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How the audiovisual industry can stimulate economic growth and social cohesion

Digital format, 27/05/2020, National Roundtable

The Covid-19 emergency has hit the audio-visual sector at a moment of profound transition, and has accelerated a series of trends. The lockdown has had a noteworthy impact on the production of digital content that has run parallel to a sharp rise in web use. On-demand platforms have seen a spike in subscriptions, while television networks have had to face a slump in advertising revenue with the suspension of some important sources of programming, such as sports events.

Confronting challenges such as these calls for industrial policies capable of increasing Italian sector competitiveness on an increasingly global market. Indeed, national productions are obliged to measure themselves against platforms with a global presence and projection; quality, in this sense, can be a competitive factor, along with team strategies involving the various national actors and aimed at boosting this key part of the economy. With a business volume of 14 billion euro, the audio-visual sector is just one segment of a broader culture/creativity industry that accounts for a hefty 41 billion euro, or 3%, of GDP and employs a workforce of approximately one million (4% of the total).

The public sector plays a central role in drafting industrial policy strategies. RAI [Italian national broadcasting service] is not only the main investor in audio-visual productions, but actually carries the entire sector: every euro of obligatory subscription money produces 1.33 euro of GDP.

Legislation is another tool for safeguarding the sector. Companies are faced with both on-demand platforms that offer scarce transparency when it comes to subscription and revenue data and obvious copyright violations by others. The better defence of copyright (which generates half a billion euro annually) can ensure increased and substantial resources both for major groups as well as independent producers.

Nevertheless, legislation cannot be an excuse for avoiding the necessary process of innovation that traditional companies need to embrace. If content remains strategic, distribution has become fundamental, and only by means of accessible platforms will RAI be able to defend its role in a sector where major on-demand libraries are gaining the lead. Furthermore, every audio-visual product risks finding itself in competition not only with analogous products, but also with the vast array of an enormous market teeming with stimuli and entertainment.

Finally, Italian audio-visual competitiveness also depends on an unswerving – and possibly positive – national narrative. On this increasingly globalized market, other nations – the UK principally – have managed to project a clear and recognizable image capable of attracting international productions and audiences. In this sense, Italy’s clear positioning could act as a springboard for industrial policy and generate growth in a range of economic sectors as well as in some of the country’s less developed regions.