is, well, non-existent. Their view of the start-up mentality is, “You really don’t need a business model—just make enough noise to eventually get bought out by someone like Google who has so much cash they don’t actually, you know, need to make any more.” Oh yeah, and legacy media execs think everyone at Internet companies just steals everything anyway.

And in Silicon Valley, a lot of people think the new media or digital strategy of a legacy media company is to just overpay for a MySpace, iVillage or CNet every few years so you can make a headline or two and appear (fingerquote) forward-thinking (finger-unquote) while you’re really going about your day-to-day business of desperately clinging to a dying business model for your dinosaur of a company.

I know: This may seem like hyperbole (far be it from me…), but there is sadly plenty of fact in it. These really are two constituencies that need to get together. And fast.

Television content owners are more than happy to cash those Netflix checks, and Twitter’s bread is definitely buttered significantly by TV viewers, but those are easy marriages. It’s time to work a little harder.

If you run a legacy media company, embed some people up North. And actually listen to them once in a while. Acquisition is not a long-term digital strategy.

And if you are a Silicon Valley firm interested in playing in the media space, try actually getting to know some of the people from down South. I promise you, they are not as clueless as you think.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are separated by approximately 380 miles of interstate. Anyone who has driven that stretch of the I-5 knows it is by far the ugliest stretch of road in our country, as the many miles of absolutely nothing are interrupted only by the slaughterhouses that assault your nose, followed by the fast-food joints that want to use the slaughterhouse remnants to assault your waistline.

Traversing that philosophical distance between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is no less a struggle. But it’s a necessary journey for the media business to make, whether either side likes it or not.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman