Among the six courses Al Lieberman teaches as executive director of NYU Stern’s Entertainment, Media and Technology Program, two focus on the subject that intrigues him most: the globalization of the entertainment and media industry.
It’s a subject he learned well when launching Silhouette Books for Simon & Schuster, a romance-novel imprint he helped expand to 18 languages in 50 countries. After founding EMT, his education continued through travel to such countries as China, India and Brazil, as well as through the formation of partnerships with schools around the world.
“The two strategies that drive the consumption of media and entertainment in other countries are the growth of disposable income and the growth of discretionary time,” Lieberman says. The key to targeting where this has occurred (and will occur) is defining the emerging middle class in key foreign territories and measuring its growth, a difficult task Lieberman and his students undertake by culling figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global entertainment and media books and other resources.
“In my own career development, I watched the P&L (profit and loss statements) from major media companies change dramatically, particularly in film and eventually in television and other areas,” Lieberman says. “Last year, the Chinese film market went up 30%. When I was visiting and worked on the bid for the 2000 Olympics 15 years ago, they were nowhere near that,” he says. “A movie ticket was 8 yuan, which was equal to about $1. Even though there were about 1.4 billion people in the country, there were maybe 200 million who could afford that. Well today, 500 or 600 million can afford to pay $4, or about 30 yuan, because it’s a huge growth world.”
The key to his analysis, Lieberman says, is looking at the right figures and cultural changes. “We’re not concentrating on cars or gasoline or their exports to America; we’re talking about what they have in their pockets and what they’re using, because entertainment and media is not the first thing you spend your money on. You take care of the market basket first. If you’re working in the field seven days a week, you don’t have time to read a book, magazine or newspaper. The moment you have weekends or holidays off, all of that is part of the growth.”
While extreme poverty remains a fact of life for hundreds of millions in countries like India, Lieberman says, “It still leaves a lot of people who’ve grown into a middle class there who are watching Rupert Murdoch’s Star, Sony TV and the government television channel Doordarshan.” They have fueled the “explosion of Mumbai,” he says, in film, music, telecom, cable, TV and other areas.
Through his research, Lieberman has identified the countries with “mature,” “developing” or “growth” economic potential for the entertainment industry. “All of Western Europe is mature — they’re not going to grow much, but they’ve already become very large,” he says. “Eastern Europe, India and China are developing. Australia and New Zealand are somewhere between mature and developing because they’re English speaking and get so much content from the U.S. and U.K. We talk about piracy, corruption and difficulties in Russia, but clearly it’s in the growth category, as is Latin America. And then there’s South Africa, which is enormous.”
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