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The Digital Disruption

As nearly anyone who hasn’t been stranded on some frozen tundra or desert island knows, the last decade has been all about the Internet, the phenomenal conduit that has opened the doors to the mass distribution of all digitized media, thereby creating a fertile ground for innovation. But as the invention of gas-powered engines set the mighty railroad industry on its ear, so the new democracy of digital has upended entertainment. We are involved in a disruption of existing entertainment and media business models not seen in hundreds of years, greatly transforming the traditional entertainment platforms and creating new ones.

As Plunkett Research, a firm specializing in the entertainment and media industry, so correctly points out, there are three basic issues related to the control of entertainment content6:

  1. Pricing for content (including free-of-charge access versus paid, illegal downloads versus authorized downloads, and full ownership of a paid download versus pay-per-view).
  2. Portability (including the ability for a consumer to download once and then use a file on multiple platforms and devices, such as tablets and smartphones, or the ability to share a download with friends).
  3. Delayed viewing or listening (such as viewing TV programming at the consumer’s convenience via TiVo and similar digital video recorders).

It would be nearly impossible to capture all that is happening in this disruption. As soon as we have discussed one platform, set it in stone, and moved on to the next, changes occur that send everything and everyone scurrying around once again. It is our intent, in this discussion, to capture the current situation in each platform as best we can, bringing you up to date to current standards. But be aware: This is a subject you must research every single day...change happens that fast.

Conveyance Versus Content

In a moment, we begin our discussion on the distinct elements that make up the entertainment marketing economy, but we’d like to clarify one thing first. In our industry, it is the content that has value, that can be monetized and extended across platforms. The carriage of that content—as in the Internet, or a broadcast network, or a radio station—is not entertainment. They are conduits by which various products are delivered to devices both fixed and mobile.

In that same regard, social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter are not entertainment platforms (although many of the discussions that take place there are certainly entertaining). They are conduits that allow marketing professionals to reach audiences. In the case of Facebook, it provides an access point for a wide variety of games but is not a game in and of itself unless you’re trying to figure out the latest value of its stock offering.

We will leave it to the social networking experts to discuss why the public seems to love congregating online. In the meantime, we offer discussion on how entertainment platforms are interacting with those sites and using them to monetize content.

We take this same approach with the move toward mobile. Mobile devices are allowing consumers to take their entertainment everywhere and as such are critical to our industry. We discuss how entertainment platforms are taking advantage of this access but leave it to others to define the actual technology behind it.

This evolution of technology carries with it ever-expanding opportunities. The rapid growth of mobile devices gives marketing professionals the ability to reach potential customers right at the moment of the buying decision. Social networking allows for far more buzz (essentially, free marketing) than ever before. All distribution channels and opportunities must be addressed. Marketers must be constantly aware of the demographics involved in every new format.

Technology Trends

From a global perspective, technology has brought massive expansion into new markets. Wireless technology forms the communication backbone in such rising giants as China and India. In many places, these countries have literally skipped the step of telephone lines, creating both a broad network and a consumer base that seems completely tech-savvy.

Data collection has exploded. Today’s marketing professionals can reach hairs-width consumer slivers. This requires a thorough knowledge of what those consumers might want, along with a strategy for reaching across all platforms to have the greatest reach.

The great challenge is the public’s ability to get far out ahead of any marketing effort. Social networking has made an insider of everyone. With bad buzz on Facebook, Twitter, or any other form of social networking, firestorms are created in a matter of minutes. Disney’s 2012, $350 million film John Carter was basically dead on opening, with bad news reaching core audiences long before the first ticket was sold. Domestic box office was less than $40 million. Bad news no longer gets hidden in Hollywood, where, in the past, it might have been carefully massaged into something more palatable.

There’s No Business Like Show Business

If anything, the rise of technology and the easy, fast reach of connection have created a consumer even more obsessed with stars—and the business itself. Entertainment continues to bring big press, from regular reports of box office revenue to bestseller lists to weekly ratings of network TV shows. All of this—and much more—is explored in the mainstream press, trade publications such as Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Broadcast & Cable, Electronic Media, and hundreds of other magazines, websites, blogs, and Twitter feeds examining every aspect of each of the sectors.

And lest you think it’s all about digital, old platforms still have an impact. Award shows, not within the control of the marketer, can still make or break entertainment products, at least in the longer term. The profitability—or failure—of a film, an album, or a Broadway show can still rest on the opening of an envelope one evening each spring.

So here we are in the twenty-first century, in a world well-schooled in the pleasures of in-home, out-of-home, and self-created entertainment, surrounded by a population that knows it runs the show. The marketing professional of today operates in an industry consumed by louder, faster, bigger, and brighter, attempting to reach an audience on choice overload. The global desire for entertainment requires a universal understanding of the language needed to promote the product, both locally and internationally.

In short, entertainment marketing is not a career for the indecisive, the incompatible, or the inexperienced. With over a trillion dollars in total revenue at stake, today’s entertainment marketing professional must be fully aware of the mistakes of the past and the opportunities of the future to produce something extraordinary.

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