Go Web Young (Wo)Man, Go Web
When I left the comforts of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons in May of 1997 (has it been that long?) for the wild, wild Web world of Animation World Network, people thought I was crazy. They spoke to me in hushed tones of warning...and then started asking questions: "What is it? A magazine on the Internet? How does it work? So just any ol' computer can get it? You dial 'up'? It's free? That can't work..." I reminded them that television was also free and had seemed to catch on. They looked puzzled and wandered off, later telling other mutual friends and acquaintances that they feared I had made a serious miscalculation with my career.
Well, here we are a few years later and many of those same people are working on Webisodes instead of episodes. The Internet is an incredible phenomenon that has caught on unbelievably fast. Moreover, we are lucky enough to be living at the right time and place to experience it. When I was at USC in 1993 there were a few computers in the library with this strange "Internet" thing hooked up to them, but I never actually saw them. They were very special. Now, every student worldwide goes to school and automatically gets an email account. I can't pay my bills, plan a trip or make a large purchase without it. Moreover the Internet as we know it is just the beginning of how connected we will be. Soon the Internet will be on our cell phones and watches all of the time in some places it already is.
The Web is here to stay and we'd better start figuring out how to best use it. I have found that people are coming to the Web from many different areas and are bringing with them their native terminology and business models. Therefore, the industry is becoming a melting pot of ideas and approaches, making for some exciting companies. One of the most prevalent trends that I've noticed is that the most innovative Web-based entertainment companies are headed by pioneers from other arenas not the traditional media outlets. People with backgrounds in gaming, CD-Roms, technology, research, even military applications of technology, are coming to the Internet and creating off the page and out of the box thinking companies.
One of the largest puzzles right now is how to make it all produce money. Is the Internet a guaranteed cash cow? Definitely not. Is it easy to run through tons of venture capital and never earn a dime? For some, yes. But what is not true is the statement that I have heard quite often from Web naysayers: "These companies don't have solid business models." The truth is: there isn't a set business model. We have become very comfortable with the standard business models when it comes to feature film and television. While companies target different markets and niches, the basic principles of where like companies make their money is the same. This is not the case with the Internet yet and companies that are bringing animated series to the Net are all approaching it from different directions.As the market matures a pattern might emerge but for now it is indeed the wild, wild frontier with people making predictions, doing great work, praying and bending the rules as the industry changes and flexes at warp speed. These are exciting times and call for true creative thinking.
Speaking of creative thinking, I have just returned from SIGGRAPH a conference I love for this very reason. I find SIGGRAPH tremendously stimulating because one can hear a lecture about how SGI hardware was used on Mission to Mars and within fifteen minutes hear highly theoretical predictions on the impact artificial intelligence implants will have on human culture. SIGGRAPH is where you realize science-fiction is pretty tame compared to what the academicians are cooking up in laboratories all over the world. How exciting! I think SIGGRAPH was charged with a special energy this year because of these very discussions. After a week at SIGGRAPH I want the future to be here now -- to see how it all turns out and to be able to play with the gadgets about which I have just heard. Indeed high technology will play a larger role in our lives, converging with the Internet and other similar systems. Like the Industrial Revolution, the Technological Revolution will bring with it many, many changes of culture, lifestyle and being, some predicted and planned for, perhaps some radical and unexpected. The Internet as we know it is just the tip of the iceberg get ready for the next incredible developmental rush.
Until Next Time, Heather
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