Celebrities* and big media have this desperate yet well-choreographed symbiotic relationship. Celebrities need the media for exposure, to get in the minds of young consumers and get them to buy albums, go to concerts or movies, buy DVDs, or otherwise consume stuff that financially benefits the artist. Media need big-name artists to prove they’re cool, show off how much access they have to celebrities, and draw readers, listeners or viewers.
Because both sides benefit from this relationship (and neither really cares about the needs of the consumer), the interactions between the two are tightly controlled. There isn’t much of an alternative – there is no other way for a celebrity to get that much media exposure in so little time. The media call publicists and arrange interviews in advance of local concerts or before new albums/movies/etc. are released. The celebrities, meanwhile, put themselves out there, going on TV talk shows, Saturday Night Live, anything to get their name and face out there.
For smaller media (like, say, Mosé Persico), the relationship is far less elegant and more formulaic. A movie star sits in a chair with the film’s poster behind, while no-name media interview them one by one. The journalist tries desperately to ask a question that might result in an interesting answer, while the star tries desperately to give the same answer for the hundredth time without making it seem like a standard message from a cashier at McDonald’s.
For print media, the interview is usually in the form of a telephone call in advance of a local event. Different form, same result: two sides trying to make an uninteresting interview seem interesting even though they ask the same questions and give the same answers. The only energy comes from the tension of the journalist trying to get the celebrity to talk about personal scandal while the celebrity tries to keep on message marketing the latest production.
Then there are those local events themselves, particularly concerts. During a concert by a big-name artist at the Bell Centre (the only concerts big media are interested in usually), photographers are let in for two or three songs (sometimes getting as little as 30 seconds to take a photo) at the beginning and then ejected from the venue so the fans can enjoy the concert without giant lenses all over the place. Writers and reporters are allowed to enjoy the entire event with their free tickets, but other than that they aren’t done many favours.
You’d think the media would balk at any restrictions on their freedoms to report, but instead they sign on the dotted line. The alternative – not having a story thousands of people are just expecting to be there, leaving coverage of celebrities to the less ethical competition – isn’t acceptable.
There’s also another factor, of course: journalists like going to free concerts. In 2007, when Gillett Entertainment Group (which handles Bell Centre concerts) didn’t give tickets to a Police concert to Le Devoir, the newspaper threw a fit. Considering that Le Devoir doesn’t cover concerts like other big media, it might seem strange that they’d be outraged at this, until you remember that journalists like free concert tickets.
As celebrities’ need to micromanage their events grows, even those restrictions I mentioned above aren’t enough. Increasingly, promoters are requiring media to agree to one-time-use-only deals, which doesn’t allow the reuse of images from the concert.
Friday night at the Bell Centre, with Lady Gaga as the headliner, the rule was simple: No media. Period. No photos, no reporters, nothing. They wanted no media coverage of the first three stops of her tour (Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa), so they just said no.
In order to write his review, The Gazette’s T’Cha Dunlevy stood in line and actually bought a ticket like a commoner. To illustrate it, photos were taken of the lineup outside.
Let the fans do it
These concert reviews always seemed kind of silly to me. What’s the point? The concert is over already, anyone who cares has already seen it. Even in the event there are shows over more than one day, those extra shows are usually long sold out by the time the newspaper comes out with a review. And, most of all, the explosion of citizen media means anyone can take pictures of a stage and write about what they thought of the concert.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened after the Lady Gaga concert. Despite the ban on big-media photographers and video cameramen, fans captured the concert with all kinds of electronic devices, and uploaded over 200 videos to YouTube in the 24 hours after it, including the one above. You could probably edit them all together to create a (really bad) video of the entire concert.
Similarly, there are hundreds of photos on Flickr, including 150 by this one photographer and 134 by this one. Hollywood PQ posted photos of the concert on its blog along with its review.
One blogger for Tourism Montreal eagerly uploaded “exclusive” video of a rehearsal to YouTube, after sneaking in off the street. But the video was pulled due to “a copyright claim by a third party”. It was then uploaded to Facebook, but yanked off there as well.
This is all silly in so many ways. I don’t go to concerts often, but I’d be annoyed if I went to enjoy a show and all I saw were thousands of people blocking my view or blinding me with flashes trying to take really bad pictures or video. Much as I like the freedom, I’d think everyone would be better off if the concert organizers provided a professional video and professional photos of the concert to those in attendance (and the media), so we’d only see a few cameras instead. (Those cameras are already there – most of the YouTube videos were pointed at the giant screen above the stage.) The media already use press shots of cars, movies, plays and all sorts of other stuff. Why not extend it to live concerts as well? It can’t be about ethics if they allow themselves to be controlled so tightly.
An embargo with 14,000 exceptions
Brendan Kelly has a rant on his blog about an embargo on reviews of Pour toujours les Canadiens. A rant shared by Marc Cassivi and Marc-André Lussier. You see, the film officially comes out on Dec. 4, the 100th anniversary of the Canadiens franchise. But they screened it in front of 14,000 people at the Bell Centre on Nov. 16. So it’s already premiered. People have seen it. Thousands of people. But the media is forbidden from reporting on it.
La Presse called this the bullshit that it is and reviewed the film anyway, causing director Sylvain Archambault to say it was “un manque d’éthique profond”, a comment Nathalie Petrowski didn’t appreciate much.
The media can whine about embargos, but nobody forces them to agree. Maybe it’s time big media flex those big muscles and just say no. Show they have ethics, buy a ticket like the rest of the world if they want to see a movie or a concert, and that they’re not about to get pushed around by those who are most desperate to control the media.
I’m not holding my breath though. If not for free tickets to big-name concerts or previews of Hollywood movies, how would we differentiate big media from small?
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post referred to big-name music performers and movie stars as “artists”. I’ve changed it to “celebrities”, though perhaps “celebrity artists” or “pop culture stars” might be more accurate. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to come up with a more accurate description.