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.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.