Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What's Next?

As I prepare to teach another semester of my undergraduate Media Industries course, more than ever before, I find myself struggling to figure out what tenor to take about the state of the business. It isn't hard to figure out the media industries have been entering into "crisis mode" for quite some time due to fragmentation, rise of new technologies, increased piracy, etc.

What is striking is how the writers' strike combined with the larger economic crisis has moved much of the talk from anxiety to calamity. The loss of ad revenue from the auto business alone poses serious challenges to television...add that to the wave of bankruptcies we can anticipate in the new year in the retail sector, and the picture looks uglier still.

An initial response for some might be to say "huzzah! bye bye big media!" However, as someone soon to speak to many an undergraduate eager to make a living in a world in which downsizing and bankruptcies are the new state of being, I can only feel distressed by the emerging state of the media world.

Just a couple thoughts provoked by reading http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/hr/content_display/news/e3i935003166745e37d691b6c9a69c398dc

Ok, back to work on the class pitch...


  1. Alisa, first of all: great new blog! second, about your class concerns... my sense is always that "we" tend to talk about the media industries in general terms, and that students (and most of our colleagues) do not or are not prepared to think of those industries beyond the "Big Media": Viacom, Warner, News Corp, and so on.

    Yet most of the (creative) work is not done at or in such companies, but in the myriad of small-scale (5 employees or less) shops, studios, production houses and agencies wholly or partly owned and/or subcontracted by these giants. in fact, we are really preparing students for jobs there, but our textbooks tend not talk about such (limited-life and often projectized) firms.

    add to that the notion that this dire economic times may in fact bode well for smaller companies, as banks/investors are more likely to give loans to low-risk small-size endeavours rather than to massive corporations... and a whole new way of teaching opens up.

    what do you think? I try to debunk the myth of creative employment at big corporations on the 1st day of class - but perhaps I'm way off.

    happy new year!

  2. Mark, glad you like the blog and thanks for your comments here.

    This is clearly a very tricky issue to address. I agree with you that the role of small-scale companies is overlooked far too often. The existence and contributions of these entities needs to be discussed more -- I appreciate how you call attention to it in your own work.

    I do think how we discuss these issues in class depends in part on the orientation of the departments in which we are based and in part on the backgrounds and expectations of our own students. Many of my students have only had film classes, and heavily textually-oriented ones at that, so one of my own objectives in the early weeks of class is to "reveal" that Big Media exists (and owns those studios they hear about so often). So I usually find myself explaining what the conglomerates do (and also what they DON'T do). From there, we can get into the complexities of the industry -- complexities often not acknowledged within more traditional political economic approaches.

    Regarding your thoughts about the possibilities for employment opening up within smaller companies in the current economic climate: I hope that this is the case, but I am less optimistic. It seems worth noting that many of these smaller houses remain dependent on the distribution decisions made by big media. So if, say, NBC reduces their prime time schedule by five hours a week (ahem), then this means there are fewer bigger-budgeted projects being made (or outsourced). And in most instances, the jobs producing content directly for the Internet still pay far less and come without the same benefits available for traditional TV. Of course, everything is changing rapidly these days, so it will be interesting to watch what happens...