Ari Emanuel is perhaps the most powerful single figure in Hollywood. Known for his blunt candor, the co-CEO of talent agency William Morris Endeavor (immortalized by the character Ari Gold in HBO's Entourage) insists that the traditional media business is still great, spectacular even. "Are you asking if we like money?" he shoots back at one point, during a conversation alongside co-CEO Patrick Whitesell. "Is that the question? Are you in Hollywood?"
Despite digital disruption that has roiled much of American business, the great gravy train of movies and TV has insulated Hollywood's stars, agents, and studios. But change is also washing over L.A.—and sending ripples across entertainment media. As Nicole LaPorte writes in "The Rebels Saving Hollywood," a rising cohort of tech-leaning leaders are rethinking creative models and rethinking business.
WME's Emanuel and Whitesell are, surprisingly enough, part of this movement. They are investing in this vision of the future, even selling off 31% of their company to help fund their adventures. (Talk about risk.) So is the old Hollywood really as strong as they claim?
Or are the roots being shaken by a YouTube-led tech invasion?
The answer is yes.
We frame several other compelling questions within this issue: Is Apple's run of innovation imperiled, or does the company still have unprecedented strength ("What You Don't Know About Apple")? Is Yahoo too far behind Facebook to ever catch up in a social media era, or has it identified a new way to excel—pursuing "the interest graph" rather than "the social graph"—that can catapult it forward ("Exposing Yahoo's Strategy")? Is Kickstarter a revolutionary business that's changing expectations for fundraising across the economy, or is it an artiste's precious creation, rejecting the market demand it has created ("Kickstarter Can Fund Your Dreams")?
The answers: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
As business people, we like framing either-or questions. It can help clarify choices and allow us to focus on what really matters. But in an age of Flux, paradox is ascendant. Success will come from embracing that paradox, and adapting to whatever happens. This has always been the "business plan" for creative entrepreneurs, who take what opportunities appear and run with them (until something better presents itself). More and more, we all have to learn to run this way.
There is drama in all this, as LaPorte's coverage (and the photos alongside it) underscores: intrigue and excitement and uncertainty. These are edge-of-your-seat times. That's one reason we've focused on the Hollywood version in this issue's cover package. It sounds like a good movie, right? Here's an industry that has been disrupted many times before—by talking pictures and color, the rise of television and cable, VCRs and DVDs and DVRs—and has always managed to remake itself, even when critics were most skeptical. So how will it work out this time? Who will be the heroes and villains, and what will the next plot twist reveal? Sit back and enjoy the show. We're all living it. We might as well enjoy watching it too.
[Photo by Art Streiber]
A version of this article appeared in the April 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.