Books - The creative frenzy - Entertainment is the motor force of today's economy, used to sell anything from airline tickets to Spam John Willis assesses the show.
THE ENTERTAINMENT ECONOMY. Michael J Wolf. Penguin Books £18.99
As delegates at a United away-day last year to discuss the future, we were all given Burn Rate, Michael J Wolf's book on new media, as compulsory reading.
His latest book, The Entertainment Economy, shares the same insight into leading-edge ideas and its easy writing style. It is important reading for media types but compared to Burn Rate it covers more widely known and less surprising content.
Wolf paints a colourful picture of entertainment as the motor force of the 'new world' economy, at the forefront of economic growth. Las Vegas, he notes, grows by 8.5% a year and in Britain more people are now employed in entertainment than in coal-mining at its height.
The end of the cold war shifted money from defence into entertainment. The TRW Defence Plant in California is now Manhattan Beach Studios. In Connecticut, casinos have replaced submarine building as a primary source of employment and profits. Missiles, after all, only explode once; movies can be re-released.
Now, everything is entertainment, racking up more sales. Even Spam is showbiz now - Hormel Foods run a museum called Spam Town USA.
Retailing has become 'shoppertainment'. In Minnesota the Mall of America has an aquarium, cinemas and an amusement park. It enjoys 40 million visitors a year, more than Walt Disneyworld, Disneyland and the Grand Canyon put together.
Services like airlines and hotels are firmly in the entertainment business. Demographics have changed, families are more diverse and the Peter Pan generation has the disposable income to pay to have fun.
The digital revolution has driven the entertainment economy into a frenzy. The heads of major media companies are planting their flags everywhere. The problem of predicting the future needs of the consumer in an age of gigantic technological change means that media companies are laying down each-way bets. They need access not to one distribution platform but as many as possible.
Wolf is strong on the spread of the net, charting the use of new players like Microsoft and Bloomberg.
'When consumer-focused businesses move to the internet,' he says, 'they must inevitably become entertainment companies'. The Gap site not only advertises clothes but lets the customer download music, to prevent them clicking to a rival site.
Wolf clearly understands the value of brands in this multi-channel, multi-media age. He rightly points out that there is no law which says Harley-Davidson or Virgin should be successful - they are brands which continually renew themselves.
For all this insight into the foothills of the future, the book lacks the critical evaluation which would make it even more useful. Wolf never analyses the wider cultural and social impact of this revolution. Will ideas be squeezed out by entertainment Polyfilla? Will the public grow tired of homogenised global entertainment?
Perhaps he is too close to his clients to criticise. He often mentions his visits to Ted Turner's ranch in Montana or to Bertlesmann's HQ in Gutersloh. In the rather flat middle section of the book, Wolf seems almost in awe of the major media players.
However, Wolf does recognise that the defining factor in all these businesses will be access to creative talent. Even telecom companies are committed to content. 'It is as if the Post Office was to begin to get into the letter-writing side of the business.' Every media company can achieve basic industrial efficiency but those who will win out are those who forge the conditions for creative efficiency as well.
Creativity 'is not an industrial additive', he argues. So, for all the new-frontier technology, media businesses which understand that creativity has an economic value as well as a cultural one will have a healthy future.
John Willis is chief executive of United Productions.