I just love books. And of all books, I especially love books about the content industry. TV, New media, platforms, business models, talent management — I’m not very picky. I love to read predictions about the media industry and analyses of channels’ strategies. I like stories about the evolution of genres and love it when executives share their mistakes. After all, even though content is my career, I am, first and foremost, a passionate audience who is thirsty for a good story, and the content industry is full of those. You’d be surprised how much history repeats itself across time and how much you can learn from distant territories.
This life long journey of reading was always an important part of building my professional skills. Having spent so much time reading these books (and in recent years added podcasts, articles, and lectures — but that’s for another time), I’ve made this list of the books I particularly liked. Anyone who wants a list of the books that I thought were an absolute waste of time can DM me on twitter.
Books about the business side
The amount of infinite information and developments challenge the ability of every mortal to follow. This book is an updated in-depth overview of the content industry and a detailed (yet interesting and well written) Yellow Pages guide to key players in the new and traditional media market: TV, music and video platforms, e-sport and more. Csathy is one of the smartest analysts of the changing industry and always gives an original approach to the topics.
Tell the story of the dramatic mega-acquisition of Sky with a behind-the-scenes look at some of the world’s largest media organizations during an unprecedented transition period. Christopher Williams analyzes the business realities but also, which is significant, reveals his personality study of tycoons and other players involved in the mega-deal.
Only a few media executives rule an empire the size of Iger. Even fewer have the perspective of time to examine the processes of entertainment in the broadest sense — from the psychology of talent management to crisis management when a crocodile eats a park visitor, or how to deal with a project that flopped.
Journalist Ben Fritz digs deep into Sony’s emails and built an impressive narrative of the studio downfall following a series of strategic decisions that proved to be catastrophic. Even though I only agreed with half of what he wrote it is still a fascinating book about personal politics, the short-sightedness of managers and the mischief of the entertainment world. After getting over the voyeuristic feeling, you get a clever history book that teaches about the dangers of the entertainment industry’s constraints and conceptions.
Less a book and more of a study about the transition of content between the United States and England and the other way around. A special part analyzes the difference between the UK’s Sherlock against US’s Elementary. The book has some interesting angles, such as the accents of the actors, cultural gaps, budget differences, and business mentality.
The history of the medium
Seth Shapiro wrote a pretty comprehensive and interesting book on the evolution of television right from the invention through the revolutionary 1970s to the 1980s. I learned really fascinating stuff like how the invention of demographics-based rating came just in time to save Star Trek, the relationship of Nixon, and TV and the history of jokes censorship on The Tonight Show. I can’t wait for volume 2.
Littlefield tells of the successes and failures, political mistakes and dirty exercises of NBC’s most incredible era — many stories about how he convinced talents to extract their contracts and producers to extend the number of minutes per episode, like in Friends.
And a recommendation of a 15-year-old book that is still a must-read
Sir Peter Lytton Bazalgette was a senior manager who never lost for a second the broad view of the industry and wrote a brilliant book on the development of reality from the creative, business and even the public-moral angle. He shares the stories of Charlie Parsons (Survivor), Paul Smith (Who wants to be a Millionaire) and John De-Mol (Big Brother). The book is literally on my bedside table and I don’t lend it to anyone. It’s not easy to find a copy but it’s worth it.
Mark Randolph was one of the co-founders of Netflix and its first CEO and gives a fascinating and quite entertaining look at the formation of the media giant. He is an excellent storyteller and has a fascinating view of the user experience of consuming video content in the new era.
Apple took this book as the basis of its not-good-enough TV series. Morning TV was always an underrated genre on-screen and apparently behind the scenes also the best drama in town. The money is unimaginable, the egos are huge and the fact that everyone slept way too little makes the whole thing explosive even before the morning coffee. Stelter’s authentic passion for the subject emanates from every page. It feels like his life was really changed after Anne Carrie’s impeachment in what was called Operation Bambi (named after Bambi’s mother who broke the heart for viewers).
From the days of sponsorship games of the ’30s to the high concepts of the 90’s — Adam Nedefff writes about the crazy genre of TV game shows. Lots of anecdotes I didn’t know and great stories about big failures — with a specific part about a traumatic scandal in the ’50s. In typical American fashion, there is a lack of global context that causes the American writer to miss world trends and the place of local successes in the big story. On the other hand, it’s been years since I read a book that made me open YouTube so much to see the shows he wrote about.
About comedy on television
Mike Reiss writes about the backstage of the world’s longest-running animated series. He is open and funny when telling about coping with celebs from hell, criticism of the show, network censorship, and the endless need to reinvent. Mike is one of the best storytellers in the world and it is a fun read.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart was a cultural phenomenon that far exceeded the modest platform it was aired on. A daily program with sophisticated humor that dictated an agenda and was a sane voice at a time when it looked like a moral low of the American nation and turned out to be just the beginning of a roller coaster ride.
Lexicons — advanced reading
Both writers really love TV. They are 100% know-all TV addicts. They wrote a fun book for TV enthusiasts. The only two problems with the book are that it is American-centric and pretty much misses the fascinating processes of global content (such as “Money Heist” and others) and the fact that it was published a few years ago and looks now quite out of date. The book ranks the 100 best shows on American television. Using a sophisticated and obsessive all-encompassing scoring system, they’ve created a Pantheon of top TV shows, each accompanied by essays delving into what made these shows great. From vintage classics like The Twilight Zone and I Love Lucy to modern masterpieces like Mad Men and Friday Night Lights, from huge hits like All in the Family and ER to short-lived favorites like Firefly and Freaks and Geeks.
It is interesting to see that Phil Norman also picked 100 programs and there is not much correlation between the list in this book and the previous book on this list. Among other things, it is more global and also reached more esoteric districts (but with excellent stories I did not know about programs away from the prime time and Hollywood).
I won’t lie, I haven’t finished this one yet, but the book is by my bed and I’m in the eighties. Just 376 more programs and I’m done. In this book, I learned about the Italian entertainment program that ended after the host fell into the pit on stage and died and the early days of The Tonight Show. The editor of this very ambitious project died a few months ago at the age of 49.