What kind of information can be gleaned from entertainment industry statistics? How do they influence our understanding of film, or television, or videogames as more than just pastimes? What more can numbers tell us about, besides the kinds of media that different segments of the population tend to consume, or how much money was made?
It turns out we can learn quite a lot when we begin to peer through statistics with a critical eye. If taken to represent not the final result of an investigation but rather its starting point, graphs and figures contain entire social histories condensed as sets of encoded vectors that candidly expose the realities of production, the hardships and accomplishments of all those involved in the creative industries.
This image tells us that even though revenue numbers are up and the industry appears to be expanding, over the past decade Canadian production has decreased considerably (by 22%) while foreign (meaning mostly American) productions and post-production services have grown. In addition to that, co-productions are frequently considered Canadian but may include absolutely no local creative content. Does that point towards a trend of turning the Canadian creative worker into a service provider?
The media that we consume profoundly defines us. Sometimes we may remember little about periods in our lives other than what shows we watched or what films struck a chord. By the same token, there is a vast number of offerings out there, some of them attractively packaged and backed by star power, that are pitifully underdeveloped, mediocre, an absolutely painful waste of time. To account for the disparity between what audiences find irresistible and weak, and how that might translate into investing on the winning side, the creative industries collect and maintain an extensive range of statistics about themselves and their audiences. These studies attempt to rationalize the uncertainty and risk that accompany creative work.
Even the most distracted media observer will have noticed that the creative industries operate in most unusual and frequently harsh work environments where uncertainty and risk are endemic. Making-ofs and behind-the-scenes reporting offer a continuous stream of self-disclosures by industry professionals at virtually every level of the production chain. They tell us about the hardships of production, insurmountable odds, heroic accomplishments or valiant defeats, the drama of artistic work becomes a stand-in for the drama of life itself.
Industry statistics rarely reflect that side directly, but it is coded within them. In this series of notes, I look at several sources that, directly or indirectly, touch on the Canadian screen industries (film and television). I read their findings against the grain, not in an attempt to discredit the original sources but, on the contrary, to acknowledge these sources as starting points of discussion.