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Goliath takes up the slingshot (part 3 of 3)


Themes: Media, arts and culture

While creatives and corporates fight it out for control of production, one thing hasn’t changed – the audience always comes first. In the last in our series looking at how technology is changing creative production and consumption, we discover how independents are helping the big players stay in the game.

2014_features_goliathtakesupslingshotAmid all the trumpeting of the impact of the digital revolution, one thing remains clear. Digital has changed everything. And everything has fundamentally remained the same. All players – industry and indies, entrepreneurs and auteurs – across all platforms, are pursuing the goal of creatives since time immemorial: an audience.

“You may have an outstanding product and it doesn’t get disseminated, so the question is still how we direct attention to the product,” says Dr Allègre Hadida of Cambridge Judge Business School, a specialist in management and entrepreneurship in the creative industries. “We don’t know the answer to that – whoever does would be a millionaire many times over.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom for established industry heavyweights, unable to make indie creatives an offer more attractive than the rewards of going it alone, or courting picky teen influencers to talk up their product. Quite apart from the sheer excitement and stimulation reported by industry leaders at the wealth of talent emerging from the digital generation, valuable lessons are being learned by the more astute of the creative industries’ superpowers. If the proliferation of indie-friendly digital platforms and the surge of self-published content – be it literature, games, music or movies – has brought new competition, it has also inspired and reinvigorated existing industry models.

“We now have Netflix putting an entire series online in one go, and Amazon is moving towards this for TV, for short-to-medium length content,” says Hadida. The giants of the media and entertainment industries are not only looking to do business with the new creatives, they are aiming to do business like them, apeing the production and distribution methods of independents.

Perhaps symptomatic of the new vigour that the digital revolution has injected into the creative industries is the Entertainment Master Class (EMC), a peer-to-peer executive training academy for the television industry that also functions rather like a think tank. Founded in 2008, and having found a permanent base at the University of Cambridge in January 2014, the EMC sets its sights well beyond being an industry talking shop, aspiring to be a “future lab” to foster entrepreneurship and innovation.

CJBS’s Hadida, who works with the EMC, explains that the extent of the digital shake-up of the creative industries reaches right down to its preferred funding models. She is excited by the direction Channel 4 is taking under the leadership of Chief Executive David Abraham, who is moving away from the channel’s former reliance on public money. “Abraham is saying: ‘Let’s use big data in an intelligent way, let’s rely more on advertising,” she says.

The new funding opportunities created by digital and leveraged early by indies with no other source of income from their work are being embraced even by flagship subsidised institutions. One conspicuous success for the National Theatre, which under Director Sir Nicholas Hytner has achieved a resilient public-private funding mix, has been NT Live, simultaneous cinema broadcasts of major shows. But the profits from NT Live don’t just benefit the theatre itself – they flow back to the creatives responsible for the shows.

David Sobel, the National’s Director of Broadcast and Digital who first dreamed up NT Live, explains:

[It] has been structured so that when it produces commercial profits, the lion’s share is returned back to the artists. As we have grown the programme into a sustainable and profitable business model, this has proven an important new revenue stream for artists and it is rewarding to see the success of the programme widely shared.

Sobel, who recently contributed to Cambridge Judge’s Entertainment Master Class 2014, has commissioned research on how the National Theatre’s reach to audiences has been transformed by its digital offerings – not just NT Live, but also behind-the-scenes tours and production trailers, and interactive artworks. Early findings are striking. “We are reaching new swathes of demographics and audiences who have never engaged with us previously,” he says. The National’s use of technology has overcome not only the obvious geographical challenge for many of getting to its concrete home on London’s Southbank, “but also other barriers to attendance, for example psychological or economic.”

In a rapidly developing world, then, where technology continually changes the rules of creative production and consumption, what’s becoming clear is that a lone creative is as likely as an entertainment titan to hit on a winning formula.

Find out more

Visit Dr Allègre Hadida’s faculty webpage
Visit the Entertainment Master Class website
Visit the Channel 4 website
Visit the National Theatre Live website