What is the future of the creative economy?
I recently caught sight of an article from UNESCO talking about the impact of Covid on the creative sector, and was frankly astonished. Of course, I hadn't been completely oblivious to the closed cinemas, the slowdown of Hollywood blockbusters or the Government announcements supporting the arts, but still, it got me thinking.
These industries are some of the most dependent on in-person interaction, so I wondered what technology is doing to overcome some of the new-normal challenges the sector faces.
In This Article
In this article I explore the importance of the creative industry to the global economy, along with how it aligns with the UN's sustainable development goals.
I discover the industry is facing several technology led challenges, including distribution, dilution, quality, fragmentation and digital transformation.
I then go looking for a technology that is trying to solve some of the challenges, and find a company called Curation Zone that is helping solve some of these challenges.
The creative sector, also known as the Culture and Creative Industries (CCIs) rely more than many on venue or on-site based activities. The sector, which includes TV, film, music, cinema, festivals, theatre, museums, amongst others, has been materially impacted either by falling visitor numbers, or a fundamental inability to create the materials because people we unable to get to the studio or on-set.
The UNESCO report estimates that across the twenty mid to large sized economies included in the study, there was a reduction of around $750 billion that can be attributed to the pandemic. This reduction also lead to an estimated loss of 10 million jobs. Variety estimates that the concert industry alone suffered a $30 billion loss in 2020.
Creative Industries and the SDGs
The importance of these industries stretches far. From a sustainable development point of view, the creative sector impacts our well-being, provides jobs all over the world, stimulates tourism (more jobs and income), supports training and education, and is increasingly becoming an advocate for equality and inclusion.
UNESCO state that the protection of artists, investment in the sector and ensuring a "fair digital transition" are essential in progressing the 2030 Global Goals (UN SDGs). Accordingly, the United Nations declared 2021 as the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development.
Before the pandemic, the Creative Economy accounted for 3% of global GDP and employed 30 million people, so how does this look as we move beyond the initial pandemic lockdowns?
Accelerated Digital Transformation
Previously, I've written about how technology has been used to overcome the pandemic restrictions, including how theatres were embracing digital technologies. In this article I looked at how a locked-down film producer had turned his talents to revitalising community TV and how modern digital technologies (cloud and 4G) were making things possible today, that were unthinkable just a few years ago.
Since then, our adoption of digital has sky-rocketed, with on-line meetings, and the virtualisation of everything becoming commonplace.
A report by Deloitte highlights that the digitalisation and remote-work trends will continue, whilst consumer demand for creative output will diversify and continue to grow. They predict that by 2030, across the largest nine economies in their study, creative sector employment will rise by more than 40%, up by eight million!
This means the success of an interconnected creative economy ecosystem will be increasingly important to overall prosperity.
Creative and the Gig Economy
The out of work Hollywood actor-cum-waiter cliché is a generational example of the precarious world in which many creatives live their lives. In non-creative industries, the average proportion of self-employed workers is 10%. In the cultural and creative sector that number is three times higher, 30%.
The rise in crowd-source resourcing platforms, such as Fiverr and PeoplePerHour has brought project, or gig, based work into the limelight, yet creatives have been living this way for much longer. Other platforms, such as Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay have found their way into both public awareness and professional creative talent discovery.
A statistic from Eurostat (via the World Economic Fourm) somewhat distractingly shows the number of workers in full time employment in the CCIs is only 2% lower than the general employed population (79% vs 81%). The thing that makes this top-line statistic a little misleading is that, often, this full time employment is on a contract basis, and as such, workers are constantly "hustling" for their next job.
The creative economy often relies on freelancers, self-employed people or those working for micro-enterprises. In Europe last year, more than 30% of workers in cultural sectors were self-employed, compared to a little more than 10% for the wider economy.
How our commute, societies and communities have changed during the pandemic have been topics of previous discussions. So too, has the topic of how the way we work has, and will continue to change, but how have things changed in the creative industries?
The CCIs have also gone through massive changes, adopting advanced technologies to help produce content remotely with talent being remotely distributed. The range of technology use has been quite broad, from low tech Zoom based script reading and collaboration to advance 3D rendering of real world environments using point-cloud technologies, and 3D motion capture.
Breaking things down.
As Wired pointed out, other technologies have been used to break down super-high definition video content into smaller chunks and file sizes to allow delivery over 5G or even 4G connections, distributed editing and then recombination at the original definition and frame rate.
Having spent time in a studio in rural England a few years ago, I have heard of the pain of distributing cinema quality video content over even the fasted of fibre optic cables, and how (at least back then) it was still quicker to ship the content on disk by courier than it was to upload/download.
This revolution in the ability to distribute very high volumes of data at speed ripples through the entire industry, not just in terms of the kind of video content we might think about, but motion capture too.
Using point cloud technologies similar to those used to map out the road in front of a Tesla combined with drones and powerful gaming technology, 3D representations of real environments can be built quickly and remotely.
Now combine that with actors who can use motion capture technologies to record their performance off-set, with the virtual set and as long as the content can be managed and distributed efficiently and securely, you can start to produce blockbusters with an entirely distributed creative team.
Distributed Talent and Skills
Whilst this is still an expensive (and risky) way to produce content, the technologies and business models are adapting - so too are the skill sets and talents.
That means for content creators and producers, you need to be able to find new skills in new places. There's no reason for a drone capture specialist to move from New Zealand to California to find work anymore. With virtual rehearsals and distributed green-screen motion capture, your cast can get to work on a Borneo based feature from Korea, Kenya or Kent.
Creative Talent Discoverability
The challenge for the agencies of tomorrow is talent discovery.
In order for the creative and cultural industries to achieve the growth predicted by UNESCO, the UN and the World Economic Forum, matching talent with production is going to be a bigger problem, especially as distributed digital and virtual production techniques continue to develop.
The creative industry has long turned to industry behemoths such as Le Book or Behance to find the talent they need, when they need it. These platform had their own peculiarities and challenges for both the agencies, producers or brands, as well as the creatives, but nowadays those challenges are being multiplied.
Multiplying the complexity are four factors: 1) Distribution, 2) Platform Dilution, 3) Quality and 4) Digital Transformation.
The impact of distribution has been discussed in quite some detail above, however, this now means that producers can't rely on finding the talent they need in the tried and tested locations they'd used to look - both physically, in terms of regions, but digitally in terms of platforms.
The pandemic has resulted in both the rise of digitisation and the distribution of talent. Along with this, the existing platforms have had to deal with increased registrations as well as nascent platforms finding new momentum and growth.
From a talent point of view, this now means you have to be on more platforms, more often. From a production point of view, this has resulted in more places to search, more conflicting data and more decisions to be made.
"The development around virtual production is being accelerated because we are looking at a world that we never could have imagined[...]It’s an exciting time for virtual production right now."David Conley, Weta DigitalQuality
With more people on more platforms, sifting out the highest quality, freshest talent from the noise is going to get harder.
From the perspective of the workers, demonstrating your quality and achievements across all of these is going to become a mammoth task - and you can't afford to not do it, you could be missing that next big thing.
And, you need to stand out on these platforms even more than ever. Because these platforms are open to all, competition is huge and mostly unregulated, meaning anyone can claim to have worked with Spielberg or McDonalds.
As mentioned by David Conley in an interview with CNBC, the digital transformation of the media industry has only really just begun.
However, as necessity drives innovation across the industry, new techniques, tools and skills will be developed. In an industry that thrives on competitive edge, discovering the right talent with the right skills at the right time is going to be crucial.
Can Technology Help With Creative Talent Discovery?
For business professionals in many parts of the world, LinkedIn remains one of the most important platforms to be seen and discovered on. But it's not the only one. In my line of work I am active on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Medium, Tumblr, YouTube, have profiles on various gig-based platforms and a profile I'd forgotten about, until recently, on About.me. Just listing them here has taken me several minutes, but keeping them up to date is a real challenge.
Actually, that's not even half of them, now I think of it.
From a personal point of view, what I need is one place where I can manage all these platforms - or at least catalog and monitor them so I know which ones need updating.
From a discovery point of view, when looking for people like me, I'd want to go to one place and find the best people on whatever platform they are most active on, and be able to compare those with others on different platforms.
Where do you look for the top 3D Spatial Audio Engineers?
So far, however, I haven't seen any of Hollywood's rising stars of 2021 on LinkedIn, so where would you find Caleb Mclaughlin or Anthony Ramos? Every industry has it's go-to platforms and directories of information, so my guess was that there was a whole world unknown to me. Where you'd go to find Caleb or an up and coming animator like Carlos Baena?
Googling "top 3d audio production talent" just sends me directly to Fiverr or Upwork. So, to find out how the creative industries go about this, I spoke with Russell Glenister, Founder, Investor and CEO of Curation Zone.
On the point of digital talent discovery platforms, I sourced the background image here from a platform designed to help showcase creatives. In this case it was Pexels, and a photo by Josh Sorenson.
Technology Doing Good in The Creative Industry
Russell has been in the business of sourcing and supporting creative talent for more than 30 years, and is currently an investor and founder of a number of startups in this space. One that caught my eye is due for a big launch on 9th August, 2021 - Curation Zone.
The LinkedIn description is what grabbed my search attention:
"Using AI to match filmmakers with Brands, Curation Zone leads the World in content creation analytics"
When I dug deeper the platform is more than analytics. Curation Zone claims to use AI algorithms to solve many of the problems that I touch on in the article above, so I thought I'd find out more.
Getting Lost in the Noise
Curation Zone sets out to make it easier for talented, accomplished and rising talent to be discovered by brands and agencies with as little effort as possible.
Speaking with Russell he describes a world where incumbents of times before the Internet have adapted their legacy business models to the digital era, but in doing so have created fragmentation and inconsistency. This fragmentation has been amplified in today's world where the pandemic has accelerated virtualisation, digital delivery and worker distribution.
In this new era, driven in part by the growth of the gig-economy, platforms like Fiverr and UpWork have applied a reverse auction model to creative talent, driving pricing down, and attracting a much broader, less specialised and experienced talent pool.
With so many platforms, it has become harder for creatives to consistently represent themselves in their best light. For example, as mentioned above I had forgotten about my About.Me page, and the information there was a decade out of date. Also, earlier this year I had job offer from a gig platform that I set up in 2009. Needless to say the job was quite far removed from what I do today.
"We found that around 25% of creative talent on Behance had almost no history of experience in their stated role."Russell Glenister, Curation ZoneIt's not just harder for the workers, it's harder for the agencies to efficiently find the best talent, too. They have to search numerous platforms and conduct their own normalisation and harmonisation of the data presented, making important judgement calls on partial and sometimes incomplete information.
Coupled with this platform fragmentation, the over-abundance of workers and diversity in credentials has led to a marketplace that is flooded with both highly skilled and under skilled talent, all racing to get a job that is often underpriced - and paying a (sometimes exorbitant) fee to the platforms for the privilege.
Reverse Auction Benefits Faceless Platforms not Creative Workers
If we're thinking about SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), then the benefits of this new-era, platform-driven model seem to favour the buyer and platforms, more than the workers themselves.
Curation Zone aims to rebalance this, helping the individual worker get paid fair rates, and manage some of the uncertainty of dealing with larger corporates with their own inflexible, freelancer-unfriendly payment policies.
Streamline Talent Discovery For Agencies
From the brand and agency perspective, Curation Zone is providing a one-stop discovery shop to find the best possible talent from across many of the industry leading platforms, including Behance, Vimeo, Le Book ( full list here ).
To achieve this, Curation Zone uses artificial intelligence algorithms to normalise the worker "credential" data such as role credits, projects (uncredited), awards, engagement and commendations from each platform. This makes it easier for the agencies to compare apples to apples, and find the best talent for the job, no matter which platform the talent prefers to use.
Frictionless Intelligent Index
Curation Zone isn't replicating or disintermediating the existing platforms, rather it acts as a "platform of platforms", using AI to create an up to date index of creative talent across many platforms - a little like the Google of creative talent discovery.
To understand more, I invited Russell to speak with me about what they are trying to achieve with Curation Zone, how they are using technology and what benefit it will deliver to the creative industries.
Russell Glenister, CEO Curation Zone
When it comes to discovering fresh, quality talent, what challenges does the industry face now that it didn’t a couple of years ago?
There is definitely a greater need to be flexible at today’s agencies. Historically, agencies relied more on big retainer jobs and therefore built up top heavy in-house creative teams, but now the work is often project based and broader in scope than TV and print, so the need for flexibly is far greater. One of the top 5 Ad Agencies recently told me they have over 200 freelance vacancies to fill out of the USA alone. COVID has really put a lot of pressure on the organisations with over-weight in-house teams, but finding qualified, reliable, flexible freelancers is hard work and not always effective - that’s the challenge we are solving.
Why is it so hard to find the talent? There seem to be so many different platforms. We've already touched on the ones you work with above, but there's the likes of Upwork, Unsplash and so many others.
The ones you mentioned tend to be more consumer, pro-sumer or small/medium business focused - although we have undertaken in-depth analysis of Unsplash and will likely add that platform later - mostly these sectors are not our core priority. The agency supporting Nike wants to make sure they get the best and most promising up and coming photographers, not the cheapest or the most active on a platform, but with no experience.
These platforms are flooded with creative talent who have verifiable work credentials but more often, those who don’t. Unfortunately the same problem is true with the more professionally focused platforms we work with. Pretty much anyone can register on most of them and say they’ve worked with the top brands, but there’s very little in terms of a systematic way of checking this, until we came along - it’s a big part of what we do.
Why is this important to creative workers?
The creative world has moved on, it’s not all about producing TV and print ads anymore. The content produced is much more diverse, and usually has to be produced quickly. That often means the shift away from total reliance on in-house teams to more flexible on-demand, more diversely skilled creatives, is critical. This now means the big brands and agencies are looking for talents and skills they might have either previously not have needed, or would have had to hire in-house for. This new demand now means there’s more top quality work opportunity for a broader, more diverse creative skill set.
The shift from in-house to freelancer has been difficult because of the complexities mentioned before. The only way this is going to reach its potential is if agencies and brands can more easily sift out the top talent, with verifiable work from those who are being a little more, shall we say, ’speculative’ with their credentials. In my experience, the 80:20 rule applies - of the millions of freelancers on the top-tier platforms we look at, only around 20% of them actually have the skills and background that agencies and brands require - we focus on finding and showcasing these, per role, through a single search.
How is technology helping creative talent find better, fairer work?
Making an impact, doing something memorable and thought provoking means doing something that’s often not been done before. That means the media world is continuously evolving and diversifying. Technology is unlocking new behaviours, which drives new formats and new ways of making those.
During COVID we’ve seen a surge of use in technologies that enable things to be done remotely, from script reading and auditions to 3D model creation using drones and gaming technology, to out of studio motion capture.
Currently, though, the industry is finding technologies from other sectors and repurposing them. This isn’t perfect and adds both cost and risk. However, these will develop further, refine and become better suited. In doing so, new jobs, new skills will be created.
From our point of view, we use AI to enable brands and agencies to feel confident relying on our suggested freelancers for these newer roles and skills, as well as their more traditional creative needs. Although we algorithmically analyse the world’s top freelance talent sources, it’s the agency and brand staff that make the final selection from our ranked searchable index suggestions.
There's a lot of reasonable concern about bias in AI. Are you worried that leaving AI to find the right talent might introduce bias?
That’s a great, if not loaded, question. In a way you could look at Curation Zone as a deliberate introduction of bias - we’re actively biasing those who have the background and skills that match their claims, but that’s only part truth. This kind of bias is not new, it’s done all the time with search filters and sorting, it’s just how we do it, and how we balance the data sets we use that are unique. We spent a lot of time working through the bias issue - how can we ensure that someone new does not get penalised for having fewer credits, projects or awards, for example? The solutions are all built into the algorithms.
Anyway, that’s not what you asked. Are we worried about how AI will create unknown bias? Yes, that worries us in general, but we have built the platform to mitigate this. Our platform isn’t a black-box, it’s essentially a feedback-loop system, with humans firmly in the middle, and in control of that feedback.
Our algorithms help to vastly cut down the number of profiles that get presented to the person searching and make it easier to compare. The AI there is focused on pattern matching across platforms and profiles. From this curated list humans feedback into our system by the choices and interactions they make. That feedback helps us keep our algorithms in tune with what our customers are actually searching for.
Given the global importance of the creative and cultural industries (CCIs) and how that is aligned with many of the UN SDGs, I set out to see how this sector is changing in the wake of the pandemic-accelerated virtualisation and digitalisation.
I discovered that like many industries, in the face of the unprecedented societal and economic changes, the CCIs have also seen tremendous changes, with new tools, technologies and techniques coming to market rapidly. These developments are all leading the way to new skills, new jobs - which, in its own right is a fascinating topic.
(Side note: there's a lot of talk about how "AI will take our jobs", my opinion is that, firstly, the creative industry is one of the most robust against AI job snatching, but also, new jobs and skills will develop around the new technologies, like AI ... and this is one of those cases)
A by-product of this technology success has been the commoditisation and dilution of creative talent and increased cost and difficulty in finding the best talent for the job. Neither of which are good for the creative economy in the long run.
In the search for an interesting technology that looks to solve some of these challenges, and drive positive change in the industry I found Curation Zone. Curation Zone is a "platform of platforms", that aims to not only make it easier for the producers, agencies and brands to find and work with the best talent for the job, but also streamline the experience and provide fair payment and work to the creative talent.
If you want to find out more about Curation Zone, head over to the website here.
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