Nordic Track Book Club Review: The Entertainment Economy

The Entertainment Economy by Michael J. Wolf

I wrote a Nordic Track Book Club review of The Experience Economy not long ago.  The Entertainment Economy by Michael J. Wolf was on the next shelf down, so I thought, “What the heck.  I’ll read that one, too.”

The Entertainment Economy was published in 1999, during a different era, with references to eToys and VCRs and modems.  Yet most of the author’s ideas are still fairly useful today.  The book examines the role of entertainment in our products and services.  Lots of fluff and the author wondered all over the place with little sense of direction.  The book wasn’t a great read, but it did yield a number of interesting excerpts you’ll find below.  3 out of 5 stars.

p.16  The US audience represents 4 pecent of the world’s eyeballs.  China potentially 20 percent.

p.18 …all consumer businesses are going to have to be partly about entertainment in order to be noticed in the increasingly crowded marketplace.

p.26 While there may be a difference to the consumer if Elton John is performing in a VH1 video or in a Citibank commerical, to the composer, performer, musicians, etc, it’s all paying work: new venue, same skills.

Entertainment has become a key part of the consumer value equation.

p.38 More and more, if you are looking for a common ground with family or colleagues, it will be in a shared entertainment experience.

Entertainment products put the mass audience on the same wavelength and, while engaging the emotions, they replace the sense of shared community that is disappearing in regular life.

p.42 If time shifting is inherent in the new marketplace, so is place shifting:  there is a high premium on portability, so that when you get that extra five minutes or two hours you can choose from a range of [entertainment] that can go wherever you go.

p.48 The “fun” in a product will keep people coming back after traditional market forces have begun to push them toward other brands. The alternative product may do the job, but if it doesn’t engage the emotions, it loses.  Fun is an overriding cultural value among modern consumers.  They expect it.  They treat it as an entitlement, and they feel shortchanged when they don’t get it.

p.58 An enjoyable analogy of author and family encountering the Disney Magic cruise ship in the Caribbean while on another cruise line.  They were having a great time until they saw the Disney ship which was so much better than the one they were on.

p.73  Chris Rock when hosting MTV awards, “It used to be that music was here today, gone tomorrow.  Now it’s here today, gone today.”

p.76 Banks used to be represented by stuffed-shirt skinflints like in Mary Poppins.  Likewise, use of the PC in banking has put a premium on an enjoyable, painless interface.

p.99 Norman Mailer on attachments (as pertaining to corporate marriages): “Those relationships that don’t get better, get worse.”  Corporate synergy is a relationship that takes a lot of work.

p.101  Steve Allen has observed that at any one time there are fifty good comedy writers in America.  (Editors note, “and software developers” 🙂  His advice was, basically, that if you find a good comedy writer, treat him or her like gold.  Comic DNA, or whatever is the genetic material that makes one person funny and another hair-pullingly boring, is apparently in short supply in the human gene pool.

p.103 These are creative, artisanal skills that become relatively more valuable and therefore more costly as technology and administrative science rationalize other areas of economic life.  While technological advances and financial consolidation lift the overall price index, businesses also pay a special premium for those creative, never-to-be automated skills that remain outside their control.

p.143 The audience numbers in Asia are potentially so large, they represent a difference in degree so great that they could well portend a qualitative shift from American-dominated media product to more globalized yet decentralized content.

p.147 The real questions behind alliances are “How can we create a set of assets–usually combining production, distribution, and content?  And precisely what assets among those that are available will lead to the greatest cohesiveness for our brand?”

p.157 Hits are the only defining success factor in the entertainment industry and increasingly in every  business in the entertainment economy.  A hit is more than an economic success; it also provides the cultural context in which people see themselves.  They define themselves by the songs they listen to, the movies that see, the books they read, the clothes they wear, the kind of car they drive.  Hits transform mere commerce into a consumerist culture statement.

p.164 It has become a requirement for hit-driven businesses to have a lot of projects in the pipeline, even though they know that most of them are merely costly cultural cannon fodder.

German philosopher Friedrich Hegel on a central-process of the hit-driven marketplace.  “The world historical person.”  The idea of a person being so in touch with the times that he can somehow express the longings and desires of the mass of humanity, who connect with this type of figure and follow him wherever he leads.

p.196 When consumer-focused businesses move to the Internet, they must inevitably become entertainment companies…On TV, you tune into a show and see messages about a product.  On the Net, you look up a product and get a show.

p.203 Americans spend 58 percent of their waking time interacting with media.

p.225 Consumer’s first question is no longer “What can this product DO for me?”  More often it is, “What does its brand MEAN to me?”

p.227 For the period of time that The X-Files occupies its favored place in the cultural spectrum, it is as real a brand as Whirlpool washers or Lawn Boy gardening tools.

p.238 In a world of immense product churn and a blizzard of product claims, knowing that there is a guarantee of quality is as important to the Good Housekeeping reader as hipness is to the MTV viewer and basketball scores are to the ESPN sports junkie.

p.251 Successful brand developers…recognize the need for an emotional connection, turning brands into franchises spanning multiple outlets while exercising careful control of the brand as it moves through those outlets.  Finally, as in entertainment, they are constantly renewing their brands, creating new products, and reinventing what their core business stands for.

p.266  The movie The English Patient was released “to alpha consumers” in New York, LA, and Toronto only.  Had the film been released in every market, so much would have been riding on instant acceptance that it would not have had the time to find the crucial acceptance that it would not have had the time to find the crucial audience segment that would create the buzz.

p.280 “One may be anonymous in a crowd, but one is, at least, part of something.”

p.284 “Shopping becomes something you do rather than just something to buy.”  

To borrow a phrase from Mary Poppins, a spoonful of entertainmenet makes the [education] go down.

p.293 Adding effective entertainment content is not something that is accomplished merely because a CEO wants it.  It is not an industrial additive.  Rather, it is a chimerical, hard-to-find quality, and those who can contribute to its creation must be sought out, nurtured, and rewarded.  The entertainment economy will place enormous demands on a finite human resource: creativity.  Although the human imagination may indeed be boundless, those who can spark it are rare–and, in the present context, increasingly valuable.

p.294 The great wild card in the entertainment economy is the creative element.  This is a little scary for businespeople who are used to making their decisions on the basis of exhaustive spreadsheet analyses.

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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.