Rodney Dangerfield’s career spanned two eras: first from 1940 to 1949, then from 1962 until his death in 2004. The first time around, under the name Jack Roy (he was born Jacob Cohen), he struggled financially for nearly a decade before giving up show business to take a sales job. He was so unremarkable, that “at the time [he] quit, [he] was the only one who knew [he] quit!”
When he tempted his luck a second time in the early 1960s, he “played one club…it was so far out, [his] act was reviewed in Field & Stream.” What he realized was that he lacked was an “image,” so he adopted the Rodney Dangerfield moniker and the No Respect shtick that became his trademark.
As with all success stories, luck played a part, when in 1967 Dangerfield replaced another act on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” stealing the show. He would become a regular on “The Dean Martin Show” and appeared thirty-five times on “The Tonight Show.” It wasn’t until he built Dangerfield’s that he could perform on a regular basis without needing to travel all the time.
Dangerfield’s became an institution, serving as HBO’s venue and launching the careers of Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Robert Townsend, Jeff Foxworthy, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Rita Rudner, Andrew Dice Clay, Louie Anderson, and Bob Saget, to name a few.
While there was naturally an element of truth in Dangerfield’s “no respect” persona, obviously over time Dangerfield did command respect. He wasn’t the loser that he conveyed in his act.
What on earth does this have to do with online video?
Yes, in many ways, content is the Rodney Dangerfield of the media industry: It gets no respect.
It’s engrained in how people view content. Not a day goes by when I’m not reminded of how content’s gone from being king of the hill to being perceived as some kind of washed-up monarch who’s on house attest, surviving on handouts.
For example, one newspaper group that is desperate for video content emailed me saying: “I have been given the go ahead to use your content however on the condition that you allow us to ‘trial’ the product first.” Gee, thanks. When a condo sets up a demo unit, do they “try” the furniture — or do they actually, you know, pay for it?
An old ad network said: “We received video content [that an advertiser had produced] and ran it on pertinent sites. We then ran pre-rolls ads before them, but weren’t pleased with the campaign performance.” Really? Running ads before advertisers’ content is a bad idea? Ya think?
It’s as if the Internet is the Statue of Liberty, and it is telling producers: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Here are other parallels between content creators and Rodney Dangerfield.
1. While the democratization of the creation process has made everyone into a content producer, at least no one is thinking that marketers will embrace user-generated content anymore.
2. The same way that Cohen’s life was split up between the initial, unsuccessful Jack Roy and the subsequent, more successful Rodney Dangerfield, it’s important to note that content is in a new phase now. I’d almost say we’re entering the golden era of content, where the infrastructure and platforms have been built and it’s time for content to flow on through and shine.
3. Content is neither king nor a washed-up, dethroned monarch. A lot of it is about perception and how you position it.
Today, with the Web having disrupted the media industry as it has, content owners can choose to be Rodney Dangerfield the persona (the one who gets no respect), or Rodney Dangerfield the entertainer and businessman (the successful pioneer who not only had a successful career for himself but helped launch the careers of many others).
Remember, perception is everything. Be careful what you choose, because shedding one’s image is a lot harder than changing one’s name.