Category Archives: Media Industry

The Most Unusual Example Of Longevity Risk, Ever!

Are you concerned about longevity risk? If not, you might wish to consider your priorities. After all, your lifestyle may be severely damaged if you outlive your retirement savings.

Pension plans and life insurance companies are often concerned about longevity risk as well. They establish plan contribution and premium levels that are based on assumptions about the life spans of covered members. If they under-estimate the longevity of those members, they may “under-price” their financial obligations.

But one of the most unusual examples of longevity risk was recently experienced by an organization that provides no financial services at all. The organization was the cable television network FX, which produced a series entitled Feud: Betty and Joan.

The series elaborately portrayed the bitter rivalry that existed between Hollywood film legends Olivia de Havilland and Joan Crawford. The actresses’ careers blossomed in the 1930s, when de Havilland starred in movies like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Gone With The Wind, and Crawford appeared in numerous romantic comedies with Clark Gable.

So how did longevity risk affect an FX series that portrayed the lives of film stars who feuded eighty years ago? Apparently, a lawsuit was filed by someone who claimed that FX misrepresented the relationship between the actresses. And who was the person who sued FX?

Olivia de Havilland herself.

Olivia de Havilland? The famed actress in films of the 1930s? How is that possible?

Apparently, de Havilland remains alive. She was born more than a century ago, and she still remembers the feud that she experienced with Joan Crawford. She sued FX, claiming that they defamed her personal character in their series.

FX was vindicated by the legal system. The Court decided that de Havilland may have lived through her experiences with Joan Crawford, but that she “does not own history.” Nevertheless, FX learned an unusual lesson about longevity risk.

And what is that lesson? Before any film studio produces a film about historical characters, it should always take the time to confirm that those characters have actually died.

We’re All Changing Our Thought Patterns To Fit Our iPhones

Two days ago, the Editorial Board of the Washington Post published its position on iPhone use by children. It strongly supported the attempts by major Apple shareholders to compel the firm to address excessive use among minors.

By why did the Post limit its focus to children? After all, we’re all changing our thought patterns to fit our iPhones. You can perceive clear evidence of the trend in this very online publication.

Consider last week’s blog posting, for instance. It addressed UPS’ decision to ask hundreds of its accountants and other office workers to sort and deliver packages during last month’s holiday gift shipping season.

A few years ago, I would have headlined that piece with a brief, humorous, and curiosity-provoking title like Accountants At Your Door or Accountants In Brown Shorts. But today’s online search engines prefer titles that are structured like long sentences that directly summarize the contents of the piece.

That’s why the Post titled its editorial Apple shareholders want the company to keep children away from screens. Good. And that’s why I chose to title my piece If UPS’ Accountants Can Deliver Holiday Packages, Human Capital May Be More Flexible Than We Expected.

Of course, one may argue that readers are better served by a long summary sentence than a brief, humorous, and curiosity-provoking phrase. Others may find the original style to be wittier and less ponderous.

But neither argument addresses a simple fact about title-writing. The discipline is not evolving in response to the intellectual preferences of readers. Instead, it is evolving in response to the algorithmic preferences of online search engines.

And as I condition myself to write in this manner, my ability to think in pithy and humorous terms erodes from disuse. Meanwhile, as my readers condition themselves to read in this manner, their ability to think erodes as well.

Feeling alarmed? Please don’t despair; you may find it relatively easy to implement a solution to this problem.

The next time you feel tempted to glance at your iPhone and read a few headlines, perhaps you can simply elect a different activity instead. Namely ….

Read a book.

What Happened To Star Wars?

Remember Star Wars? Just three months ago, the film enjoyed one of the biggest opening weeks in Hollywood history, grossing $390 million in revenues. Pretty impressive, eh?

But just five weeks later, its weekly gross had declined to a mere $19 million. And five weeks after that, it had declined to a tiny $3 million. How could it have fallen so far, so fast?

George Lucas, the legendary film maker who created the very first Star Wars and then guided the franchise through its first five sequels, might have the answer to that question. He sold the franchise to Disney after its fifth sequel; the current film (i.e. the sixth sequel) is the first one produced by the corporate giant.

And what does Lucas think of Disney’s first attempt at producing a Star Wars film? During an interview with Charlie Rose, he noted that the new film is primarily a “retro movie” instead of a movie that is “completely different with different planets, different spaceships …” Lucas explained that Disney “didn’t want to use (his) stories … (and) decided they were going to do their own thing.”

A New York Times reporter commented that Lucas “was harsh in criticizing the film industry for focusing on profit over storytelling.” And many critics felt that the new movie, in essence, plagiarized the earlier films and simply retold their stories.

So what should we make of this? Well, many people love to hear the retelling of a popular tale. And the earlier Star Wars saga was one of the most popular stories in Hollywood history. Thus, it’s no wonder that Disney’s masterful retelling (or, to use a less complimentary term, plagiarized content) opened to such initial success.

The drawback regarding repetition in film, however, is that such content quickly becomes stale. After all, if a storyteller doesn’t drive a tale forward with new ideas, people quickly lose interest. Indeed, it’s again no wonder that the Disney sequel rapidly lost its audience after its initial spurt of popularity.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here. Organizations and people who simply reiterate a popular and familiar line may tend to grab the attention of an audience in the short term, but they are likely to lose them in the long term. Conversely, organizations and people who advance the conversation are likely to maintain an audience over a longer period.

That’s a great lesson for the Hollywood studios, and for other media organizations too. And, to extend that thought to a different milieu, it might also be a worthy lesson for the politicians who are campaigning for the Presidency of the United States today.