Suspense, a bit of horror and not too much action

Jackson Kosgei is one of the most highly acclaimed clericals in Kenya. Just as interestingly, Kosgei also finds time to serve as chairman of the Kenya Film Classification Board, the country’s regulator for the cinema industry. It was in the latter role that Kosgei stirred controversy back in January when, upon the announcement of Netflix’s expansion to another 130 countries, he threatened to block the platform’s entry in Kenya. Netflix’s arrival to Kenya would constitute a “violation of laws governing film and broadcast content distribution” and would threat the country’s “moral values and national security”.

This took place and Kenya, and one would assume that these attempts to block innovation could never take place in the western world. After all, Kenya is the 30th country, amongst 168, with the highest level of political corruption according to the 2015 Transparency International index.

However, and surprisingly so in most cases, the music and cinema industries did have to surpass their fair share of barriers to innovation in the west.

John Philip Sousa, an american composer and conductor of the 19th century, was one of the strongest opposers to recorded music. Sousa argued that the “menace of mechanical music” would destroy the american middle-class tradition of singing around the piano for evening entertainment, and would put professional musicians out of work.

David Sarnoff, a businessman and pioneer of the American radio and television, led the Radio Corporation of America for 51 years. He was also the one to blame for delaying the development of the FM radio, in upwards if 3 decades, to prevent this technology from disrupting the industry from which he profited the most — AM radio broadcasting.

Jack Valenti was president of the Motion Picture Association of America, the association representing the main Hollywood studios, for 38 years. Valenti was one of the most ferocious opposers of the VCR in the 70s. He used to say that video tapes were to the cinema industry as the Boston Strangler — the presumable murderer of 13 women in Boston in the 60s — was “to a woman alone in her home”.

More recently, technologies that we take for granted were at some point threatened by established interests, from audio tapes and CDs, to MP3 players and music and video streaming.

Time would show that Sousa, Sarnoff and Valenti were not on the right side of history, and that the benefits brought to the world by the technologies they trying to fend off largely eclipsed any losses.

Established interests remain one of the main barriers to entrepreneurship and innovation all over the world and across all industries. It is not enough to intervene directly in the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems — governments that are truly interested in promoting innovation should adopt legislation that is friendly and inclusive towards new technologies and business models. And acknowledge that, by definition, innovation if often one step ahead.

Originally written as an oped for the March 2016 edition of Forbes magazine (Portuguese edition). This is a translated version.

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