Thinking Ahead: Film, Television and the unprecedented Media Revolution

“I’m more worried about the 500 million or so people on Facebook versus the 2 million on Fox” (CNN President Jon Klein in March 2010)

Our first media management programme is about to come to an end and we believe it’s time to strike a balance. What have we achieved? Were the objectives met? Is there anything to improve? Having been responsible for organizing this first academic year, I feel obliged and privileged to explore these questions and to illustrate our inspiring journey through the realms of a media economy that is undergoing unmatched change amidst an unprecedented media revolution.

One of our objectives was certainly to have a ‘European’ flavour within the first group of participants in our programme. Having had the pleasure of inviting participants from a number of European broadcasters such as WDR (Germany), ATV (Austria), YLE (Finland), CYBC (Greece) and various independent film producers from across the Union, I believe this first major objective was more than met. But before relating to the actual ‘learning experience’ of the programme, let me briefly retrace some of the ‘key shifts’ that literally redefined essential parts of our media economy. This is useful to better understand why we are convinced that ‘media management’ should take on an essential educational role in the training of those affected by the increasing convergence in the media sector, notably professionals of the television and film industry.

Never before, has technology conquered our lives more extensively and faster than in the last decade. Trivial? Perhaps, or not, let’s take a closer look: this ever-advancing development will not take a break and wait for us. It will have accelerated even more, once we have realized the dramatic changes implied! The scenario must not be as rude and radical as foreseen by the ‘Kurzweil Predictions’, but the rise of online and the penetration of related technology in daily life strongly suggests a steady trend towards more and even faster advancements ahead. So what can we do to stay abreast? Well, frankly, there is no recipe. And we at etma surely don’t offer the ‘ready-to-apply’ and ‘profits guaranteed’ solution. But I do think that ‘staying informed’ and ‘penetrating subject matter’ is really a good start. More than ever will we have to be open for things to come! It will afford more time and more effort than before to stay informed, because of the aforementioned acceleration and sheer vastness of channels and ways to communicate. But this is what our distance learning programme aims for: to detach for a while from your professional environment to get the chance to think ‘outside the box’ in a new location with new, interesting people who are also in search for answers. Inspiring input, sure! Four seminars ‘onsite’ in Strasbourg, each followed by 12 weeks of learning at a distance using an online environment to maintain communication, sounds like a good framework to meet the pressures of today’s employees in the media industry. And this obviously indeed allowed our DLP group to continue their operations at their parent company and still find some time for the badly needed ‘external inspiration’, time to get into the ‘big picture’ of the shifts in media consumption.

DLP Session on Leadership, August 2009
DLP Session on Leadership, August 2009

Let’s get back to the acceleration in the industry and what we can do about it? Well, we definitely have to ask ourselves “have we sufficiently analysed the technologies, platforms, applications and their relevancy for what we do, and, more importantly, the communities that gather around these emerging melting pots?” If not, it’s high time to get involved, we need to try out, be flexible and adopt more quickly. In short, we will have to embrace the new economy and prepare ourselves to ‘manage’ diversity and, to some extent, even uncertainty. Sounds like bad news for all those corporate strategists out there, but believe it or not: you will have a strategy in place to move forward with your team, even if the future seems blurred and uncertain – because you have asked yourself ‘what can this new economy do to serve my goals?’

Let’s face it! Change and innovation have become the constant drivers in today’s digital media economy. In order to compete, appeal and reach users, we will have to go where ‘they’ go: and there are so many places you can go to spend your ‘precious time’ in these days. Currently, the social web is exploding and we’ve just seen the beginning of a fundamentally novel kind of media consumption. In a world where people increasingly ‘blog, tweet, retweet and digg’ and your chances to get a job often correlate with how well you are ‘connected’, at least virtually, some major revolution must be going on. Now, is this relevant to broadcasters and film producers? Well, it should be! Firstly, because the allocation of people’s ‘attention’ has considerably altered. And secondly, because the ‘mechanisms of attraction’ have moved from a ‘push’ to a ‘pull strategy’. The latter has done nothing less than to literally ‘reverse’ the economic principles of conventional media business models. No doubt, strong brands and strategic partnerships will remain key success factors! But the new order of the digital economy should be embraced, if one prefers not to distract our dear users, formerly known as the ‘audience’. In other words, you won’t be able to fight this trend. The mindset of these users has changed: sharing content of all kinds and socializing via new platforms on the web have become commonplace.

This climate is fertile ground for newcomers to the media industry: the small start-up companies, that people didn’t notice yesterday, suddenly become major players. In most cases revenue is not yet coming in, but venture capital backs their corporate development. With their vast outreach on the user’s attention, these players are well prepared for completely new ways of monetizing this valuable resource that we occasionally also call “followers”. When hulu.com first set out to ally with ABC, FOX and NBC to bring television and all the beloved series to a greater audience ‘for free’, they didn’t make money with it – but they didn’t really loose their audience either and managed to strengthen their brands. With more users going ‘broadband’ and with improved measurement methods in place, the advertising dollar is also increasingly going ‘online’. Undoubtedly, a strategic goal of the investors! It was a question of organization, networking and using the financial markets – if you cannot monetize immediately, so what, know what your potential users want and don’t let them wait too long to get it. The motion picture is not at all dead, nor is television. There’s no question that ‘content’ will remain a key resource. It’s just that the context has considerably changed, the landscape has diversified – higher organizational effort is required, in other words, media managers have a lot more to ‘manage’ in order to maintain the ‘attention’ that gradually migrates to other platforms.

Espace Européen de l'Entreprise
Home of etma, l’Espace Européen de l’Entreprise

This is the setting, upon which we based and developed the DLP programme. A general key aim is to improve managerial skills. But this implies to also take a closer look at the economics of the particular developments in the digital media sector. Our five programme units cover exactly that. During the last year we have looked at the new ‘media environment’ and revisited ‘marketing’, as a key area of managerial responsibility, but also at the new legal settings in the module ‘media law and regulation’. Further on, we touched on the foundations of financial markets in ‘budgeting and finance’ up to ‘corporate strategy’, ‘leadership’ and ‘innovation and change’. For all these areas we had engaged ‘professional practitioners’ from the industry and highly experienced academic tutors from media related faculties from across Europe. We wanted to create a comprehensive ‘package of skills’ that covers the essential areas that successful operations would require in challenging times like these.

Frankly, we were not sure how the programme would be perceived at the outset. Of course, we had a pretty good idea of the framework in which we wanted to embed the programme, but would it really meet the demands of the professionals in our first group? Would it move things forward? Well, looking back today, we can find an answer based on three sources. Firstly, my own immediate experience of the sessions including the distance learning. Secondly, the questionnaires we had distributed after each unit and thirdly, the feedback conversations I conducted with each participant during the onsite sessions. In summary, we can come to the following statements:

1. The programme marks a unique and balanced approach between applied theory and practice with a strong focus on the television and media industry. The distance learning is perceived as a plus, since it allows professionals to advance while only ‘missing’ 12 working days at their company over a one year period. Though having been described as ‘challenging’, the postgraduate requirement of writing essays in the distance learning phase had been appreciated by the students. This allowed for really ‘understanding’ extensive concepts because you are more or less ‘forced’ to review journals and current literature. This serves the goal to base your arguments on ‘facts’ and relevant sources, rather than to simply rely on unverified assumptions. An academic must!

2. The invitation of professional practitioners, though difficult to organize due to fixed dates in our programme, resulted in a refreshing view on practical issues of the industry. It really makes a difference when listening to a finance director with 15 years of experience who’s been working for several media companies and knows the key challenges inside out. The same is true for producers who have completely changed their way of working due to the new tools and distribution methods in today’s media industry.

3. The academic tuition allows for a more detailed approach to important subjects like ‘corporate strategy’ or ‘marketing’. Even though our students are experienced professionals, they are happy to review the foundations, to discover and understand the ‘marketing process’ that affects the very core value of a company. The same is true for the ‘time value of money’ concept or ‘investment portfolios’ when thinking about financial markets and new ventures. Often, these subjects are difficult to learn ‘on the job’. For most of the participants, the DLP marketing course, for example, was actually their first ever approach to the subject.

4. The setting of the DLP programme is inspiring, because of the variety and quality of invited experts, because of the location and the inevitable ‘fresh view’, enabled through the temporary disconnection from the pressures of our daily work.

5. Management skills will become more important on most levels of today’s media companies. Simply because today, successful operations demand the evaluation of more information, require a sound understanding of the media environment, the underlying economics and, finally, the capability to innovate, plan, execute and control according to a sound corporate strategy.

6. We must have done some things right, if 100% of the participants would strongly recommend our training initiative to others. This was always one of the final questions in our feedback questionnaires.

In the aftermath of this first DLP programme, I can say that the programme was more than the sum of its parts: a statement that is undoubtedly backed by the experience of our first group of participants, who will soon become the first alumni of etma. It was certainly a pleasure for me to get to know this select group of people who asked themselves what they can do to improve the businesses they work in, how they can contribute to better cope with the ongoing revolution in the media industry. And I’m glad they decided to do so with etma, a decision that deserves my deepest respect. Even more so since I am well aware that the participation in our programme also required to devote considerable time and personal efforts to the subject matter on our agenda. I thank our first cohort of students for having made this first year such a rich and fruitful experience and I wish them good luck for all their future ventures! I am very much looking forward to seeing them again soon during one of our future alumni events here in Strasbourg.

Jörg Winkelmann
Programme Director


Credits for advice, tuition and continuous support go to:

Deutsche Bank AG, Alegro Capital, Bournemouth University (BU), The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP), The Faculty for Marketing and Media at Bauhaus University Weimar, Media Akademie Hilversum, Norges Kreative Fagskole, Banff Executive Leadership Inc., Hamburg Media School (HMS),  Cable Europe, Association of Commercial Television in Europe (ACT), European Broadcasting Union (EBU), International Institute for Television Leadership (IITL), European Documentary Network (EDN), The European Audiovisual Observatory (EAO), Hubert Burda Media, Cable and Telecoms Association for Marketing (CTAM EUROPE), PBS International, Humanist Broadcasting Foundation, TV France International, ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG, The Knowledge Network, Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg, Iconoval, TV2 Hungary, Al Jazeera Children’s Channel, Documentary Campus Germany, Alsace International, Mediametrie (EURODATA), Sanoma Magazines Belgium, Cernum, Apple EUROPE, Green House, CIRCOM Regional, The Knowledge Network, Institute of Documentary Film, Belgian Institute for Postal services and Telecommunications (IBPT), ARTE, MEDIA Programme 2007 of the European Union, Région Alsace, Conseil General du Bas-Rhin, Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg

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