What do these people all have in common?
They appear in some of the greatest works of art in the history of the world – because they had a) money and b) taste.
For centuries, the only way to get your art made was to make it for the Church, or in some cases for the Court. One of the key elements that spurred the great artistic reawakening was the pure economics of the situation – a new wave of more worldly masters, mainly merchants and venture capitalists. Of whom the undoubted rockstars were the Medici.
Out of love of glory bound together with love of art, they empowered artists, writers and poets to broaden their horizons, to explore the secular, and to express themselves on the grand stage.
Closer to the present day, we have this:
Now Richard Branson is no Medici (thus far.) But he is a representative of something we are all familiar with, whether as professionals or as irritated film goers – that as the commercial models of the past video industry crumble, we see increasing roles for businesses in funding (and appearing in) entertainment content.
It’s easy, and perhaps right, to be pretty suspicious of this force, particularly as it migrates to a more subliminal level, and to the screen in your living room rather than the public forum of the cinema.
But the fact is that the economics of the world of TV are changing. This will definitely mean a more integral role within the world of TV content for brands and companies. I would argue that there is also a potential role for individuals, and that the day of the great patrons will return. Why?
In the past, there were 4 things that gave you power in the world of TV, and that made the TV channels and networks powerful (loosely quoting Andy Lippmann, of the MIT Media Lab.)
1. Access to a mass form of distribution
2. Money for and capability at promoting content
3. Venture capital to invest in creative projects
4. The taste and expertise to act as a curator and editor
What is interesting about this is that we sit at an interesting turning point in the world of TV, where the first two are changing beyond all recognition.
Distribution is through the internet or wireless connection – and YOU own and pay for that. And promotion…well, increasingly, you do that too, because the recommendations you and your friends make to each other are much more powerful than any advertising campaign.
So that leaves two aspects: venture capital for creative projects, and the taste and expertise to choose the right content and support the right talent.
Which sounds an awful lot like artistic patronage. Add this to an app-led, tablet-style interface and the chances of watching the Bill Gates or the Madonna channel seem more and more likely. Especially as Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus increasingly condition us to expect a Web of content organised around people, rather than topics or channels.
This wouldn’t be anything brand new – CurrentTV feels near as dammit like the Al Gore Channel.
And it won’t necessarily be individuals…it could be collectives (like the Coppolla/Bogdanovich/Friedkin ‘Directors Company of the 1970s)
But in the next phase of TV, artistic patronage could come back in a big way.