The roadshow for the upcoming Facebook IPO, together with the heightened public scrutiny into Facebook's inner workings, has opened our eyes to the ways the Internet business as we know it looks a lot like the entertainment industry.
As much as we want to think that companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google are somehow part of a new Internet zeitgeist, the fact is that they rely on advertising dollars for their profitability, just like any other media or entertainment property. The moguls with hoodies are now concerned about everything their entertainment colleagues are worried about: making their advertisers happy, cranking out blockbuster hits, and achieving scale and distribution. Is it possible that, already, Silicon Valley and Hollywood are just different sides of the same coin?
Let’s start with advertising. Like it or not, advertising is what powers the Web today. Go online and what do you see? A constant barrage of new advertising options that beg for your clicks — pre-rolls, interstitials, banners, text ads and social ads. There are ads with images, ads with words, and ads that takeover your entire page. Wading through all the ads is the price we pay for the truly great content out there.
But wait a second.
Replace “Web” with “TV” in the aboge paragraph and what do you get? Yeah... not much has really changed, has it?
The Internet moguls with hoodies are also absorbing the lessons of Hollywood when it comes to churning out blockbusters. While Hollywood has always been a hit-driven business, the Web has not been...until now. The tech world now hungers for overnight hits, and that extends from devices to Web sites to apps. Everywhere you go on the Web, you get popularity results, voting mechanisms, “like” buttons and the constant desire for ideas to go viral. Companies want to be able to crank out apps and games, wait for them to go big, and then turn them into a franchise like Angry Birds. If that’s not possible within a few months, well, then it’s time to pivot.
And Hollywood needs the Web as much as the Web needs Hollywood. The cool Hollywood kids now view the Web as a new way to expand their celebrity, just as they once thought of TV or radio. In fact, like no other time in recent memory, the Internet has become a playground of sorts for celebrity. Just as traditional media eventually reached a saturation point with celebrities (unless you’re a fan of the Kardashians), the Web is getting to a point where it is also saturated with celebrity pitchmen and celebrity influencers. Twitter feeds are mutating into dangerously self-referential PR tools. These days, everyone wants to become a celebrity online.
As if to underscore this strange marriage of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the slate is now set for the upcoming Steve Jobs biopic. Sony Pictures just announced that Aaron Sorkin of "The Social Network" will write the screenplay for the film in which Ashton Kutcher will play the young Jobs. The choice of Kutcher may be off-putting to many in the Internet world (The tech world’s greatest genius is going to be played by that guy?). But it actually makes a lot of sense once you get past the superficial resemblance between Kutcher and early Jobs. Kutcher is actually one of the young Hollywood types who seems to get the Internet, while Jobs was an Internet visionary who understood the mystique of celebrity.
The Web was always about abundance, while Hollywood was always about scarcity. The Web gave us the Long Tail, limitless choice and a massive smorgasbord of online quirkiness. As more Internet companies attempt to follow Facebook’s example and go public, it would be a shame if the merging of the ethos of Silicon Valley and Hollywood means a different type of Web than the one we were promised. If it’s all about the ad dollars, cranking out the blockbuster hits and achieving online celebrity, then we’ll know that the moguls with hoodies are no different than the moguls in pinstripe suits.
Disclosure: The Washington Post Co.'s chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, is a member of Facebook's board of directors.
Dominic Basulto is a digital thinker at Bond Strategy and Influence (formerly called Electric Artists) in New York. Prior to Bond Strategy and Influence, he was the editor of Fortune’s Business Innovation Insider and a founding member of Corante.com, one of the Web's first blog media companies. He also shares his thoughts on innovation on the Big Think Endless Innovation blog and is working on a new book on innovation called "Endless Innovation, Most Beautiful and Most Wonderful."
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