Today's network television business model is doomed. Hamilton has a chance to grow an economic cluster around a new business model for TV production and distribution.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 27, 2009
Adrian Duyzer just wrote about his experience at a focus group session organized by the city to explore possibilities of the arts as a creative catalyst.
This initiative comes from the Hamilton Creative Catalyst [PDf link] project, which authorizes city staff to:
investigate collaborative opportunities with the Imperial Cotton Centre for the Arts for the purpose of identifying Cultural Industry based projects within Arts and Culture development projects in Hamilton.
The document notes the city's recognition of the role of creative industries as identified in the City's 2005 Economic Development Strategy and identifies "'Film and Culture' industries as a unique emerging cluster in the city."
The creation of this cluster was an important first step in recognizing the economic impact that creative industries play in the Hamilton economy.
While the definition of a "creative industry" is quite broad, as Adrian notes, the city's focus on economic development around film and television is surprisingly narrow, and excludes a large part of the nascent creative economy in Hamilton.
If they're betting the Creative Catalyst farm on this, it's not going to be much help to everyone else. I really hope the city listens to the creative professionals at the focus group and either broadens its focus or takes the approach of incubating more than one creative cluster.
As for film and television itself, I share Adrian's concerns about the long-term viability of today's business model for TV programming. It rarely pays to chase past performers, and it seems a bit late to the game for Hamilton to decide now that we want to ramp up our role in an industry whose own executives insist will go bankrupt if the government doesn't help them.
The current business model of network television is that you have a seller (the network), a buyer (the advertisers) and a product being sold (the viewers).
However, consumer technology has advanced to the point at which huge swaths of viewers no longer need to look at advertisements, so they don't. That means advertisers no longer getting the eyeballs they've been paying for.
We're in a position today in which ad revenues for TV networks have collapsed. Part of it is the economic crisis, but that's only exacerbating a trend that was already well underway. If anything, the recession forced advertisers to acknowledge that the money they're spending on TV spots is wasted - money they can no longer afford to throw away since their own revenues are also way down.
The result is that network TV corporations are all teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and begging to the federal government and the CRTC for some relief.
The feds have agreed to pony up some bridge financing - but no one is really sure what the financing is a bridge to. Meanwhile, the CRTC, like the current TV production industry, is fairly clueless when it comes to new media technologies, so they'll likely be of little help.
The fact is that Someone is going to figure out how to make money under the new system. If Hamilton is smart and forward-thinking, we'll figure out how to make sure that the new business model for TV is built here, where we're not already bound by the institutional legacy of the failing status quo model.
It's likely that the future of video programming as such will be a) niche oriented and b) digitally transmitted. In addition to the baseline activities of writing a script, putting together a production team, casting actors, filming, editing, and so on, this will require a new business model (i.e. new revenue streams) and a new distribution system.
We should be thinking about how we can get in the ground floor of this transformation. If we can cultivate a post-broadcast network industry in Hamilton, the rest of the industry will follow the money here and the current centre of Canadian broadcasting (i.e. Toronto) will be left wondering where all the business went.
The advantages to this is that it gets us the critical, all-important multiplier effect that is missing from today's film industry in Hamilton, which still largely amounts to a lower cost on-location set piece for Toronto-based outfits.