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Salyer’s Midterm Report
by Kim Salyer
Economy on rebound or double-dip? More starvation budgets or back to normal? How to tread water and call it water aerobics
We took a quick survey of industry insiders (a.k.a. friends of mine), asking the same old question: How’s biz? Responses ran the gamut from “semi-decent” to “fair-to-poor,” “not as bad as it was,” and “better than could be.” Most everyone I’ve talked with lately has done better in 2010 than they did in 2009, which is great news but shallow comfort in the face of the last two years of hard times. And the future looks as murky as ever.
Kim Salyer of SF's Video Arts gives a mixed evaluation to the local media economy. photo: courtesy Video Arts
Recent media reports noted that San Francisco and the Bay Area have experienced a significant rebound in business spending, which indicates that we are moving on from the deep freeze spending lockdowns and that the mood in corporate boardrooms is improving. I think this observation is mirrored by the results of local media production and support companies and activity in the freelance community. For the record, our company had an OK 1st quarter and an above average 2nd quarter; as of this writing, I think we are looking at a soft summer. Beyond that, I don’t think anybody knows what the economy will do.
Also for the record and more to the point, your individual results may vary and have little or nothing to do with the economy! This is the real story for our immediate times. None of the analytical feedback about the economy means diddly-squat to the success of your business or career. Yes, it matters if the corporation who has been your steady date for five years gets acquired and the client you have been cultivating gets the ax. But you have to be ready for that curve ball along with being audited by the sales tax guys or dropping your new iPad into the kid’s wading pool. What matters most to you is what you do each day to move your plan ahead. The macro view is generic and your life is very, very specific.
Trend spotting is a fun game and our industry – or more accurately - our regional group of related and converging industries, (e.g. media production, advertising, Web builders, corporate communications, PR, entertainment, gamers, edit program designers, [see illo p3].), are particularly sensitive to the changing winds of technology, fashion and social evolution. Given the consumable culture we live in and the relentless pace of technological change, it is very difficult to separate the whimsical from the profound, especially if you are placing large bets on technology, devices and business paradigms.
Buying a camera becomes a very interesting challenge when you try to model the return on investment, comparing $5,000 DSLRs with an $80K Arri Alexa, factoring the income potential vs. the cost, and I mean the total cost including all of the accessories, batteries and support. (Hint: The difference in cost is not as important as the difference in the amount of income that can be generated, and none of that is as important as your ability to find jobs that will support a profitable margin).
The rate of change has reached the point where business models and products are obsolescing in mid-arc of their profit cycle. The rate of change is not slowing down, people!
Random Trends that Seemed True this Morning
After several years of format and codec proliferation that has littered the playing field with hundreds of camera models and compression schemes, we may be entering a period of slowdown and consolidation, at least for postproduction. ProRes works great, and both Avid and Final Cut are evolving rapidly to convert RED and other camera codecs like P2 and AVCHD on import. Some of the mystery of competing HD workflows should diminish, however, as editing systems incorporate more translation tools.
Flash vs. Quicktime
What’s the irony factor when ad agencies can’t see their own Flash heavy Websites on their new G4 iPhones and iPads! The fight for app revenue is seriously messing with the Webisphere designers. Dual-mirrored Web development anyone?
Agencies bringing it in-house
This is not exactly breaking news, but it is a trend that continues to play out with advertising agencies installing in-house motion graphics and edit facilities and bypassing production and editorial companies for much of their nonbroadcast work. With agencies focusing more on the Web, most local agencies have some kind of camera for in-house production, thus allowing creatives to realize their dreams of directing. Action!
Scripts are Golden
While we wait for the tide to turn for local production, it’s time to get those movie scripts out of the drawer and polished up. When it comes to making money in the film biz, nothing beats coming up with a great story, and it is work you can do in your jammies. And it’s a lot easier to schlep a #2 pencil around than a Panavision camera. If you have the knack, writing scripts for the family entertainment market is a good place to start. Parents love safe options for the kids, even if the kids have gone viral.
The Generation Gap
It’s back, at least when it comes to how we connect, what we watch and, increasingly, how we work. We old guys are irritated at the youths (pronounced “Utes”) because they are bypassing our channels and doing all this random stuff that we don’t get, like Tweeting. To old-school TV guys, the Youths don’t know anything about anything and, shockingly, it doesn’t seem to matter! What’s a waveform monitor? (A surf report Webcam!) Of course, it ain’t easy for the youths either, as the old folks keep cluttering up the joint and won’t get out of the way. Listen up kids!
If we can’t afford to retire, we are going to stay around and be really annoying until you beef up Social Security and get our portfolios back in the black.
Have a great summer and reconnect with your inner teenager. Tweeting on the beach beats worrying about the economy. Have fun!
Salyer runs one of SF’s premier posthouses, Video Arts:
Posted on Aug 09, 2010 - 03:27 PM