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The Entertainment Economy: How Mega-Media Forces Are Transforming Our Lives

Author: Michael Wolf
Publisher Crown Publishing Group
Publication Date: April 2003

Reviewer:Robert Morris
Based in Dallas, Robert Morris is an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and organizational growth. He is the author of almost 150 Business Nuggets and frequently conducts workshops based on material selected from them. His formal education includes graduate study at Yale, Northwestern, U.C.L.A., and Chicago universities. He has served in several senior-level corporate positions and is currently preparing to launch his own website (interllect.com). Please contact him at rmmorris@airmail.net.

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According to Michael J. Wolf, "Locally, globally, internationally, we are living in an entertainment economy." In fact, that is the title of his new book, published by Times Books. The Entertainment Economy consists of ten chapters which proceed from an introduction to the "entertainment zone" to a "view from tomorrow." In between, Wolf carefully examines a full-range of business situations in which entertainment plays an increasingly more important role. For example, he focuses on the fun-focused customer, the e-factor ("there's no business without show business"), the battle for attention, the struggle for world domination, the genesis of a phenomenon (ie whatever redefines "success"), what he calls "enteractivity", brand empires, and the role of sponsors.

In the first chapter, Wolf observes that "Within its home turf....entertainment is in many parts of the world the fastest-growing sector of the economy. This is as true of developing countries as it is of mature ones. But of even wider impact is the way entertainment content has become a key differentiator in virtually every aspect of the broader consumer economy." Moreover, "...where America's entertainment economy goes, the rest of the world is not far behind." Although he does not state it explicitly, Wolf views "entertainment" from two quite separate perspectives: entertainment as a commodity (films, videos, radio and television, concerts, athletic events, etc.) and entertainment as a strategy (eg to create a sense of being "entertained"). As Wolf explains, not all commodities are inherently entertaining but it is possible to nourish the appeal of virtually all commodities by use of appropriate entertainment principles. 

In this respect, Wolf seems to agree with Schmitt & Simonson, co-authors of Marketing Aesthetics. Consider Williams-Sonoma which attracts customers to its upscale stores with the aromas of fresh-baked bread and fresh-brewed coffee, produced on-site by appliances it sells. Schmitt & Simonson assert that marketing is most effective when it appeals to most (if not all) of the five senses. Wolf would no doubt confirm that the nature and extent of that appeal will usually determine the nature and extent of a consumer's sense of being "entertained." 

Every retail merchandiser should ask, "Who buys what we sell? Which images will be most appealing? Window displays, posters, counter-top promotions? Which aromas will be most appealing? Gourmet coffee, popcorn, chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Which sounds will be most appealing? Bach, Hole, Dwight Yoakam, Celine Dion?"

Wolf characterizes Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Sumner Redstone, and Rupert Murdoch as "the conquistadors of modern business." Why? Because they and their associates understand so well that entertainment (both as a commodity and as an influence) has an almost unlimited global audience. 

Throughout The Entertainment Economy, Wolf examines with wit as well with precision the interaction of entertainment with economics. Here are a few brief comments:

Culture, demography, and technology are all pushing us toward one goal: extracting the last drop of fun out of every experience.

 ...with so many similar products, how do businesses get theirs to pass the "Who cares?" or "must-have" test? The two-word answer is: entertainment content, the "E-Factor," that is, entertainment content and experiences.

[As a result], by incorporating entertainment content, businesses will more and more become subject to the compressed, hit-driven business cycle of the entertainment business.

While Einstein searched to prove a theory that unified all four forces at creation, digital technology has unified media....From an    economic perspective, the most important aspect of this is that every new technology has meant new and greater sources of income.

Each and every one of the moguls shares the same aspiration: to create a hit....Beyond the hit, leading us on like a divine beacon, there is the Holy Grail of the entertainment economy: the phenomenon.

The most important thing to bear in mind, in the midst of all this Internet hysteria, is that no new medium has ever killed off another; it has only influenced changes in it.

Our future, then, is not dissimilar to our most distant past....  Ultimately, it's about stories that move us, characters that we can root for, ideas that transform the cultural landscape, special effects that take us to a world we've never seen before, situations and lines that make us laugh, and ideas that are so universal, they forever change the way we live.

The most valued commodity is the human imagination.

These brief excerpts correctly suggest the basic values which serve as the infrastructure of Wol'Õs probing analysis. Throughout The Entertainment Economy, he examines dozens of examples of individuals and corporations which have prospered by a total commitment to "the most valued commodity."