The story of the entertainment blockbuster model and why it isn’t going anywhere.
Elberse (Business Administration/Harvard Business School) marshals nearly a decade’s worth of in-depth research and analysis to identify the strategies entertainment companies employ to maximize profits in a uniquely competitive and unpredictable market. Her somewhat depressing conclusion is that there is no surer bet than focusing the lion’s share of resources on “blockbusters,” products intended to make the biggest initial splash with the largest possible audience. While this approach might seem intuitively obvious on the surface, Elberse’s research suggests that even in the era of the digital revolution, in which the means of production are available to the masses and niche content is produced in more variety and volume than seemed possible a mere decade ago, selling the biggest names to the widest audience continues to drive the economics of entertainment. The author also examines professional sports teams who invest in marquee players, online video providers like Hulu and Netflix, music megastars such as Lady Gaga and Jay Z, and superstar “brands” like Tom Cruise and LeBron James, charting in impressive detail (often literally; the book abounds with graphs and charts) the ways in which distribution, promotion and partnership-building favor the bigger-is-better model. Elberse’s argument is dispassionate—there is no chest beating over the marginalization of quirkier, more personal or artistic works—and, as a result, the book is a bit of a dry reading experience. This is about the numbers, not the passion, and on that score, Elberse delivers an accessible, convincing accounting for the ways in which contemporary entertainment is produced, marketed and consumed.
A compelling answer for those who wonder why Hollywood seems obsessed with superheroes and all hit songs sound alike: The formula works.