Creative industries are stronger than ever

A new report shows why "the internet is killing the entertainment industry" is as true as "home tapi

The founder of Techdirt, Michael Masnick, has released a provocative new report (pdf) called The Sky is Rising!, in which he argues that the degree to which the internet is harming the creative industries has been grossly overstated.

The most striking figure is that between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of American household expenditure going on entertainment didn't just rise, but rose by 15 per cent, from 4.9 per cent of the total to 5.62 per cent. This is over the period of YouTube, Kazaa, Bittorrent, iTunes, Netflix, Kindle, the Pirate Bay – the list of things which didn't kill the creative arts is exactly as long as the list of things which we were told would.

Employment in the sector rose too, by 20 per cent. And the size of the entertainment industry (which is, admittedly, bouyed up by a generally exuberant economy over that period) went from $449bn to $745bn in the 12 years 1998 to 2010.

This is Masnick's key point: that when you look at the industry as a whole, it is booming. It's only when you look at the old titans, especially those which were too slow to adapt, that you see the narrative which has been accepted as true for the whole sector. The report concludes:

Rather than decrying the state of the entertainment industry today and seeking new laws to protect certain aspects of the industry, we should be celebrating the growth and vitality of this vibrant part of our economy -- while consumers enjoy an amazing period of creativity.

We hope that this report will help shift the debate away from a focus on a narrow set of interests who have yet to take advantage of the new opportunities, and towards a more positive recognition of the wide-open possibilities presented by new technologies to create, promote, distribute, connect and monetize.

It would be interesting to see a similar study aimed at the UK. Compared to America, we have one hugely distortive player: The BBC. Freed from the need to make short-term profits, they were able to force the "legacy" entertainment industry to go digital far earlier than it did in the US, with the result that sites like iPlayer, and 4OD are far more popular than their direct equivalent, Hulu, is across the Atlantic. At the same time, however, the BBC set a price tag that others simply couldn't compete with, and may have hindered the success of our own version of streaming-video business Netflix. Lovefilm offers the same service (and so too does Netflix UK now) but it hasn't taken off.

Below is an infographic which sums up some of the key data Masnick relies on. Click to see it larger:

 

Star impersonators wait outside Mann's Chinese Theatre. Will they have a career in a decade? Yes. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.