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Current Trends across the Entertainment Industries

The next AoIR 2010 session I’m in is a panel on sustainable entertainment, which involves Wenche Nag from the Norwegian telecommunications company Telenor, Mia Consalvo, Jean Burgess, Patrick Wikström, and Martin Thörnkvist. Patrick begins by noting the transformations in the music industry, for example, where the largest company now no longer is a record label but a live music company. iTunes and similar models are also making a significant impact, of course. Much of this is now based on artist/audience relationships that are based on passion and substantial emotional investment – which works for some entertainment industries, of course, but not for others.

Also, what are revenues linked to – where do payments come from (now perhaps from subscription fees, advertising, sponsorships, etc., rather than from content sales)? This has led to a rapid succession of various attempted business models – the latest, for example, is Spotify –, some of which have failed already. Spotify, for example, has been an attempt to draw users away from illegal filesharing models and towards legitimate systems.

Martin: For artists, the other answer is now to find other, related work (to teach or transcribe music, to focus on live performance, etc.) – and there is an underlying question of professional development here, too, as artists become better known and need to build better (as well as sustainable) support structures for their activities. Content owners now have a big responsibility as well, as they are approached by new platforms and initiatives for permission to licence their content; they have the power to enable as well as undermine innovative models.

Mia: At the same time as the music industry has struggled, there are substantial developments in the games industry as well – both towards extremely complex, expensive to develop blockbuster games and towards much simpler browser and other casual games. There’s also a localisation trend happening here, both in terms of games content and games development, which can generate significant local followings; such localised offerings may be drowned out on major international commercial games purchasing and downloading sites like Steam, though.

Wenche: Of course there will always be demand for entertainment, as well as supply of talent and content. Also, the music industry didn’t invent music; the movie industry didn’t invent storytelling – all they did was invent specific value chain models. What’s happened now is that the barriers to producing and sharing content have been substantially lowered, significantly increasing competition between artists.

Success in the environment depends significantly on the loyalty of fans – who have no major inhibitions against downloading the music of major general artists, for example, but will buy the releases of the smaller artists to whom they are most loyal. The shifting structure of the entertainment industries is likely to remain highly dynamic for some time; key to success will be engagement with audiences, but also exclusivity of content.

Nancy: Of course, few entertainers and artists have ever had stable, sustainable careers, so there’s perhaps not that much in any of this that’s genuinely new; while technologies have certainly changed, some of the questions we’re experiencing here are far from unique. Small independent content creators have always struggled to stand out and make themselves know. Today, though, the choice of media channels and platforms is a difficult one, however, not least also because of the continuing turnover in these spaces, as is measuring success in such environments (and converting it to income).

Additionally, value is not the same as money: amazing music is going to be made even if there’s no money in it – but the question is at what quality (on what equipment, in what studios) it will be produced, and how far this will be distributed. How will producers, engineers, studios, and the whole support structure of music making, for example, manage to sustain themselves financially? Further, there’s also a big question about the devices we’re using, which are increasingly disposable: what energy and resources are consumed in making them; what happens to these (sometimes highly toxic) materials that these devices consist of?

Jean: In thinking of sustainable entertainment, what makes the global cultural entertainment system sustainable is diversity and change – and everyday creative practices (especially by audiences) are crucial to this. YouTube is interesting in this, as a locus for creative production by amateurs – and yet, it was never thought of in this way, and there continue to be substantial lawsuits (e.g. between Viacom and Google) about the commercial content which is used by amateurs in their own mashup, tribute, and other videos.

There are two distinct sets of dynamics here: on the one hand, amateur DIY culture, and on the other, desperate attempts by YouTube to develop comfortable arrangements with major players in the entertainment industries. On the one hand, grassroots content creation in all its forms, on the other, the attempt to set up a ‘clean, safe, well-lit’ environment for activities by commercial players. As a result of the latter, most YouTube users now experience the site through the filters set by their geolocation (a reterritorialisation), due to content licencing arrangements, while at the same time there is also a push towards a global DIY culture (a deterritorialisation).

Wenche: Taking the example of Malaysia: international entertainment companies tend to ignore that country, and there are also cultural restrictions on what can be seen on TV and on stage – so online access to international content through YouTube and other channels (included pirated CDs and DVDs) is essential for local audiences. Local fans also set up MySpace and other sites for their favourite artists, without direct artist involvement.

Mia: For game companies, the sustainability of human beings – the staff – also needs to be taken into account; many such companies tend to work their staff to the ground, operating essentially as sweatshops. In other cases, models are explored where different levels of payment are available – a modest sum for mere access to the product, a higher price for being able to influence the content of the game itself. Here, it will be interesting to see what such patrons actually suggest, and how companies address the ‘dumb’ suggestions.