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Get on the Frequency

The world is a different place these days, especially when it comes to entertainment. Who has time to watch TV shows when the actually come on? TiVo is one of the greatest things that ever happened to my everyday life. The power is moving further and further into the hands of the consumer. If you only like two songs on an album, you can download (and legally, too) just those two songs thanks to iTunes. Don’t like commercial radio anymore? Get into podcasting, make your own “radio show.” There a couple of things you don’t like about a particular movie? You can edit your own version. Ever wonder what Planet of the Apes would look like as an episode of The Twilight Zone? I did. When I saw Episode III the second time, I started thinking about scenes I’d like to cut (“medically she’s fine…”). Lately I’ve been thinking about cutting the Penguin out of Batman Returns.

Frankly, I’m excited by all the possibilities. Perhaps you’ve heard of Global Frequency. It’s the pilot for a TV show based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis, starring Michelle Forbes (of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame), about a secret underground network that works together to solve problems. The WB decided not to run the pilot. But recently, someone leaked it on the Internet via BitTorrent, and now it’s all the rage. People are downloading it (illegally, of course) and want to see it as a series. Many bloggers have publicly stated that they’d be willing to pay to download it as a series. If WB were offering legal downloads of the pilot for a buck a piece, they probably would have made their money back already. Ironically, it’s a secret underground network (P2P) that is giving the show new life. If you want to help, visit FrequencySite.com.

Years ago, I read about the production Superman II and what the film should have been according to Richard Donner’s vision. But, like everyone else who heard the story, I felt powerless to do anything about it. Fast-forward to the digital age. Last year, we launched a letter campaign to Warner Bros. asking for Donner-edit DVD. We made a little noise, got some ink in Entertainment Weekly and the British magazine DVD Review. But that was the old fashioned way of doing things. Another group of Superman II fans scoured the globe for every piece of Donner Superman II footage they could find and created their own version, “Superman II: Restored International Cut.” Not only did they produce something closer to the movie we want to see, but they also got some attention. Newspapers are writing about them. Roger Ebert has now chimed in, too. That’s the power of the consumer.

Hollywood is unprepared. They’re unaccustomed to consumers telling them, demanding what they want. Regarding the Global Frequency issue, where customers are basically saying “we’ll steal it until you sell it to us” (which is the gist of virtually every situation these days, from digital music to Superman II), Warner Bros. spokesman Craig Hoffman told Wired Magazine, “While Warner Bros. Entertainment values feedback from consumers, copyright infringement is not a productive way to try to influence a corporate decision.”

That may be, but it’s an unavoidable reality in today’s market. We’ve been ignored for far too long. As consumers, we’ve got more power available to us than ever before. Rather than try to fight it, they need to learn to embrace it, take advantage of it. Since the beginning of time, the question has always been asked, “what do the customers want?” We’re telling you what we want. We’re even showing you. We want to download TV shows from the Internet. We want to download first-run movies, too. We’re willing to pay for them.

All you have to do is listen.