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Learning From Black Panther

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Black Panther hit theaters this past weekend. The Ryan Coogler directed film has been making financial as well as sociocultural waves, and for good reason. The internet has been full of reports about Black Panther breaking box office records and serving as a beacon of diversity. While its heroes are beloved by not just African American consumers but those of all races, one of the most powerful point of views came from the villain: Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The film is set in Wakanda, the richest and most technologically advanced nation on Earth. They’re thousands of years ahead with their technology, yet they hide in plain sight to the rest of the world, posing as a third world country. They prosper as the world around them descends into genocide, war and meritocracy. Yet, even though they could eradicate all of these problems with their technology, they stick their head in the sand and do nothing. They only take care of themselves with their resources. Leads us to wonder how different this is from modern abuses of power.

Without revealing too much, Killmonger saw that outside of their ivory tower, people were in need. There was death, systemic violence, governments waging war on minorities with drugs and a corrupt judicial system. He wanted to use Wakandan resources to fight this oppression, yet tradition stopped him from doing so. He’s a little violent in his ambition, but spot on in his thinking. We simply must be compassionate with our resources. The film has indeed inspired philanthropy but it also begs the question: how can we best leverage our resources for local and global good?

In Black Panther, it is a mineral called Vibranium that makes Wakanda so rich. In real life that mineral is freedom, healthcare and education. What are we doing with our “Vibranium?” Girls Who Code is doing a phenomenal job of imparting knowledge to help empower women, and Y Combinator is fighting for equal pay for those same women. Unfortunately, there are still underserved urban and rural communities starving for technology. The partners at Harlem Capital are doing a great job attacking the issue in urban areas. While guys like Jared Smith in Louisiana are stepping up answering the rural demand for technological instruction. The truth is, we all must play our part.

Years ago Tupac Shakur wrote a poem titled “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.”   The poem depicts a rose growing from a crack in the concrete, a metaphor for beauty arising from unconventional places. Not only beauty but brilliance lies in these same cracks. We have been given so much, so no matter your industry, think about using your innovation and resource to help others. To quote another classic from the Marvel universe, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Spotify Acquiring Genius

Music is an essential driver of culture and trends in both America and abroad. Two of my favorite things are listening to and discussing music. I love finding new artists, analyzing lyrics, as well as learning about the production behind both classic and new albums. Spotify has been an incredible mobile utility to access large libraries and consume music through an easy user interface. With over 40 Million paying subscribers, Spotify is a mobile application many people can’t live without. As great as Spotify is, however, there are some additions the platform could make in order to enhance the experience as well as prepare themselves for a future IPO. This is where Genius comes into play.

For those unfamiliar with Genius, it is the internet’s destination for song lyrics. They have established deals with major publishers for the exclusive lyric rights to vast music libraries. Through a tiered hierarchy system, users can annotate and provide additional context to lines of lyrics. The approval hierarchy helps ensure there is a level of quality amongst annotations. Artists can become verified and annotate as well: Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, even Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Within the annotations, users can discuss music and provide their own interpretations of the lyrics. It’s fascinating to see how people interpret lyrics through their own unique lenses. The Genius community is extremely in touch with the latest cultural trends and even provides clever parallels between lyrics and modern day themes.

In 2016, Spotify and Genius partnered on “Behind The Lyrics” in which annotations that corresponded to lyrics appeared behind a limited number of songs, with the option for the user to view them. This is one of the best features added to Spotify in recent memory and it turned Spotify into a visual application instead of a passive listening one. With “Behind The Lyrics” there is now a reason to a look at the application beyond song selection.

Aside from “Behind The Lyrics” there is no where to learn about or discuss music on Spotify, yet there is so much opportunity. After listening to Drake’s Views album, fans should be able to watch a video like this on Spotify about the deconstruction of the tracks. Spotify should also add a gamification component to their application, similar to The Rap Test from a few years ago. These features allow users to learn and feel more connected to the music.

There is no doubt music discussion is something the platform needs to address in 2017. To do this, Spotify should really consider acquiring Genius in order to add a social and cultural component to their platform while tapping into the Genius community and creative team to jump start these discussions. A Spotify mobile and web-based music social network (derived off of the Genius framework) will allow Spotify to develop more revenue streams through advertisements and ultimately create a more compelling experience. Music is a rare topic that brings strangers together and there is a tremendous opportunity for Spotify to develop a strong social network from users’ love of music discussion, giving them an edge in the great streaming war.

Written by Matthew Stanton

Star Warz

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

There was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and it was lit. It’s no surprise that already over the weekend, the latest in franchise is smashing records with its $155M domestic box office haul while making it rain $290M worldwide. If you haven’t seen it yet, the world is familiar, yet departs from the traditional series to provide something very fresh, unique, and profoundly more raw and darker than any of its predecessors.

No matter your intricate thoughts on the theology, plot, CGI, score, specific acting and characters, this movie is important, timely, and the perfect follow up to The Force Awakens. It is simply a bold new take on the Star Wars universe.

Behind the success of the film are proven creative forces and powerful businesses. We mean you Gareth EdwardsKathleen KennedyLucasfilm and yea Disney, way to go.

Remember when George Lucas sold Lucasfilm and Star Wars for $4 Billion Dollars to Disney, just a couple years ago? What a steal, between toys and merchandise alone, Disney more than made their money back before The Force Awakens even came out.

Whether you like it or not, as one of the biggest pieces of IP in the world, Star Wars is the epitome of the cinematic adventure, the gold standard of consistent box office success and a platform enabling diversity and innovation in other arts, technologies and businesses.

Disney just proved they can change things up and still bring home the bacon.

And that is really the key, it’s the idea of creating a compelling story, that’s not the same, but lives in the same world. A lot of studios are starting to do this, just even in the trailers leading up to Rogue One, we saw Logan which needed a double take to realize it was another X-Men movie. Will we ever see a Goonies style Marvel movie or other big franchises taking these different approaches? Maybe a different lens is what these studios need to get through the sequel fatigue everyone is feeling.

The idea of other unique Star Wars stories has us intrigued. Upcoming is a potential comedy in a Han Solo origin story helmed by Lord + Miller, starring that one dude and Childish Gambino coming 2018, with even more side stories rumored.

Whatever they have cooking next, we’ll keep watchin’ because The Force is with us and we are one with The Force. Star Wars will likely advance its world dominance and continue to inspire people everywhere in hope of a better future, not just in fantasy, but in the real world too.

State Of The Music Industry

But the music biz is in control…

As we wrap up the end of 2016 and all the “best of lists”  are being showcased and reviewed with the hit songs and albums that dominated the year, we’re starting to think about the state of the music industry.

Just last week the Grammys revealed their list of nominees. We saw some familiar faces and some newcomers. One of those is Chance The Rapper who is up for seven awards, and he, unlike his other nominated brethren, has no record label to call home.

With the democratization of the internet, we’ve seen artists of all kinds become more empowered than ever to take control of their work, and Chance’s success this year as well as the success of other nominees from “Drake” to “Beyonce” represents a new vitality for the industry. This outlook is a stark contrast from the past rocky decade, where the inception of Napster created a catalyst that opened Pandora’s box and led to to the cannibalization of music revenues. CD’s became obsolete as did purchasing digital albums and singles. Now the music industry seems to have a handle on the business.

Apple Music just hit 20M paying subscribers after only 18 months of existence and Spotify has double that. Tidal is somewhere in the mix and alternative platforms like Soundcloud and Musical.ly are helping the music ecosystem. More confounding is the return of the vinyl record. Nostalgia and the experience of holding something tangible is becoming more valuable in an age where everything is “hands free” even though all this music is at our fingertips.

People should play close attention to the music industry, it often signifies where consumer behavior is heading. Live music, musical experiences and subscription platforms have brought the industry bottom line slowly back up. Their struggles and successes have been prophetic to what film, fashion and other industries will face quite soon. Streaming platforms are the new record labels, and the current issues with windowing and exclusives prove that content is king, and film + TV distribution platforms, even social networks like Snapchat, Facebook and the newly defunct Vine, are all facing similar conundrums.

Talent is still everything, the song is still everything, and as the music industry continues to figure itself out, the winners are the artists, platforms and businesses that have an authentic voice, provide a unique experience, and make their music most accessible to their fans. Chance gets people to the polls. Spotify is meeting fans wherever they are, and Apple is creating IP around all of its marquee artists. Music isn’t going away, it’s like oxygen, and those that succeed won’t just make people groove, but get them to take action, keeping fans coming back for more.

The Black Mirror Future

And it’s much closer than you think…

Black Mirror is considered to be the Twilight Zone of our modern age. Originally aired in Britain on Channel 4 in 2011, the show is an anthology series created by Charlie Brooker that has reached an uncanny level of critical acclaim. Every episode looks at a future that is literally no more than 6 months to 5 years away depending on the story. Netflix quickly bought the rights for subsequent seasons for north of $40 million dollars and there seems to be no better pairing.

Within a week of Netflix announcing a long awaited offline viewing mode, Black Mirror gave us a future where Netflix is our only viewing mode. This meta video dives into just how weirdly possible even an awesome company like Netflix could adversely dominate our attention.

Black Mirror has represented a recent trend in TV and film showing the ramifications of the growing control that technology has over our lives. We’ll remain spoiler free, because you really should watch the amazing show, but it tackles topics and issues like human and robotic consciousness, politics, terrorism, relationships, crime, social currency and economic classes. There is never a happy ending, and those that are, really aren’t because there is always a catch.

Just this past week we’ve seen China come out with a credit score for your life, where every single thing that you do will give you a “rating”. That rating is important because if you have a bad one, you won’t be able to do basic things like travel or get a loan effectively. Let’s not forget McDonald’s creating self serving kiosks bound to replace existing jobs. It seems to be the nail in the coffin for the on-going minimum wage battle, and other fast-food restaurants are following suit.

France is jailing citizens looking at terrorist propaganda online, autonomous driving cars are now trucks threatening even more jobs. There is something new every week. How will the loss of all these jobs impact our society? How will the democratization of content creation and distribution affect what we have access to, when others are abusing it?

No matter what is happening in the world, as we pour into technology to make our lives easier, it’s our responsibility to make sure that as a society we move more towards harmony as opposed to away from it. Marinate on it, recognize it, and be the ones to make it happen, so that our future looks more like The Jetsons as a opposed to a Black Mirror episode, even though we can’t wait for the next season.

Why People Aren’t Going To The Movies

Just kidding we love movies…

But listen to this for a second, In in the early 1890’s, moving pictures were discovered and the movie was born. It was a fascinating moment in history. Nothing had ever been invented like this and storytelling had evolved from spoken word to moving recorded images. People were enamored by this new experience, and in less than 10 years of this new medium, film studios were born.

Audiences had to go to the movie theatre, because it was the only way to watch movies. It was a novel experience and demand was high. In fact people would go almost every week. Going to the movie theatre was a true American pastime, and by the 1950’s, the movie industry became the 3rd largest retail business in America. Fast forward to the 1970’s and Steven Spielberg’s JAWS created the “blockbuster” and turned movies into stadium like extravaganzas and set ablaze the golden years of commercial American filmmaking and distribution.

Fast forward again to present day 2016, the worst year on record for anything.Film studios are literally crying and have no idea what to do because well, economics. Movie attendance has gone down year after year, while ticket prices have gone up at the same pace. We could spout endless metrics to prove our case, but you can go here, and then here, and even here, to really get the lowdown.

Hollywood studios have played a blame game and they have no one else to blame but themselves. They’ve equated the issue of declining box office numbers to disruptive companies like Netflix and Amazon, high ticket prices, and “millennials” + “gen z” being distracted by mobile tech and other fun toys. While some of this may hold true, breaking it down, there is a direct correlation between the quality of films being released, and their effectiveness in the box office. People are SMART, they want good movies and great experiences.

Hollywood as an industry can’t rely on sequels anymore. In fact, more than half of them didn’t even work this year. From Alice in Wonderland to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s become more about the money, and not the heart and story. Unfortunately, global expansion doesn’t up the quality of the films either, but further dilutes them, see World of Warcraft as an example. That’s why companies like Netflix are dominating. They don’t create things in a vacuum. They have data on their customer to an almost unnerving degree, then they give full creative control to the people who author the compelling stories, birthing shows like Stranger Things, The Get Down, Narcos and House of Cards among many others. Shows they know people want to watch.

In any case, studios need to pay attention to three things. The proliferation of technology, making things easily accessible, and most importantly, GREAT STORIES. They should listen to audiences through new platforms like Scriptd, maybe even get audiences to the movie theatres for free through new apps like FreeBird Rides.

You may read this and say DUH. It’s pretty obvious, but no one has yet course corrected. We’re not saying all movies are bad, there are bunch coming out we feel are fresh, like Silence directed by Martin Scorsese or even Passengersstarring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It’s award season, as we say in Hollywood. Still, great movies are few and far between. If you’re in the the film industry, hold yourself to a high standard, tell great stories and find your audience where they are, take care of them and provide a unique and fresh experience. They’ll love you for it and spend money, time and attention to enjoy what you’ve created. 

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