What Happened?

Get Ready for Another Round of Economic Disruption in the Media Business

I recently posted this on my Facebook page… for a second time. This is an updated version… and it’s worth a second and even third posting. The information will help you as you move forward in your media career.

I’ve been in the Grip and Lighting rental business for over 20 years. In that time I realized things change pretty quickly in my industry… the media industry.

Shooting styles change, products change, clients change. It is what keeps the industry vibrant. The next phone call can result in an unbelievable job, or a chance to work with someone you’ve always wanted to, or maybe breaking new ground in your rate. These are changes we like.

Lately I’ve been hearing about changes people in this industry don’t like.

In the last seven years the media industry has been undergoing tremendous fundamental change that is on a level that we haven’t seen since the advent of sound in motion pictures. Truth be told, that change pales in comparison to the economic disruption that is currently taking place.

Just before I entered the business, the transition from film to video took place in the ENG world. I was in a world where the early adopters ruled, and where the people who refused to adapt became less and less relevant. Sooner or later many would come to the conclusion that not adapting would only end badly and stepped up to the reality that the world they knew had changed.

It was a slower change with the advent of HD where adoption wasn’t as relevant at first, but surely enough within a short amount of time the demand of the customers to upgrade the product and fear of not archiving in the new medium forced the adaption.

Another major change occurred in the editing world.

When I entered the industry a great portion of the budgets for production could be hidden in the editing budget. (I worked mostly in the industrial, corporate and commercial world.) In the early 2000s that model began to crumble. Computerized editing systems became very affordable and easily learned. Suddenly independent producers could under-bid larger, more bloated production houses. Once again those who chose to adapt quickly survived; those who did not had a bigger battle to survive the longer they held onto the old model.

All of these examples pale to the changing marketplace we’re experiencing today. The economics of media have been turned upside down.

The disruption started in distribution.

In 2005 YouTube burst on the scene. This new platform was developed by a couple of college students who were motivated by trying to share their videos online with each other. The distribution pipeline had turned into a flood plain. In the previous distribution model it was broadcast, closed circuit, tape or DVD. Suddenly there was a way to share any media message direct with the world with no waiting.

Once again the model change wasn’t immediate but inevitable. The low level of entry into the media game had become worldwide. The cat, motocross and Little Miss Teen videos that were the start of YouTube have given way to international marketing campaigns created by multinational companies, which has changed the entire face of advertising.

Almost simultaneously there was a huge disruption in the media-gathering industry. For years Sony had been the dominant player in the professional ENG camera market. Panasonic was the first major company to come along and challenge their model. They released the Varicam.

Suddenly there was a real choice in professional media-gathering. 

The Red One was an earth-shattering event when it came on the market. It spun the world into a lather with its promise. Soon Sony, Arri and many others were in a scramble to follow suit.

On the heels of the Red One the next biggest game changer to come along was Canon’s 5D. This affordable, low-lux, easy-to-use piece of equipment spawned a movement for every other camera manufacturer to try to emulate the product.

As we now cross the threshold of 4K, it is as affordable to even the beginner. (Edit note: The phone I am making this correction with shoots 4K video.)

Also just a few short years ago Social Media exploded. Today Facebook downloads almost as much video as YouTube. Just about every news organization (including all of the print news who have gone online) have a video component to every story.

More recently, cameras on mobile devices have become better and better. My iPhone 6+ now can shoot 120 or 240 fps as well as time lapse. Many people are cutting back on buying cameras because all they use is their phone!

As this is all taking place, colleges and universities – as well as art and trade schools –  are graduating thousands of students every year who are entering a media world with very little barrier to entry with affordable, easy-to-learn tools that are at their fingertips.

It is dynamic change in a very short span of time.

This is the backdrop to the words I hear come out of my companions’ mouths who’ve been in the business for 20 years… “What Happened?”

Well… 20 years ago we were in a world where the economics were pretty much standardized. It was a predictable pattern of producers selling clients, then calling the personnel to accomplish the task. It made a lot of people in our industry lazy. It was easy to take the mindset that we didn’t have to go look for work; we could just sit and wait for the phone to ring, and then go make money. Hey, it was nice while it lasted.

We worked in a world where technology was slow to change. It was Sony equipment, it was tape, maybe 16mm… pretty predictable year after year.

We had a long run with this model. Of course the DOT COM bubble burst, then tragically on its heels was 9-11, and we had some slow times. However, we kept the work flow rising to the boiling point right through 2008. Then the inevitable forces of change began to take place.

The economy tanked and our work was decimated. Not just crew, but production companies, distributors and manufacturers all took a hit. In fact, the bigger they were, the faster they fell. This started the realignment of our entire industry. There is no comparison of the industry from pre ’09 to post ’09.

Many of the old models and mediocre players were cleared immediately. Others suffered slower deaths. If they didn’t embrace change – and radically change their model – they would see a diminishing work flow year after year. Within a year or two they would drift out of business.

If you are in your 40s or 50s in the business… listen up. 

If you are one of my contemporaries who has survived and are still working in the industry, get ready to face the second wave of massive change.

The people who brought you into the business have all gone by the wayside. The very last of them were more than likely done in by 2009. They have been replaced by a much younger and more diverse group of people.

These individuals do not look at motion media as a monolithic venue; rather they look at it as something that fits into a greater whole. They understand the different levels of production value, but don’t worship production value on its own. They understand the concept of disposable media and that some messages are to only be used once then disposed of.

This younger group of professionals understands that no or low production value IS THE MESSAGE!

These younger players also rely on Social Media to set the standard of the message. Thirty seconds is the new half hour. Where the half-million-dollar budget used to produce 10 videos it now produces 100… with the corresponding reduced budgets.

So my answer to friends when they ask, “What Happened?” is simple.

Things changed. (And they’re going to keep changing, so be prepared, get educated and keep up to date.)

I invite your questions and comments to this and any article your read here at www.OnSetUniversity.com. Reach out to me here and I’ll get back you personally just as soon as I can!