Creative Business Wrap – January 2024

And that, folks, was 2023. Good, bad or indifferent it is now disappearing into the rear vision mirror. But before it disappears completely from view, take a little time to reflect on what went well, what went not so well and what you’ll never, ever do again.

As the calendar ticks over to 2024, it is time to reset the business odometer and settle on a handful of creative and business resolutions for the new year. Some practical. Some creative. Some personal. Some financial. Some aspirational. Some strategic. Some to build cashflow momentum. Some to inspire you and your staff. Wrap them up in some numbers, set some targets, and assign the crucial tasks. You can even call it a business plan, if you wish. It is time to get moving.

And don’t forget, your feedback is always welcome so please let me know what you would like to read more of or what you don’t need to hear.

New Federal government support for SMEs?

The dawn of the new year has brought with it the practical commencement of the Federal Government’s new small and medium business support initiative, the Industry Growth Program. To be eligible for the Program, which includes both advice and grants, businesses must be working in the Priority areas of the Government’s National Reconstruction Fund (NRF). These are detailed here but they cover the usual suspects such as renewables, medical science, transport, agriculture and resources. So, it is fair to say that the opportunities for creative industry businesses are limited and if they fall anywhere it’ll be in the catch-some category of “enabling capabilities”. Even here it is slim pickings, falling heavily on manufacturing technologies but businesses in pockets of the creative industries might find some joy under “AI technologies” or “advanced information or communication technologies”. 

The IGP currently offers business advice from an initial cohort of 20 Industry Growth Program Advisers and later, at a date yet to be announced, substantial co-funded grants for businesses that have gone through the advice stage. There are two types of grants:

•    grants of $50,000 to $250,000 to support early-stage commercialisation projects
•    grants of $100,000 to $5 million for commercialisation and growth projects.

The Program’s focus is on “innovative small and medium enterprises undertaking commercialisation and/or growth projects within the National Reconstruction Fund priority areas.” It is not about incremental improvements to existing products or services or business-as-usual operations.   

What the DFT?

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade might not be the first place the readers or the compilers of this newsletter turn for creative industries policy which might explain why DFT’s Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 report has largely gone unreported since it was released in September. However, after the to-be-expected chapters on agriculture, resources, green energy, infrastructure and financial services the Report’s author, Nicholas Moore, AO – and Special Envoy to Southeast Asia – turns to the Creative Industries. Much of the chapter will be unsurprising to business and creative participants in the sector (“Millennials and Generation Z are spending more on music than other age groups” and “30% of young Southeast Asians use music streaming services on a daily basis.”) but there is also some solid commentary that could inspire some new thinking and strategising among the Australian creative industries:

“According to Sounds Australia, the Australian music industry’s level of engagement with, and understanding of, the Southeast Asian market is low, and geography and infrastructure can make Southeast Asia a less straightforward market for Australian artists. Nevertheless, industry groups acknowledge there is untapped potential for the right kinds of artists in Southeast Asia, given the loyal and passionate nature of Southeast Asian audiences.”

However, the inclusion of the creative industries in such a report alongside more traditional export industries might be the most important message.

Streams and streams of data

While many reports struggle to get any attention upon release, Netflix’s release of its program-by-program viewership data was unmissable. Our internet search for “netflix [sic] viewing data” reveals coverage by, well, just about every media outlet across the globe. On page one of the results you can pick from: VarietyThe GuardianEuronewsArs TechnicaVultureQZCNBCWashington PostForbesWiredThe Hollywood Reporter (x2), DeadlineAxiosDataconomyBBCLA TimesBusiness InsiderSMH … Buckeye Broadband. You get the picture, choose your own bubble.

Our eyes were drawn to the article in The Washington Post (as any creative industries conspiracist’s would, given The Post’s shared parentage with Netflix competitor Amazon Prime). The Post reduced Netflix’s claim of “more than 18,000 titles — representing 99% of all viewing on Netflix — and nearly 100 billion hours viewed” to seven takeaways (we calculate that’s one takeaway per 14 billion viewing hours). Starting at No.1 with, spoiler alert, is “Gilmore Girls is a Juggernaut” and ending at No.7 with “Nobody watches comedy specials”.

Wired magazine, by contrast, went with the downer headline, “Netflix’s Big Data Dump Shows Just OK TV Is Here to Stay”. The mag then offered up a thoughtful analysis on the future of streaming, “Netflix, then, is having it both ways—saying that numbers help it decide what shows to make, while also saying stats don’t mean everything. Two things can always be true at once …”. Before concluding, quite poetically, “The hours still pass, just through a different window.

The most surprising aspect of the whole exercise, for this newsletter, was that Netflix provided not just a long text list but posted an actual link to the data set, in easy-to-tinker-with Excel format. You can download all 18,215 lines of the spreadsheet here. It was two clicks of our PgDn key from the top.

You can probably learn all you need to know about how individual shows performed in any one of the media reports. However, if you’re in the content creation business you could do worse than spend a few hours delving into the data, adding extra columns of your own descriptors (new, old, repeat, one-off, series, brand name etc) and sorting and resorting. It is, we suggest, the largest quantitative “survey” of content you’re likely to get your hands on for free that you can easily manipulate. It might give you some audience/customers thoughts applicable to your own content creation endeavours. And even if it fails to generate some $$$$, it will provide an endless stream of “Hey Marthas” to disturb and distract the office:

Hey, Martha … did you know the total viewership hours across all nine seasons of The Office (US) was 341,100,000 hours and the most watched season was …” Well, we not going to do all the work for you.

Closing notes on the state of live music
 It is an end-of-year perennial, part of the furniture of “summer reading” the mainstream media slides into as the new year arrives, but that does not make the decline of live music venues any less relevant today than when a slew of Sydney music venues was forced to close last century due to the enforcement of, shock horror, fire safety regulations. It was The Guardian’s turn this year under the very inner-city headline, “Brioche buns and bandrooms: the struggle for live music’s place in the Melbourne pub scene”. What lifts this article above the usual Gen-X and punk-infused rat’s-tail-end-of-the-baby-boomers nostalgia fest is that it endeavours to offer solutions about how the slide could be redressed, from music organisations, owners and the government:

  • APRA AMCOS, Australia’s music rights collecting agency, says more than 1,300 live music venues and stages have been lost since Covid began. The numbers compare the number of venues that held a live music licence with the agency before and after the pandemic. The live music scene for small to medium gigs shrank by a third over the past three years. APRA AMCOS wants a tax offset for venues to incentivise them to continue to host live music and revitalise the industry. They say the offsets could operate on a similar system to those in the local screen industry, where rebates are claimable if productions meet local content and employment quotas.
  • A Victorian government spokesperson quoted in the article, with more than a hint of hubris, said “Melbourne is not only Australia’s live music capital but the world’s – we have more music venues per person than Berlin, New York, London and Austin, Texas.” The spokesman said the Victorian government has committed $34m to support the industry’s recovery from the pandemic.
  • The article’s most useful advice probably comes from Shane Hilton, co-owner of the Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar. His advice is as powerful as it is simple, “vote with your feet”.
    “Just go out and support the band, buy their merchandise and their records in physical format,” he says. “Go to a free gig. Go watch a band you don’t know, listen to your local community radio as they support independent musicians. It has a flow-on effect of bringing money into live music venues.”

The cliché goes that the world is run by those who turn up. The best-intentioned slacktivism is probably not going to cut it, someone needs to stand at the barricades, enjoy a drink and listen to some live music. Not such a tough gig.

Things to do this month

  • Polish up your value proposition. While thinking about your customers and why they choose – or don’t choose – your products and services should be a year-round conversation the beginning of a new year is a good time to think about your product/market fit. Are your products/services and the way you present them ready for the customer behaviour, trends and preferences that a new year frequently ushers in. Don’t rest on the laurels and accolades of past successes.
  • If you promote your business through blog posts or social media posts check back and see the date of your last piece. If it is dated 2022, then it will be seriously dated. Not much is timeless anymore, so sweep out the tumbleweeds and freshen things up.
  • Dig out your website logs and see what is and isn’t working – not from a technical perspective – from a customer relationship problem. Is there a page where everyone leaves for no apparent reason? Are there shopping carts that are regularly being abandoned without closing the deal? Are there messages that just aren’t cutting through? (And while you’re there, check to make sure there any no broken links or dead ends that could drive your customers into the arms of another.)
  • If you are in the business of selling stuff on the internet, ask your accountant or finance person what credit card rate you’re paying. You might be surprised how willing your providers are to sharpen their rate a little. In tight times, every little percentage point matters.

Found a great article on the business of creativity that is worth sharing or
just want to continue the conversation? Drop me a line via the contact form