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.

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on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman