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Observer at Large

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Consider these facts: consumer spending on entertainment is now 5.1% of household income—almost as much as health care (which eats up 5.9%). In 2006, domestic box office was $9.5 billion. Sales of entertainment software—not including the game consoles or accessories—were $7.4 billion. Cable video-on-demand just missed the $1 billion mark and DVD revenue, while slowing, still grew to $25 billion. Games on cell phones reached $566 million and even ring tones are estimated to be a $500 million–$600 million industry!
The production of entertainment content, and the number of ways in which consumers can access it, continues to grow. That’s good news, bad news and just maybe new news for below-the-line workers who are employed in what is often now called “old media.”
The bad news is that the markets continue to fragment, which means that in most cases there is tremendous pressure to reduce the cost of production. Other not-so-positive aspects include the growing demand for localized product. For example, there are now several different South American versions of Desperate Housewives produced with local casts and crew.
Some of the new news is that most of the new content is meant to be consumed in shorter forms. While you can chop a television show or film down to two-or five-minute segments, the most compelling content on the web and for mobile devices is designed specifically for that medium. The barriers to entry continue to fall—equipment gets less expensive and easier to use. However, the teams are smaller and the pay isn’t what “old media” professionals are used to—at least not in the beginning.
The good news is that each new outlet for entertainment content grows spending in that sector and increases the demand for more content. In addition, those other devices (cell phones, game consoles) are getting more powerful and the entertainment on them more and more resembles high-quality theatrical releases.
For example, the average video game now costs $10 million to produce. In 1984, a typical game team employed four artists. Today, a typical game team includes upwards of 20 artists and a number of outsourced suppliers of artistic services. Current and next-generation games employ writers, sound designers, composers, musicians, as well as programmers, marketing and distribution and administrative personnel. Many traditional animators and visual effects artists move easily between games and films as do other “old media” professionals.
The DVD market is only 10 years old. This amazing little disc has spawned an array of additional opportunities for entertainment workers because of all the extra features. After all, somebody produces, shoots and edits all the special features and the “making of” videos that are an integral part of any DVD package.
While focusing on employment and training issues in the entertainment industries, I’m struck by a recurring theme at conferences for games, film, or the internet: it’s all about the artist/creator/storyteller. The skills that have been used by the film industry for over 100 years are incredibly valuable. Whether you are the creative genius or you support the vision of that genius doesn’t matter. What does matter is the tools are changing and if you want to stay in the game, you have to learn the new tools and understand the media and entertainment of the future.
There are a lot of opportunities to learn new skills and pick up new tools. Many of the unions and guilds provide access to training for their members. Community colleges are amazingly cost-effective training institutions—as low as $20 a credit! Many even offer classes online. For example, Cerro Coso College in Ridgecrest, Calif., has a complete sequence of online classes including digital character animation, fundamentals of AutoCAD, digital cinematography, computer illustration and a lot more. (Check them out at www.Coyote3D.com.) Average courses are $60 and as a student you can purchase discounted educational versions of professional software packages. Need to start with the basics? LA Valley College, Santa Monica College and many others offer on-campus and online courses in basic computer applications such as Word, Office, and Excel. You can find a list of all the California Community Colleges at www.cccco.edu.
If Calder Willingham were writing the screenplay for the film The Graduate today, he might have Mr. McGuire say the word “digital” to Benjamin rather than “plastics” as being the key to his future.
So now the tools are digital, the distribution is digital, the screens in our hands and clipped to our belts or mounted to our living room walls are digital, and the signal is digital. But we’re not watching zeros and ones, we are watching stories and characters and we are immersing ourselves in big and little bits of content for the sheer pleasure of being entertained.
Kathleen Milnes’ monthly column focuses on private-sector initiatives and public policy in the entertainment industry. Milnes is founder of The Entertainment Economy Institute, a nonprofit research and education company. To be added to her mailing list, contact [email protected].

Written by Kathleen Milnes

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