The story of technological advances causing rollercoaster whiplash for people working in entertainment and media isn’t new. But recent waves of belt-tightening have opened fresh wounds – and reopened old ones.
It started with a song
The evolution of entertainment streaming tracks almost perfectly with increasing internet speeds. Music was the first media available via on-demand streaming, as it required the least bandwidth to arrive on people’s devices.
Music was also the first industry to reckon with how streaming affected artists in the form of minuscule royalties. Today, it takes tens of thousands of streams, or more, for an artist to earn the same payment as they once received for a single CD sale.
The dizzying rise and slow-motion fall of visual media streaming
When Netflix started streaming limited content in 2007, people at every level of the entertainment industry braced for the unknown. Apprehension quickly transformed into exhilaration.
Money poured into original streaming content. More streaming services popped up. Budgets ballooned for new TV shows and, eventually, blockbuster movies. It was common to discover a show buried on Netflix that we didn’t even know existed but was somehow in its sixth season.
Even casual observers had to ask themselves, “How can they afford this?”
Despite the pandemic creating a surge in gross streaming hours, the proliferation of multiple streaming services has meant fewer subscribers to go around. The average person isn’t willing to cough up the money for five or six streaming subscriptions per month. Subscriptions pay for all this original content, not viewer numbers, which is how even wildly popular shows are heartbreakingly canceled.
The ramifications for artists
As frustrating as cancellations are for viewers, the countless people working on these shows feel the true ramifications. The artists, namely writers, directors and even actors, are sometimes left with nothing to show for months of work on shows that never saw the light of streaming day.
Prematurely canceled shows are being scrubbed from platforms, which results in the disappearance of the already meager residual payments the artists received. Moreover, crucial files these people use for their portfolios are locked away, making the search for the next gig much more difficult.
Taking a macro look at the entertainment industry over the decades, things like pay, job opportunities, and platforms are constantly waxing and waning, albeit over years. Perhaps there’s another bubble waiting for artists five or ten years down the road. But speculation like that, even if this downturn only lasts a few years, is cold comfort.
Careers are made and ruined in less time than that. In the meantime, these artists have to find work and pay bills.