Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What Would Hayek Watch?

Imagine a channel where anyone can submit shows and the audience votes on which to keep every month. Where creativity is your greatest asset. Where new ideas are constantly being churned in, and then out. That's Channel 101; almost a standard television station, but completely different at the same time.

The premise is based on peer production. Anyone, from artistes to epigones, can submit a five minute show to the site. People vote on which shows they like and the winners are picked up for another episode. The losers go back to the drawing board. (Nifty diagram here.)

The best part about it is that there's no resting on your laurels. Even if you get picked up, you get picked up for just one show; the second, third or even twelveth episode is treated like a pilot for voting purposes.

Sadly the show is not as rooted in peer production as I'd like to see. Submitted pilots have to go through a screening process by the "Prime Timers" and one cannot take a failed idea and try to improved on it (well, one might be able to, but Channel 101 gives all legal rights of the episode to the submitter, so it might get messy). Moreover, only five ideas are allowed to be kept, even if there are six good ideas.

A lot of this is meant to simulate the corporate world so (I'm guessing) promising filmmakers can get a harsh dose of reality. According to the site, "Channel 101 is where you learn three things: How to fail, how to succeed, and finally, how there is no difference between the two....You surrender to the audience as life-giving God and acquire total creative freedom through that surrender."

The consumer is king!


Jason Br. said...

Dave, I'm beginning to be seriously worried about you, rather than just faux-concerned.

The relevant question here is not "What Would Hayek Watch?" but rather "What would Hayek vote for?" or perhaps "Why would Hayek waste his time voting helplessly against the pluralities that supported 'Scary Movie' and 'The Waterboy'?"

How does voting emulate the corporate environment? How does voting stimulate choice in entertainment? In all of my work and entertainment-consuming experience, I have never been asked to vote on anything of consequence. Voting is talk; producing or viewing is action.

As you are aware, on advertising-driven television, a show that would lose a majority vote every time can find a loyal audience of viewers. If we subjected, say, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to an up-or-down vote, there's a good chance (judging from the results of the 2004 U.S. government elections) that it would be a loser. What a shame that would be.

David said...

Remember though that voting in the private world is fundamentally different than voting in the public world. 50+1% of the voters get to determine who rules 100% of the populace (in a strict two person election). Private sector is different because it allows for multiple winners. If you like X and I like Y than we each get what we want.

In that context, I would agrue that you vote all the time. If we think of voting as an expression of an individual's preference (as one of dictionary.com's definitions), then you vote every time you buy something. The reason why people vote in this way so much more common than in an election is because they are rewarded on the margin manifested by whatever they purchase.

Now it's true that on Channel 101, people are not rewarded on the margin and we could call it "talk." But again, note that there is room for multiple winners; the Daily Show would probably be one of them, given it's popularity.

So what does this have to do with Hayek? Channel 101 is a manifestation of spontaneous order--but with fewer barriers to entry than conventional channels--and the winners are more closely connected to viewer's preferences because they collectively have direct control over its success. (Conventional shows have to also consider company politics, government censorship and are more prone to bad management.) Thus, I don't think it's unreasonable to say the consumer is not only still sovereign, but is a more powerful one.

There are good counterarguments to this last point and the two might come out in the wash but then I would argue that the lower barriers to entry would tip the scales in favor of Hayek's preferences (at least on an intellectual level).

Jason Br. said...

I find it unhelpful to reduce the definition of "voting" to "expressing preference". Libertarians usually do this when they are (weakly) defending the market economy against social democrats. I find it interesting that you are resorting to this tactic in order to defend...do I have to call it "real"?...voting against my advocacy of the market mechanism.

(Dictionary.com definition #1 is "To express one's preference for a candidate or for a proposed resolution of an issue; cast a vote". #2 is the more generic, less useful, and much less recognizable "To express a choice or an opinion".)

In my experience, the plurality is not good at selecting art that I find worthy. Voting, in the sense I use it and the sense that it is used at Channel 101, IS about achieving a plurality (and in the mob situation of a live screening, no less), not about finding a sizable-enough or passionate minority (who might actually be willing to incur costs, i.e., who might PAY, to see the show).

Channel 101 is not really different from a conventional cable channel, just with a different model of picking shows and with far less on the line. Comedy Central has to put a lot of effort (what you deride as "barriers to entry") into screening and selecting programming that will draw a passionate minority (this channel never has received and never will receive a plurality of all TV viewers), and they do this with actual money on the line, some large amounts, in fact.

Your assertion that "Conventional shows have to also consider company politics...and are more prone to bad management" reads like a direct attack on free enterprise, though I know you do not feel that it is such. Those whom you might call "company politicians" are what some of us might call "businessmen" who outcompeted others in the labor market for the opportunity to work for Comedy Central. Presumably, as a profit-maximizing firm, Comedy Central is not in the business of choosing its employees in an arbitrary manner. And again, if would-be Comedy Central shows have to consider company politics and the reaction of management, would-be Channel 101 shows have to consider the reaction of a peer-pressured mob in a theatre. This isn't a case of Spontaneous Order vs. Bureaucracy -- it's just pick your poison.

jeremy h. said...

"The consumers determine ultimately not only the prices of the consumers' goods, but no less the prices of all factors of production. ... With every penny spent the consumers determine the direction of all production processes and the details of the organization of all business activities. This state of affairs has been described by calling the market a democracy in which every penny gives a right to cast a ballot. It would be more correct to say that a democratic constitution is a scheme to assign to the citizens in the conduct of government the same supremacy the market economy gives them in their capacity as consumers." (Mises)

I'm sure that doesn't help at all.

Anyway, check out this semi-related post on my blog from way back when:

Democracy and American Idol

Jason Br. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jason Br. said...

(sorry, i had the quote wrong the first time)

There are no winners today, but I felt the raw power of really smooth music.