What can we learn from Wal-Mart?

As more than one person has already pointed out, the demise of Wal-Mart’s video download service comes as no real surprise. In many ways, it was stillborn to begin with. Why? Simple. Even when it was launched, it was obvious (to everyone but Wal-Mart, apparently) that the service was too restrictive. Only Windows format, and only on one computer, with no burning? It would have been a miracle if it had survived.

As Ian Rogers of Yahoo Music said in his recent call to arms for online music, “inconvenience doesn’t scale.” Wal-Mart is the size of a Latin American country in terms of revenues ($370-billion) and population (it has 2 million employees), not to mention market capitalization ($200-billion), but it still can’t make something as crippled as its movie service was popular by brute force.

Wal-Mart’s massive size might have helped it get deals with the studios for their content, but it apparently didn’t help the retailer pressure said studios into giving up the handcuffs they like to place on that content — either Wal-Mart wasn’t able to convince them, or it didn’t try hard enough. Let’s hope the failure of its service doesn’t convince others that it wasn’t worth it to even try; Wal-Mart’s effort was doomed from the start.

Strike brings fame to Nikki Finke

Like my friend, the charming and multi-talented Rachel Sklar of Huffington Post’s Eat The Press, I think it’s great that blogger Nikki Finke of LA Weekly is getting her moment in the spotlight — courtesy of the U.S. Writers Guild strike, which Nikki has been covering like white on rice. Both the New York Times and Bloomberg have positive pieces about the blogger and her coverage of the strike.

Deadline Hollywood Daily didn’t just show up yesterday. It’s a daily online version of Ms. Finke’s LA Weekly column, and she’s been writing it since March of last year. It’s published by the Village Voice, which hosts the site and pays her to write it. It’s also interesting to note that the NYT story was written by Brian Stelter, whose TVNewser blog brought him fame and fortune while he was still a student, at which point the NYT hired him as one of their media reporters.

Can Hollywood be like Silicon Valley?

I didn’t get a chance to write about Marc Andreessen’s recent post related to the writers’ strike, in which he argued that Hollywood needs to become more like Silicon Valley — i.e., more entrepreneurial — but it certainly got me thinking. And now I get to write about it anyway, because an article in the Los Angeles Times effectively reproduces Marc’s argument, comparing the small, entrepreneur-driven approach of the Valley to the indie filmmaker or writer-director whose movie makes it big at the box office.

Patrick Goldstein of the Times makes a persuasive case for how some of the best movies come from independent filmmakers or writers, who are consumed by a dream and find any way they can to make it happen, and how some of those people go on to become Steven Spielberg or George Lucas. And then just when I was feeling all rosy about the whole thing, Steve Bryant of Reel Pop comes along and dashes some cold water on Goldstein’s argument, saying the odds of that happening to a struggling filmmaker or writer are astronomical.

Steve’s point is that marketing your great idea is the one thing that stands in the way of an entrepreneurial would-be filmmaker and glory, and that simply uploading a clip of your film to YouTube isn’t going to be enough to stand out from the mass of dreck that gets spewed out of Hollywood on the average day. And he is probably right.

I would still like to hope (and I think Steve would too) that sheer grit and determination can get you a long way — and there’s no question that the Web has lowered the barriers to being discovered or finding support. But it hasn’t removed them entirely. In other words, being lucky is probably still the best tool you can have in your arsenal.