The journal Science recently published a study on the importance of interjecting fresh viewpoints into an established business venture.Adhering to traditional thinking and static staffing, the study suggests, produces results that pale when compared to efforts that commingle outside ideas with inside experience. In the entertainment business, that translates to hiring from affiliated industries, maintaining an independent board and making use of consultants. When entertainment companies seek the perspective of an independent voice, Michael Wolf often gets the call. Wolf is an analyst, author and a managing partner of consulting juggernaut McKinsey & Co.’s media and entertainment practice. Wolf is hired to help grow a business, improve ratings, increase subscription sales, reorganize executive ranks and help CEOs see around corners. I began my interview with Wolf by asking if there’s any truth to the notion that entertainment company managers need different skills than leaders in other industries. Yes, Wolf replied. Entertainment “requires people that are able to seamlessly blend an understanding of what resonates with an audience, and at the same time be strong and decisive managers,” the consultant said. These executives must be gamblers. They must be creative and possess thick skins while being capable of delivering profits to public conglomerates. They must “seamlessly traverse” artistic and financial interests, Wolf said. In a previous interview, he’d labeled these leaders “creative suits.””The kinds of executives that run entertainment companies are a unique breed,” he said. “And the mere fact that these businesses have become bigger makes the requirements even tougher.” I asked Wolf to move off of management topics and move on to new media. In the year 2015, when we’re commuting on an Airbus A380 or taking Virgin Galactic into orbit, what will be our in-flight and other mobile options? “I think our media options will be unlimited,” Wolf said. “Consumers are quickly becoming accustomed to being able to take their media wherever they want to go and be able to access their media wherever they are.” That’s not all. Ten years from now, Wolf said, “I think we should expect that we should be able to access every film ever made, every song, every article, every TV show, whenever, wherever.” So content is forever, but what media will endure? Wolf notes that throughout history, media forms rarely disappear. “The only thing that I can think of offhand that’s gone away is vaudeville.” Wolf also shared what he called the trite example of how the advent of television didn’t destroy the film biz but rather expanded it. Our discussion then moved to various other media matters. Wolf believes that a subscription model will replace the single-item purchase model. Think Napster in lieu of iTunes, or Netflix instead of the videostore. Wolf is impressed with Sony’s PlayStation Portable handheld game system. He thinks that the traditional media will make use of “mobisodes” (entertainment content such as TV shows for cell phones) on wireless handsets. He believes advertisers will find increasing appeal in video-on-demand. In his 1999 book “The Entertainment Economy: How Mega Media Forces Are Transforming Our Lives,” Wolf declared, “There’s no business without show business”– meaning, expect entertainment to continue to permeate other segments of commerce. “I think that the implication is that we’re going to have more and more integration of products into our entertainment and media experience,” he said. “The good thing about it is that as long as it’s in a place where it’s clear that it’s a promotion vs. an editorial point of view, I think that most Americans are comfortable with that. “And in fact,” Wolf added, “they’ve come to expect it.” Stephen Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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