The film and television industries represent collectively a $500bn global enterprise that attracts some of the keenest minds in business. And yet, judging by the high emotions evident at so many industry get-togethers these past six weeks, when talk turned invariably to the writers' strike, this is also a sector seriously devoid of financial analysis.
Absent from the rancorous negotiations so far between screenwriters and their employers is any factual basis for determining who is being short-changed in the entertainment economy - and by how much. Instead, the arguments degenerate quickly into one big accumulation of bruised feelings, self-serving legacies and mutual claims of impending poverty.
Such lack of impartial data prompted the Directors Guild of America (DGA) to spend nearly $2m on research and consultants these past 18 months. The results will be used to establish a meaningful baseline when the DGA sits down with the studios and networks in early January to haggle over their own employment contract.
Chances are that a conciliatory DGA will reach a faster settlement than the WGA. Not because their figures will be so persuasive, but because directors have only ever resorted to industrial action once - and even then the stoppage lasted no more than five minutes.
Whatever the outcome of talks, the question remains whether even that $2m will be enough to start cutting through all the misinformation that has clogged up industry thinking. If 2007 told us anything, it was just how blinkered and unpredictable this industry remains, despite the small fortunes spent perfecting business practices and divining consumer preferences.
For evidence of this blindness, look no further than the bombshell findings of the Screen Digest-owned GMI report 'Do Movies Make Money'' Much has been made of its estimate of Hollywood's operating loss - a breathtaking $1.9bn from the entire 2006 release slate even after all revenue streams are taken into account. But just as alarming, surely, is the report's conclusion that this figure 'may come as a surprise to investors and, based on conversations we have had, even to many industry insiders'.
How can so many smart executives, working for some of the world's shrewdest conglomerates, not see a deficit of nearly $2bn coming their way'
There were plenty of other surprises in store this year. Several opening weekend successes came as bolts from the blue. Just this week, both Warner's I Am Legend and Fox's Alvin And The Chipmunks pulled in a lot more than their pre-release estimates in North America had suggested. So much for market intelligence.
The international marketplace can no longer be relied on to emulate North American habits. As the conflicting fortunes of The Golden Compass underline, there are no easy answers about what global audiences want. Films that go gangbusters in some territories, stall in others - assuming they even find uniform distribution across the globe. The net effect is that all conventional wisdoms concerning the value of stars, awards and genres are being thrown hurriedly out of the window.
Some blame for this knowledge gap can be laid at our own door. In a speech to Wall Street earlier this year, Disney chief Bob Iger assailed entertainment trade papers like ours for fixating on charts showing box-office grosses, when the truer measure of success is profitability. Such reportage, he insisted, is 'rooted in the past'.
Iger has a point: the film industry's future hinges on more insightful illumination. We need our own golden compass to navigate through all the hidden costs as well as stated revenues. Only then can trusted partnerships be forged between the creative and business sides of the film-making equation.
With all this in mind, we can only wish our readers a more mutually profitable and enlightened year ahead. May all the surprises be happy ones.
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