Y Combinator’s Short-sighted and Irresponsible Declaration of War Against Hollywood

Y Combinator, one of the most influential investment funds in Silicon Valley, declared war on Hollywood on Friday. I wish they had really thought through the unintended consequences of their call to arms, because lots of innocent people are about to get hurt. Y Combinator is essentially asking for entrepreneurs to take on the Hollywood establishment. In return, Y Combinator will fund them. Hollywood tried to mortally wound the web through SOPA and PIPA, but we repelled them, but YC believes (rightly so) that Hollywood will try again to harm the web, so it has decided to take the fight to Hollywood. I have a lot of problems with this line of thought (you tried to hurt me, so I’m going to hurt you), but let me summarize the ways that I believe this will backfire:
  • The heart of Hollywood is in its aspiring stars, not its execs. I have had the privilege to meet hundreds of amazing aspiring actors, actresses and musicians through the production companies I advise. Their dream — their only dream — is to be on that stage and entertain millions. Proposing to destroy Hollywood will also destroy the livelihoods and the dreams of these entertainers and the crews, writers and creatives that support them. That is irresponsible.
  • War is rarely the solution. Yes, Hollywood attacked us, but there better solutions that retaliation. Some execs in Hollywood are indeed trying to kill the web, but I have also met a new generation of rising execs that understand that embracing digital is the future. Attacking them will hurt the progress that has been made with products like Hulu and Vevo.
  • Entertainment and art are relative. “It would be great if what people did instead of watching shows was exercise more and spend more time with their friends and families,” YC says in its declaration. This isn’t a bad philosophy, but it also ignores artistic masterpieces like Schindler’s List and Planet Earth that have entertained, informed and inspired millions of people.
I get that YC is angry at Hollywood. We all are. But declaring war isn’t the solution — it will only make things worse. Sorry to be so harsh on you YC, but the consequences are potentially severe if we keep fighting. Instead, I call on leaders from Silicon Valley and Hollywood to come together to try to find common ground before it is too late. We can find a way to respect copyrights and make performance art flourish online while protecting the integrity and openness of the web. Let’s take a step back, get our emotions into check and find some common ground. If you want to work with me to find common ground, I’m only an email away. ~ Ben Image courtesy of Flickr, TLVshac. Photo taken on the set of The Devil Wears Prada
  • http://twitter.com/patrickfriley Patrick Riley

    Hollywood is declaring war… on pretty much the whole country, including the president.  YC is simply reacting, and as you say, rightfully so.  

    http://rt.com/usa/news/hollywood-obama-sopa-support-229/

  • http://twitter.com/patrickfriley Patrick Riley

    Hollywood is declaring war… on pretty much the whole country, including the president.  YC is simply reacting, and as you say, rightfully so.  

    http://rt.com/usa/news/hollywood-obama-sopa-support-229/

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think YC means destroy Movie making. They mean destroy what is becoming an old way of making entertainment. As they said in the post the industry is struggling to keep up with the new way that people consume media, a new startup that improves on this won’t destroy actors jobs or other people in the industry it will enable them to do their job more easily without the big execs controlling everything. Louis CK’s recent experiment is a perfect example.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think YC means destroy Movie making. They mean destroy what is becoming an old way of making entertainment. As they said in the post the industry is struggling to keep up with the new way that people consume media, a new startup that improves on this won’t destroy actors jobs or other people in the industry it will enable them to do their job more easily without the big execs controlling everything. Louis CK’s recent experiment is a perfect example.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinmarks Kevin Marks

    Competing with Hollywood should provide more opportunities for ‘aspiring actors, actresses and musicians ‘

    • http://twitter.com/SpotJ Scott A. Johnson

      I definitely agree. There will always be opportunity for the actors/actresses, artists and creatives.

      Thousands of aspiring musicians faced the same fate. Yes, it’s much tougher to make a killing, but it’s easier than ever to follow your dream. I think the same can occur with the movie business.

  • http://twitter.com/kevinmarks Kevin Marks

    Competing with Hollywood should provide more opportunities for ‘aspiring actors, actresses and musicians ‘

  • http://twitter.com/kevinmarks Kevin Marks

    Competing with Hollywood should provide more opportunities for ‘aspiring actors, actresses and musicians ‘

  • Patricia Dixon

    We will embrace, not alienate. One open world.
    We protested, now we join together to make it what WE ALL want it to be. Period.

  • Patricia Dixon

    We will embrace, not alienate. One open world.
    We protested, now we join together to make it what WE ALL want it to be. Period.

  • http://twitter.com/dbelohlavek Daniel Belohlavek

    Shut up and kick hollywood’s  ass.

  • Aristocracies

    What a hopelessly naive outlook. 

  • http://twitter.com/JGailor Jeremy

    In being unwilling to declare war, are you ready to suffer the casualties of the war that groups like the MPAA and the RIAA are bring to people who have openly embraced the possibilities presented to us by the Internet?  Are you ok making that decision for everyone?  For the users of MegaUpload, who stored their legitimate files there?  For the clueless mother who gets sued for numbers that don’t make any sense in terms of financial loss to these conglomerates who really produce nothing of direct value themselves.

    You’re condemning people to suffering with the promise that things will get better.  Y-Combinator is saying “Things are bad, but we can make it better pro-actively by bringing the proverbial fight to them”.

  • http://brennannovak.com brennannovak

    Having spent equal time creating & working in both the web and Hollywood- both you and Paul Graham are right. However, I don’t believe his “Kill Hollywood” post is as negative as you seemed to read it- really it is just a clarion call to innovative companies aiming to make a mark in entertainment.

    • http://krishaamer.com/ Kris Haamer

      Kill X is the shortest way to put it. I’m sure there are inefficiencies to be solved and new types of entertainment invented. I hope this doesn’t die down in discussing but people actually build something.

  • http://twitter.com/caanacast Caana Cast

    I think you missed the main point, its to shape the future of entertainment and video consumption our way, and not binded by what Hollywood wants… and why not?

  • http://www.veerup.com.au Luke van de Paverd

    I think you’re missing the point. The idea isn’t directly taking on Hollywood. The idea is that movies and TV are going the way of Newspapers, and the next big thing is still to be  to discovered. YC wants to fund companies looking to discover it.

  • http://twitter.com/interweblulz Mr. i. Lulz

    Did you ever stop to wonder that maybe the world doesn’t need Hollywood after all? Technology has brought massive changes all over the world, and now, Hollywood is feeling the force of that change. Any person in their right mind could guess that technology changes rapidly, almost as rapidly as people think of ideas. Why hasn’t Hollywood tried to accommodate technological shifts in how its products are delivered? 

    Remember when we used to have Drive-ins in America? What about cassette tapes? Heck, even CDs. All of these tech innovations were improved for the better.  Why can’t Hollywood do the same with its product? What did Hollywood try to do? Hollywood tried to buy legislation that would restrict many industries while only helping out itself. If this isn’t the sign of an industry that needs to be killed-off, I don’t know what is.  
    Lastly, technology brought down political regimes in various countries, and helped set entire nations free. These changes were brought about with the Internet. Now you want me to believe that Hollywood cares about my interest and the rest of the working world because it tried to pass legislation that would alter the free-flowing information of the Internet in fundamental ways? 

    Bro, Hollywood made a unilateral attack on internet freedom of speech by paying off politicos in Washington.  The only option Hollywood gave us was to defend our interests. Thanks to Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, and entire internet-connected citizenry, we were able to go nuclear on Hollywood.

    Burn Hollywood Burn.

    Public Enemy

  • Dirk

    No, we can’t “find a way to respect copyrights [..] while protecting the integrity and openness of the web”. These two goals are fundamentally at odds. A world where people can freely and privately share information is a world where copyright is unenforceable and meaningless.

    • http://krishaamer.com/ Kris Haamer

      This begs the question, how would someone make a 100-250M budget product if there’s no one paying for it. What does seem to be ripe for disruption is transparency in licensing.

  • Ralph Barbagallo

    Every time Silicon Valley and Hollywood have come together, Hollywood “wins”.  Ask Netflix, Napster, Pandora, etc. how working with Hollywood and the Entertainment industry has been.  Usually it the startup gets nuked, and so does Hollywood’s revenue stream at the same time.

    • http://www.marcospolanco.com Marcos Polanco

      Hmm….iTunes? We have one scalp.

  • Anonymous

    I strongly agree with YCombinators stance on this. What happened through SOPA and PIPA was wrong of Hollywood, but it also reflects something most of us take for granted, we are being irresponsible as creators of the new media and entertainment. We really need to stop being naive, fuel the fires and establish a better footing to truly make sense of whats the future of our evolving forms of entertainment.

  • Firemandave6024

    Hollywood doesn’t want to do anything but increase their record profits, at the expense of everyone else. The “aspiring stars” you mention get used the same way everyone else does. They’re nothing more than an ATM for the people who control them.

    Hollywood started this war, and they have no desire to stop it until they legislate the very thing that could save them out of existence. They tried this crap with VCRs, again with DVDs, and now with digital video formats. We don’t need them. We just *think* we need them.

    Let them die. They’re not too big to fail, and neither was AIG. They’re bringing it on themselves, and they’re going to find out fast what happens when you piss off your customer base.

  • Goronia

    Competition is good for everyone.  There used to be hundreds of movie studios.  Now there are less than ten.  Do you imagine this is good for actors and aspiring artists?

    I applaud YC and hope we can improve what is obviously a stagnant industry that has lost all imagination for new  business.  Piracy is a problem of delivery, not stealing, and these fools want to neuter the internet rather than use it to make more money.  They are obsolete.

  • Veritatissimplex

    Mr. i. Lulz comment basically sums it all up. Taking on an established and bullying and corrupt  industry head on. Period. That’s what Y Combinator said. Of course that industry has innocents, they all do, but if at it’s core it’s rotten and doing all it can to slow down it’s competition with immoral acts, then it deserves it’s fate. The sooner the better. This short-sighted blogger merely wants his 15 minuts by posting a contrarian view of the situation with all the easy to think of contrarian view points. Pathetic. 

  • http://twitter.com/joelklabo Joel Klabo

    I don’t think they’re declaring war as much as they have simply realized they are becoming obsolete.

  • ambert ho

    You guys missed the real point of the article. I definitely agree that “kill Hollywood” is such a loaded phrase and maybe is too extreme, but that’s a shame because it causes people to overlook the message in between the lines.

    Have you ever wondered what form of entertainment people consumed before watching TV?  Vaudeville in the 19th century, plays, going all the way back to traveling bards singing songs of heroes, etc. etc.

    TV’s been around for what, 50 years?

    Vaudeville was popular for about 50 years – and then TV killed it.

    It’s about time, historically speaking, that television as the consumption paradigm of passive entertainment will pass into the sands of history, just like all that has come before it.

  • ambert ho

    You guys missed the real point of the article. I definitely agree that “kill Hollywood” is such a loaded phrase and maybe is too extreme, but that’s a shame because it causes people to overlook the message in between the lines.

    Have you ever wondered what form of entertainment people consumed before watching TV?  Vaudeville in the 19th century, plays, going all the way back to traveling bards singing songs of heroes, etc. etc.

    TV’s been around for what, 50 years?

    Vaudeville was popular for about 50 years – and then TV killed it.

    It’s about time, historically speaking, that television as the consumption paradigm of passive entertainment will pass into the sands of history, just like all that has come before it.

  • Kimberly Unger

    A great post Ben!
    Our company works in the middle ground between games and entertainment, so we have a lot of contact with designers, actors and filmmakers .  We won (yay internet) but I agree that now we need to step up and find a way to work together to actually protect the IP’s and the people that create them without such ham-handed and sweeping legislation.

  • Jason

    So, you are saying that fighting a war for the greater good is bad because you are maybe destroying the hopes and dreams of some people whose sole career (and family) depends on some execs in some ivory tower? Sorry, Ben, I think you lost me there.
    Let’s get one thing straight: Hollywood is acting like the music industry 15 years ago. Instead of embracing change they are fighting it. And, at the same time some execs are building up their gatekeeper powers. I met way too many media execs who are not getting that people will always find a way to share and consume media for free.
    If there is one industry ripe for disruption it is Hollywood.
    I respect your opinion. I just think your arguments are weak and flawed.

  • Mike

    re-read the article. It’s about the business opportunity available to displace an already dying industry. When Hollywood crashes, you don’t want to be under it – or do you?

  • ikeif

    I’d like to think I’m about to say something original – but after reading the comments, I think everyone else gets it.

    This isn’t “harming” the aspiring performers and the working man. It’s a broken system. Stopping and saying “hey, we shouldn’t fight Hollywood, think of the actors!” is akin to saying “a pyramid scheme is a great idea – if you’re the guy on top!”

    Hollywood is on top. Executives make the money. Aspiring performers struggle – and the way forward is going to be in New Hollywood. Somewhere else (or perhaps in the living room or a studio setup in the middle of nowhere).

  • Jack

    Don’t think of it as a war on entertainment, think of it as a war on what “Hollywood” really is, a business model.

  • Speggy

    What on earth are you talking about? Hollywood needs to be disrupted just like every other industry tech has touched.

    Those aspiring actors are still going to be able to entertain millions.

  • Speggy

    What on earth are you talking about? Hollywood needs to be disrupted just like every other industry tech has touched.

    Those aspiring actors are still going to be able to entertain millions.

  • Anonymous

    you missed the point, its not about hurting anyone, it’s about creating new ways of entertainment, and killing the old hollywood outdated business model, its not about kililng actors and musicians dreams, on the contrary its about giving them new opportunities and new technologies to disrupt the current model, and avoid those big production companies that are taking the biggest chunk anyways, check the Louis CK story.

  • http://rdegges.org/ Randall Degges

    Regardless of what happens–isn’t some competition welcome? I mean, if Hollywood has no competition, than they truly have no fire beneath them to make the changes necessary.

    I can’t possibly see how additional competition in the entertainment industry can be a bad thing.

    I understand that whenever there are large ‘wars’ on certain industries people get hurt–but that is part of advancement. The worst case scenario here is that new tech companies disrupt the entertainment industry the way amazon is disrupting the publishing industry. The best case scenario is that they use their wealth (while they have it) to completely revamp their failing business model and come back stronger.

    Either way–people win.

  • G Gs

    Ben Parr. Next time I see the name, I won’t bother to click. What a poorly written piece.

  • Abhishek Mishra

    It’s upto the reader as to how they interpret this. You see it as “Declaration of War”. Perhaps you think too negative, so does NY Times. 

    In fact the last 3 sentences – 
    “In this respect at least, you can’t push history off its course. You can, however, accelerate it. What’s the most entertaining thing you can build?”

    are a very positive `call to action`.

  • http://www.dongletap.com/ Julian Miller

    I’m sorry but Hollywood is the place where George Lucas couldn’t get a movie made through traditional channels because it had an all black cast, because it wasn’t bankable. Hollywood is an outdated idea. It is all about money and artistry has paid the price. It’s time for something new that more accurately represents the state of the nation and Paul has simply said its time for tech to take the reins and remind Hollywood that it is they who need us not the other way around.

  • Guest

    I think you might have missed the goal of YC posting. YC doesn’t seek to destroy entertainment, if anything they hope to advance it by giving forward thinking individuals avenues to develop their ideas. That same spirit that drives young innovators and start-ups is the same that drives the starry-eye actors, most, as you said, just want to give something to the world that brightens our lives.

    YC, I would infer, believes the next generation of artists will use different technologies as their canvas. Maybe some actors will be shut out in that process, but that’s progress. Given that theater is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous forms of entertainment, YC suggests that it will be distributed and produced in new ways, but there will always be opportunities for actors and writers to express themselves.

    I do agree with you in that we need to make sure we don’t blur that line between exec and artist. But if we do nothing, SOPA will return bigger and badder, and as many have been pointing out, how many times can we get people to call their congressman before they just get tired?

  • Anonymous

    We don’t need Hollywood. Actors, writers, and producers can go elsewhere. Enough with centralized mega-control over everything. And bring back Firefly!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VCWFCVSUNZDGCCWDCHDQACVPT4 John

    >”Yes, Hollywood attacked us, but there better
    solutions that retaliation. Some execs in Hollywood are indeed trying to
    kill the web, but I have also met a new generation of rising execs that
    understand that embracing digital is the future. Attacking them will
    hurt the progress that has been made with products like Hulu and Vevo.”

    It’s interesting that you cite Schindler’s List to defend what amounts to Einstein’s pacifism of the post-WWI years.  He pleaded for disarmament and advocated refusal to participate in any form of military service. 

    By the 1930s it became clear that this attitude was tantamount to suicide, and Einstein dropped it, as you probably will have to.   SOPA was the Beer Hall Putsch.  Thanks to the influence of Hollywood money in US politics, there will most certainly be a Reichstag fire, and then a Krystallnacht.   In the upcoming battle to save our democracy from these mobsters, we need Schindlers more than Spielbergs.

  • http://superkinz.com Andrew Kinzer

    Yeah, why can’t we all be friends? Sike. Nah, I’d rather get fired up about taking something by storm. To revolutionize an industry you have to be able to identify some sort of evil worth destroying. Pick your villain, pin a picture of it on your wall, and use it to fuel your passion. Ben, you’re a speaker, you should know about how to get people fired up.

  • Anonymous

    The author looks Asian.

    I’m surprised that they’d have this stance. Hollywood has generally portrayed minorities in rigid stereotypes rarely if ever giving them an opportunity to be the main lead in a movie. I seriously can’t think of many movies where the lead is an Asian and not an action star. Okay, maybe Harold and Kumar. Woo hoo.

    My point is that Hollywood is significantly slow to adapt to changing cultures and hasn’t generated much originality in the last decade. Instead, it has kept to the same formula: notable Caucasian (or occasionally an African American lead) leads with a minority peppered here or there, if at all.

    Thus, even if one had all the talent (and looks) in the world, because of their skin they wouldn’t even get a chance. 

    As far as I’m concerned, Hollywood certainly does not provide that much opportunities for aspiring actors, actresses, and musicians compared to say, a network like Netflix streaming or even Youtube, which has no barriers to race.

  • Jeff

    You are an advisor to content companies yet you completely misunderstood what YC are aiming for and what is wrong with the current media model

  • Paul F.

    You are not only wrong, you are deceptive.  I believe that you know your final argument is ridiculous, and because you stated it, I don’t believe you mean any of your arguments.  I think this was a very quickly written response to get to the top of reddit/hacker news.  I think the typos make this even more obvious.

  • Pippo

    I’m not sure this is a naive outlook, sounds more as if someone has an agenda. How can you explain such a ridiculous statement otherwise “Their dream — their only dream — is to be on that stage and entertain millions”?

    Let me FTFY: “Their dream — their only dream — is to be on that stage and earning millions”

  • http://www.affenstunde.com James Barnes

    This is not a war. This is little more than a marketing exercise for Y Combinator.

  • Pundit

    Oh, come on. When YCombinator funds a startup, it pays out a tiny seed. Hollywood allocates $50,000-$150,000/day to make a high quality advertisement. YCombinator pays something like $6,000+/3 months to help found a company. That’s a drop in the bucket. If something “kills” Hollywood, it won’t be YCombinator. It will be the rapid evolution of entertainment technology and related distribution channels.

    YCombinator’s announcement is entirely rhetorical. However, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong about the future: evolving interactive technology will hopefully usurp Hollywood’s traditional business model, which currently requires the industry to dominate the production and distribution of entertainment in order to exploit the artificial shortages they create.

    Hollywood will likely evolve to embrace emerging entertainment technologies. Perhaps in the process they will abandon their heavy-handed manipulation of the market, commoditize their products, and make them easy to buy at high quality, at a fair price.

    Until then, the pirates will have the most efficient distribution channels, and Hollywood lawyers will continue to bribe Congress and lie to the public in order to undermine the Bill of Rights.

  • http://www.marcospolanco.com Marcos Polanco

    Ben, you completely missed the boat on this one. 

    1. The point Paul makes is that he smells a sclerotic competitive animus in Hollywood due to their lack of offense and reliance on defense. This is an observation at least as old as Alexander the Great.  There is tit-for-tat in the article, which admittedly has a provocative title.

    2. Your statement in the defense of talent is bogus. That’s like saying Google should not kill Yahoo in order to protect the people inside. The talent will simply move on to the next competitive platform, the one that Paul is urging the tech community to build by being more entertaining: that means competing fair and square. If it were just a matter of retaliation, he would have suggested just firewalling Los Angeles.

    If this was all link bait, then congratulations! You got me.

  • Anonymous

    definitely one of the most unthought articles that made it to the HN.

  • Kek

    This post is vapid and idiotic. No, seriously, everyone who read your post should read it again and understand how stupid you sound.

    Hollywood’s assets are its rising stars, but since the current business model eats them up and spits most of them out, a new model funded by YC and like-minded venture capitalists, if successful (a long shot), is going to make life better for Hollywood’s true assets.

    You have erroneously conflated “going to war with Hollywood” with a so-called war on all people in Hollywood, which is a misreading of YC’s intent. The purpose is to disintermediate the current business model as controlled by the studios.
    And your adage, “War is rarely the solution,” is juvenile. You sound silly as though you actually believe Paul Graham literally means “war” (what would be the armaments?) and are responding with a half-baked meaningless platitudinous solution.