Sillerman Schools Emerson Grads

There’s a “seismic shift” occurring in media and entertainment, Robert F.X. Sillerman told graduates at Boston’s Emerson College May 16th, where the roll-up king delivered a commencement speech and picked up an honorary doctorate.

“That change, that shift, is the transfer of power away from the mass distributors of content to the ultimate consumers of content: You, me, us,” he told some 750 graduates of the communications and liberal arts college.

Sillerman used some examples he knows a thing or two about to make his point – including Elvis Presley and “American Idol,” his two most recent acquisitions.

With the proliferation of technology and entertainment options, consumers have many more choices now than they did when Ed Sullivan was cutting Elvis off at the hips in 1956.

About one-third of America was tuned in to “The Ed Sullivan Show” that night, according to Sillerman. Only a fraction of that tunes in for “American Idol,” which is by all current standards a huge network hit for Fox.

The measurements – whether in record sales or viewership – that define a star or event as a viable success are far smaller than when there was a more captive audience, Sillerman points out. The first, or primary, exposure – whether a big radio hit, CD or concert tour – will become less important, since the available audience is fractured over so many fault lines.

“Elvis has sold well over 1 billion records, much more than anybody else in history,” Sillerman told the grads. “That includes today’s pop icons like Jay-Z, Dave Matthews, Linkin Park, Britney Spears, Usher, Snoop Dogg and legends such as Bruce Springsteen and Madonna, all put together.”

On the other hand, nobody was downloading Elvis back in the day. One either had the vinyl or one didn’t – or saw the television performance on “Ed Sullivan” or didn’t, ever, without VCRs or TiVo. Today, there are so many on-demand options that one can virtually be “entertained” by content of one’s choosing 24/7.

And that, Sillerman told the grads, is what the current crop of “old school” entertainment execs don’t understand.

“My conclusion is that this increase in ease of access will not only extend the life of traditional entertainment offerings, but much more impactfully. This proliferation of ways of consuming entertainment will finally provide the freedom from the traditional gatekeepers that will cause a tidal wave of new, non-homogenized creative output,” he said.