Opportunity Fortune Cookie

Read to the end of this post for a great example of a Jetsons Future opportunity.

Do you know what part of my job I absolutely hate? Reviewing separation agreements.

Luckily, I’ve seen fewer of them in 2014 than I did in 2013, but layoffs are still a reality in showbiz. For every hour I spend reviewing separation agreements, I spend plenty more happily doing pro bono career counseling and cheerleading. Typically, I hear a question like, “Is there a way for me to keep making money doing what I love to do?” The answer is a resounding yes.

That’s why I keep returning to the subjects of money and opportunity. One of the amazing things about the new entertainment and media world we’re now moving into – that thing I call The Jetsons Future – is that there are so many opportunities, ones that didn’t exist a handful of years ago, to be creative and make money. You don’t even need to know where to look.

Why don’t you need to know where to look?  Because the answer is…everywhere! You just have to look at things a little differently than you used to and create your own opportunity.

80 was a big number last week.  21st Century Fox made that $80 billion offer to Time Warner, while also clarifying its belief that it’s content that matters by merging its production and network operations under the aegis of the production side.  Then there was that $80 million, three-year deal the South Park guys did with Hulu.

The message you can take from these events is that the old channels of content distribution – broadcast television and radio, big print publishers, major record labels – still exist and are still a great way to make a living, but there are plenty more ways to profit from plenty more types of content that would never have been profitable just a handful of years ago.

Money may not be the only reason we got into creative work, but anyone who has lost a job to budget cuts lately knows that finding new ways to earn is imperative. Most of us who haven’t lost a job to layoffs or projects to a changing industry economy would like to make lots more money too. (Of course, there are a few creatives who don’t have a problem with passing on, say, a $15 million licensing deal, but most of us aren’t John Densmore.)

Sure, Matt Parker and Trey Stone are doing great with South Park on broadcast TV, basic cable, two types of VOD, and their own website, but you don’t need to be a marquee name to make a remarkable living. Who’da thunk you could pile up a $10 million bank account, in less than three years just by being really entertaining while playing video games, bro? There’s no need to spew four-letter words – or for that matter, even to be a teenager, much less an adult – to make money in video. A seven year-old can make his way in the new world just fine, including selling his own merch. Stardom is a reality for a new brand of celebrity most of us have never heard of.

Opportunities aren’t limited to YouTube stars. Writers are seeing five- and six-figure payoffs from short-form Kindle Singles, and we’re not talking only about the boldface names of the literary world. As news goes, this isn’t exactly new. That last link, which shows the bassist for FreshKills – don’t worry, radio programming friends, I don’t remember them either – doing $130,000 for his first three Singles, is well over two years old. Want to self-publish your novel? That used to be a cost-prohibitive fool’s errand. Now, it’s cheap, easy and comes with a juicy royalty rate.

We keep hearing how the music business is dying. It isn’t; it’s just changing. If you’re a musician, you can still shoot your demo to an A&R rep, but you can also upload that demo straight to a Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Bandcamp, etc., and share the demo with your fans, preselling your wares even before you’re done producing them.

Let’s dial it back to 2008: Aerosmith, my favorite band, made more money from their Guitar Hero game than from any album they ever recorded. Sure, that might also say a little something about record industry accounting practices over the 40+ years The Boys From Boston have been making albums, but considering they’ve had three albums go either 7x or 8x platinum – Remember when albums did that sort of thing? – the fact that they made more money off a video game than any of those albums is remarkable.

It’s not just big names doing well with video games.  Surely you’re familiar with the collective successfully selling bundles of their video games at pay-what-you-want pricing.

Name the form of entertainment, and creatives are thinking of…er, creative…ways to make money doing what they love.

How can you do likewise? After you get done making creative content that connects, keep your creative hat on and think about unique ways to get it to your audience.

That’s hardly a new concept. It’s not a few years old. Let’s really jump back in time to 1950. Back in that ancient year, when children walked barefoot for miles through the snow to get to school and Willie Mays was still a minor league ballplayer, there were no television reruns. Shows were broadcast live on the east coast and taped via kinescope to be shown in horrid quality elsewhere. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball didn’t want to move to New York so they could perform their new series, I Love Lucy, live.  Instead, they paid the extra cost to have every episode of I Love Lucy taped, taking ownership of the series and creating the license to print money known as syndication.

So there you have it. Creativity has always been the mother of moneymaking invention. What’s changed in the world of broadband media distribution is that the barriers to entry – both in terms of needing big piles of money just to produce your content and access to broadcast outlets to distribute it – are rapidly falling away.

Earlier this week, I was talking to a major market talent from the east coast – a friend, not a client – who just found herself on the wrong side of the budget ax. Not that she’s exceptionally bright and gifted, but she’s thinking about taking her talents to medical school. When I think about the limited communication skills of the average physician, my mind boggles at her possibilities.

My guess is she could be a few years from creating a video series targeted at medical consumers – in other words, all of us – that’s both highly entertaining and educational. (After which, she’d better be a client, or I’m cutting her off – and I know you’re reading this, unnamed talent!)

Picture the possibilities of her doing the things she loves – being creative, entertaining, and helping others through medical practice. Now picture the possibilities of monetizing all that too.

There are a functionally-infinite number of unique opportunities out there. What’s yours?

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