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News — How The Recession May Affect Your Entertainment

December 10, 2008

We’ve been hearing in the news lately about how horrible the US economy has become. Banks have been bought up, the auto industry is being semi-nationalized, and home foreclosures are occurring more often than not. But Temmehkan is not really devoted to politics and the economy (even though I really want to write something about Fran Drescher aiming to become the next US Senator from New York). After all, we’re “The Entertainment Blog.” So in this entry, I will humbly try to explain how the economy will affect your viewing pleasure in terms of entertainment. Which means I will dip my hat into the video game arena for this one, although I offer no reviews.

Most companies are dealing with the economic downturn by making cutbacks in expenditures, which usually means less product, more pinkslips. The entertainment giants are no different. Disney, which owns ABC, is handing out lots of pinkslips, and ABC is considering a merger with ABC Studios, the subsidiary of Disney that actually produces the TV shows for the networks (and was previously part of Touchstone Television, you know, that company which had the orb with wood splinters sticking out of it.) What does this mean for you? Well, in terms of ABC, probably not much. Administration, programming, and production will simply be brought under one roof, although this may stifle creativity as scriptwriters and producers are closer to the big execs, who may wield more control over programs. Disney will probably produce less programs and may cut back at its theme parks, which will be crushing to the little ones.

NBC’s response is much more direct and kind of explains the direct impact on you: they’re scaling back primetime hours. That’s right: less original programming, more reruns. That means more marath0ns, probably, of old shows you likely don’t care about. Unfortunately, even syndication is getting hit. Local TV stations–and, no doubt, cable networks–can’t afford the prices they used to pay for syndicated shows. What does this mean? Less special effects, smaller casts, and less locations will go into shows, so that the production studios can cover expenses with smaller payments from distributors. And you know what that means–science fiction shows, usually reliant on special effects, are going to hit the hardest. It was the reason Stargate Atlantis was cancelled (in order to free up money for Stargate Universe), and it will likely happen to other science fiction shows.

NBC is also going to keep Jay Leno, which will save NBC “about $13 million a week in programming costs, enabling the network to abandon scripted programming at 10 p.m….”

This is only the beginning, though. What else can we expect? Well, I forsee a rise in reality TV programming. Not the type like The Amazing Race, but more along the lines of The Real Life or a show that follows a family around. Why? Reality TV does not require scripting (or at least not “real” scripting), does not require special effects, and doesn’t even require actors. It can be produced relatively cheaply and quickly. And with the Writers Guild of America having recently won a strike to increase their paychecks, reality TV is more promising than ever.

I anticipate film budgets to go down as well, but film companies have a funny way of writing everything up so that movies don’t turn a profit. Ever. I’ve poked my nose around to see if any film producers are thinking about cutting back costs, but so far I haven’t turned up any concrete. Just my gut, which is about as concrete as a bowl of mashed potatoes.

The video game industry is also being hurt. Although some like to think that this particular industry is immune, because people are addicted to gaming as if its crack, this may not be the case. I for one haven’t played a “commercial” game in weeks (unless you count Peggle, which, since I don’t pay to play, I don’t.) Games are pretty expensive compared to the cheap DVDs I see nowadays, and consoles are becoming more and more unnecessary luxuries in a time where people’s jobs are being slashed. Who wants to pay $200 for an Xbox 360 or twice that for a PS3 when food needs to be put on the table? The Playstation’s mother, Sony Corporation, is looking at hacking jobs, mostly centered on the division the PS3 is coming out of.

EA is suffering more than most, and is looking at slashing jobs and franchises. Spore isn’t doing so well, although after its spat with DRM, that might just be karma. Warhammer, the newest WoW knockoff to hit monitors, is also doing poorly, and apparently Mirror’s Edge, which looks like the coolest game since The Ocarina of Time, is also failing. But the Need for Speed franchise might be suffering the most, and whether or not EA will continue it seems up in the air. (The article does mention Rock Band 2 not doing so great, although it explains it perfectly in the next sentence: “which may reflect some fatigue overall in the music and racing genres.” Exactamundo.)

Again, what will this mean? Probably less video games, and most certainly less experimentation. Yahztee over at ZeroPunctuation likes to complain about the formulaic games being put out lately, and unfortunately for him, this seems likely to continue. Games such as Mirror’s Edge might be passed over in favor of Unreal Deathmatch 2009 Obama Takes It To The Economy Edition. (Emphasis on “economy edition.”) Suffering franchises will also be dropped. No more Need for Speed? Possibly.

But its not all doom and gloom. Yes, there’s going to be an overall drop in originality and production value across the board, but there are going to be nuggets of goodness out there. The trick is finding them, and making sure everyone knows about them so they can develop revenue and help the industry make it through this recession. There is also going to be good news for independent developers. Producers will likely try to find ways around the business agreement signed with the WGA, and will look to hire indie screenwriters and development crews. Independent video games, made on cheaper budgets than big name monsters such as Fallout 3 will also have a leg up. And I damn well expect PopCap Games to go epic during this time, as more people will buy less expensive action-orientated games and play more affordable casual games, especially while job-hunting.

Is my commentary/analysis that sophisticated? No, but then again I’m just a college student, like everyone for this blog. But this is what I forsee, and how I believe the recession will impact your entertainment. Disagree? Agree? Want to shout angry epithets that I dare call Touchstone Television’s logo an orb with wood splinters sticking out of it? Please, leave a comment. We’re hungry for them.

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