Industry healthy but with 'blotches,' Bart sez

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NEW YORK — The entertainment economy is remarkably healthy, despite its “blotches,” Daily Variety VP and editor-in-chief Peter Bart said in his opening remarks at the Front Row confab.

Bart spoke of the converging anomalies and mixed signals that underlie the current entertainment landscape, noting:

  • Salaries of TV program executives continue to rise, even as overall TV ratings for the networks have dropped.

  • The Beatles — and not Eminem — are driving the music business.

  • Box office grosses are up 24% this year, while a record number of exhibitors are going bankrupt.

“Never have so many bodies filled so many money-losing seats,” said Bart, referring to the moviehouse paradox.

As for the potential actors and writers strikes, Bart said his “private suspicion” is that they won’t happen, and if they do, they will be short-lived. “While the creative community feels it’s getting too little, considering the uneasy economy, it’s not a banner occasion for a strike,” he said.

After Bart’s remarks, Credit Suisse First Boston managing director Laura Martin focused on four key elements that drive the media business: Quality management; global footprints; scale and scope; and technology.

As the number of distribution channels multiplies, acquiring content will be increasingly important, she said. There will, no doubt, be more takeovers as distributors look to buy content such as film libraries. “You can’t build it, you gotta buy it,” Martin said.

In introducing the conference’s first speaker, Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier, Martin said the French exec epitomizes the successful manager in the new global economy.

Picking up Bart’s opening theme, Martin pinpointed some of the other paradoxes shaping the entertainment business. For one, the broadcast nets continue to raise advertising prices, even as cumulative viewing continues to drop. In addition, professional athletes’ salaries continue to escalate, while revenue for televised sporting events continues to slide because of fragmented viewership.

Daily Variety vice president and publisher Charles Koones welcomed the participants to the conference, saying the idea of the Front Row is to provide a context for the current changes in the business.

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