Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Fastest Cat on the Planet

"We're the fastest cat on the planet", so says Puma CEO, Jochen Zeitz in talking to CNN's Jim Boulden about the company's partnership with Usain Bolt and sponsoring other athletes. Who says you don't get what you pay for? This is a great example of how Puma has tied themselves to the brand Jamaica and monetized that relationship. If only the national leaders were able to lead us in monetizing all this attention to the nation's benefit. The Financial Times on August 22 reported that, "an independent organization has estimated Mr Bolt's media value at €250m ($358m)." If he is worth that much to Puma, he is at least of similar value to Jamaica. However, the difference is Puma has products to sell, and sell they did and continue to do. The same article pointed out that Puma sold out of their "Yaam" shoe, "a lifestyle version of [Bolt's] shoes and a Jamaican sports cloth collection." The CEO made it clear that Puma is moving to incorporate more of the Jamaican lifestyle into their lines. According to him, desirability is key, and clearly Jamaica can deliver on that desirability. For the record, brand Jamaica is not the only lifestyle Puma is targeting. He made a point of speaking to how they will position the company to take advantage of, as he calls it, "the African way of life" for the World Cup in South Africa. If there still exists doubt about the rise of a new economy, rooted in culture, there could never be a better example to illustrate and connect the dots for the doubters. The dynamic of our world is changing, and if the opportunities are not grasped now, then I'm afraid we might very well be witness to history repeating itself. With ill-equipped post-holders aplenty, leadership and vision are lacking. So, as we fight one another for the power and the glory, Jah kingdom goes to waste. You can watch the full interview on CNN Video here. P.S. Check out my new Urban Yard shop, there's something there for you. If you don't see it then suggest it.
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Entertainment Business Schools

A number of persons have reached out to me wanting some information on where they could consider attending school for entertainment industry training. I've found that a great resource is the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) website. They maintain a list of schools that offer certificates, bachelors and masters programs in the field of entertainment. I must confess that the majority of programs are geared towards music business preparation. The list includes the BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies, Mona. If you want to focus on other areas of the entertainment business, including sports management, Full Sail University may be one place you could consider. I find they have a very diverse offering:
BACHELORS Computer Animation Digital Arts & Design Entertainment Business Film Game Art Game Development Music Business Recording Arts Show Production and Touring Web Design and Development Graphic Design Internet Marketing MASTERS Entertainment Business Entertainment Business: Sports Management Elective Track Internet Marketing Game Design Media Design Education Media Design & Technology
MEIEA is a good place to start, but I know for a fact that some other good programs are not listed here, like New York University's BSc and MBA in Entertainment, Media and Technology or Columbia's MBA in Media that has significant entertainment business focus. I suggest you spend some time researching outside of this list just to be sure that you are exploring all your options. You will know what is right for you when you see it. One thing is for sure though, getting yourself qualified is an investment that could go a long way in ensuring your success in the entertainment business.
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Friday, August 21, 2009

Bolting to the Bank

As Usain Bolt marks another birthday, many track and field fans are celebrating the occasion with him, being very mindful of his establishment of another set of world records. There's really no greater gift he could ask for, is there? How many persons can boast that they earned a gift of two world records? The man is in a class by himself, an extraordinary phenomenon that defies explanation. I couldn't help but think about what this continued success means for him, and his economic well being, not that the latter is under threat.

I have written in the past about the role alliances between entertainment and traditional business can play in contributing to the development of an entertainment economy in Jamaica, and by extension the Caribbean. So I went searching on the Internet to discover how the Bolt phenomenon is being leveraged. The fact is, athlete Usain Bolt has moved from being a mere runner to become a celebrity, known not only for his record breaking achievements but also his likability. The media love him because he provides good entertainment. I can't say I've found out all there is to know, but I'll share some of what I found along with some of my thoughts. I do discuss some legal issues that should not be taken as legal advice. I suggest consulting with an attorney-at-law if there is some idea you want to act on.

Sneaker Freaker Magazine on July 25 had this release:
Olympic sprint star Usain Bolt has just released his Gold Collection online at Puma's e-shop, giving fans and aspiring athletes the chance to rock his golden steez. Capitalizing on his unbeaten record for fastest 100 and 200 metre sprints, Bolt in collaboration with Puma bang out a metallic menagerie of product.

The products they spoke about can be seen here on the Puma e-shop.

So what might all this mean in dollars and cents? Usain Bolt has a standing endorsement arrangement in place with Puma, which includes the grant of a license to use his identity (image and likeness) for the sale and promotion of products.

Licensing serves a number of functions depending on the objectives of each party. It benefits the licensor, or brand owner by, 1) helping to build their brand, 2) helping to protect trademarks, and 3) generating revenue. One the other hand, a licensee, or manufacturer may benefit by using a license arrangement to, 1) grow market share, 2) build competitive advantages, and 3) generate revenue. From the list of benefits we can conclude that it appears to be a win-win situation for both parties.

For a star like Usain Bolt, endorsement contracts along with a licensing provision could be very lucrative ways to supplement his revenue. For instance, it could allow him to take full advantage of his fame by having his image and likeness translated into merchandise that fans buy and want to be associated with. In the case of licensing for consumer products, a typical licensor could expect to earn royalties representing 10% of wholesale sales (5% of retail sales) paid to him usually on a quarterly basis. It is also quite typical of these deals to include an advance payment that is non-refundable and fully recoupable. Of course, all of this is subject to the specifics of the individual contract and the relative celebrity power of the talent. That said, for the sake of my point assume that wherever you see official licensed products the talent's representatives are probably collecting about 5% of the selling price (mind you, all 5% will not end up in the hands of the talent) - let me emphasize that this is not necessarily the structure of Usain Bolt's Puma contract, but rather it is the general expectation of licensing contracts based on the current licensing practices. This is not bad return for just being a star. As far is I could see, there are two official Usain Bolt licensees, Puma of Germany and Sun Island of Jamaica. (I'd be happy to know if there are others). The latter making it very clear that the license they have restrict them to sell only in Jamaica.

This therefore begs the question, who are all these other folk selling Usain Bolt merchandise? A quick peek at reveals a slew of vendors trying to cash in. The point I'll make here is that licensing is not the be-all and end-all of the process, because after the agreements come the policing. Many of those who are trying to hustle the name are in fact in breach of intellectual property laws. Bolt's image and likeness are his, and only he, or his assignees have a right to determine how they are used/exploited.

Typically, licensing deals will be specific on matters having to do with territory (as with Sun Island) in which the licensee can sell the products, the time period, and the product category. Often the initial deal will be 3 years with an option to renew, while the agreement will also speak to the matter of exclusivity (or non-exclusivity) granted to the licensee. There are a number of other elements to consider, but I will explain them at another time. Suffice to say that with these agreements artists and other celebrities can design for themselves a solid source of revenue.

I am not going to suggest that landing some of these arrangements will be a walk in the park, but it can be done. Neither will I suggest that they are for everyone. Recently, I wrote a post about reggae artist Levi Roots and his arrangement with the Subway restaurant chain in the UK. The more recent story is that, "Mighty Crown Celebrates New Sneaker Deal with Explosive World Tour". According to the release the Mighty Crown is the most successful non-Jamaican dancehall sound system worldwide. Here's a quote:

The super sound Mighty Crown has once again collaborated with Nike to release the Dynasty High sneaker. The unique studded sneaker is an elite revamp of Nike’s 1981 original Dynasty High. Blazoned with the Crown logo on the tongue, the sneaker is being released in conjunction with the Anniversary of Mighty Crown’s Yokohama Reggae Festival (SAI) — Japan’s largest Reggae stage show.

This is the third sneaker deal for the Japanese sound system, and they currently have two clothing lines and a dancehall magazine. There is a lesson in here somewhere for the Jamaican originators, so take from it what you will.

It would seem to me that our entertainment economy is not a pipe dream after all, hinged as it is upon Jamaican entertainment (music, arts, sports) and culture (cuisine, language, rastafari). If we can get past the fact that we may not all become mega stars, earning mega bucks, to looking at the ways that we can exploit the niches and through creative arrangements secure for our talent some steady sources of revenue, we may be surprised at what the combined revenues begin to look like. Licensees may not all be able to sign on with a Usain Bolt, but there are lesser-known stars with commercial potential worth considering.

So then, while I think Puma is willing to ride this wave to the bank, thanks to Usain Bolt, I doubt they have the long-term interest of making any significant contribution to the growth of the Jamaican economy, and why should they? The long-term exploitation of this revenue option is really up to Jamaican talent and their management. The question is, are these Jamaicans up to the challenge?

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Writing Jamaican the Jamaican Way

I really appreciate the dialog that has gone on, mostly on Facebook, around the post titled The Reggae Artist as Entrepreneur. I am confident that we can successfully build this business, but it will have to be a collective effort. I think everyone has something to contribute.

Having drawn attention to Reggae Chicken Sub website hosted by Subway UK, I also brought attention to some mis-representations. As I understand it, some disagree with the interpretations given to two of the commonly used Jamaican words. I'm sure that if this were pointed out to Subway UK a correction could be made. Individuals, corporations and even news media make mistakes, that are later corrected. In my humble opinion that is hardly a reason to malign the effort. The fact that the product is there is an achievement, and represents an example to our entertainment sector. The glass is half full.

It doesn't end there though! This gives rise to a related issue, one I think I should bring attention to by showing the connections in a more concrete way, so that more persons understand the relationships, particularly between academia and popular culture, including the entertainment business.

The Jamaica Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI) has for years been trying to bring across the message of respect for the spoken language of the common people, referred to as Patwa, in Jamaica. They have refined a standard writing system, and they have sought the intervention of the relevant government bodies to have the system used in schools. They have met massive resistance. An explanation, among the many they have advanced in favor of the system, is they are of the opinion that teaching in the native language better enables the students to learn their second language, English. Apparently, from experiments conducted with the assistance of the UWI, this has shown itself to be favorable. From information gathered from their website it appears they even went as far as to a Committee of Parliament. It says:
In May, 2001, representations were made to the Joint Select Committee of the Parliament of Jamaica on the draft Charter of Rights (Constitutional Amendment Bill) on the need to include within the charter freedom from discrimination on the grounds of language.

That said, the point I want to make is that if efforts like these are not given legs to stand on, then on what basis can we advance a substantial argument against what interpretations local or foreign institutions or individuals give to our language? Clearly, this becomes a case of what you think a word means versus what I think it means. Increasingly, as brand Jamaica gains prominence and commercial value, primarily through music and sports, what are the standards that apply? The Levi Roots and Subway partnership is but one example of the commercial application of the Jamaican language, there are many more examples on which we can draw. As many different individuals as there are, there will be as many "versions" of the speech being written, and we will forever continue to protest about mis-representation with no credible basis on which to challenge. I'm not saying that this cannot continue as presently obtains, but it is not the most efficient way to do business.

I'm reminded of an example a professor shared. She recalled getting an inquiry from Japan wherein she was being asked to recommend a school in Jamaica that this Japanese could attend to learn Jamaican. There was none she could have recommended. There being no such institution that was income lost for a nation in financial trouble. That could have been a Jamaican teacher employed, more so now in a time when we complain about "can't find work". With there being few serious grammar texts, no CDs or DVDs Rosetta Stone style, that is income lost. I could go on but I hope my point is made. All is not lost though as small steps are being made. Here's a video produced by the Jamaica Language Unit to promote the June 2009 launch of their new publication on writing Jamaican. You can also check in on their very current TV Fi Wi here as well.

There are those who advance an argument that the language cannot accommodate serious discussion. In response, the Unit produced a series of academic discussions in Patwa. Have a look at the video below.

There is also the argument advanced about the language being purely a spoken one. Evidently, with the changing times there is need to write it, and since necessity is the mother of invention, we need to invent and move along. Time will not stop for us friends. I am not equipped to give a lecture on the dynamics of language, the linguists can do that best, but writing a language does not cause it to lose its vibe, its nuances, its color, and its energy. As far as I have learned, for the most part you first write what you speak, and as a result we create ways to express the beauty of the language in writing, I suspect that is what the better poets (dub poets), and writers (novelists, songwriters) do.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

You Don't Need a Hit to Survive

One thing always leads to another, and in true form, Scott Kirsner's recent list of The Four Kinds of Fans led me to the Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans article. I'll get to Kelly's article after I give you Kirsner's list.

The relevance of this lies in the question Kirsner asks, how do you get your fans to do something? The truth is, getting a response is a major preoccupation of ours in the entertainment and culture business, since if our targets don't respond to what we do we would be advised to do something else. In light of this, his rationale for categorizing the kinds of fans make good sense. The four kinds of fans as he sees them are:

1. The Impulse Fan. The impulse fan sees a video you've made, or hears about your band from their roommate, and signs up to follow you on Twitter or joins your Facebook group.

2. The Prospective / Occasional Fan. The prospective fan is someone who can be lured out to a show or screening, or convinced to buy a new CD/DVD, but with some effort.

3. The True Fan. Kevin Kelly defined the True Fan as "someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce."

4. The Super Fan. The Super Fan is a True Fan who is willing to help you out in some way.

Kirsner has a discussion about this going on his blog. He also details the characteristics of each there. Click here to read it. It can't hurt to learn more about building that relationship with your different kinds of fans.

That said, according to the blogger Kevin Kelly all you need is 1,000 True Fans. In his blog he says:

You don't need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.

Young artists starting out in this digitally mediated world have another path other than stardom, a path made possible by the very technology that creates the long tail. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum hits, bestseller blockbusters, and celebrity status, they can aim for direct connection with 1,000 True Fans. It's a much saner destination to hope for. You make a living instead of a fortune. You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.

There are possible negatives though, since this suggestion is calculated based on you being a solo artist. It varies also based on the kind of creative work you do, singing, writing, graphic work, etc. The medium will also determine if this successful, that is, if you are a musician, a painter, or a film-maker. No doubt, your location and the spending power of your fans will also impact the final numbers. Click here to read his full post.

The blog goes on to talk about Fundable as a useful way for creatives to fund their projects. This source may not be available to all who might read this, but the principle is that the fans help to pay for the production of the work by making contributions. This in some ways translates to pledging as we often do for a range of social projects, but in this case, its pledging to a creative project. Its worth considering in my opinion. He wraps up his post saying, "the usual alternative to making a living based on True Fans is poverty." Could this be for real? You bet!

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Monday, August 3, 2009

The Reggae Artist as Entrepreneur

Reggae singer Levi Roots has been on a roll, and "putting music in your food" in the process. Since 2007 he has become known as the singing chef and noted entrepreneur. His more recent, July 2009, success seems to be his Reggae Reggae Chicken Breast Sub offered by the Subway chain in the UK. Click here to view the site. The site is complete with the nutritional low down on the product, a Levi Subway song, and a guide to speaking Jamaican. The last two are offered as free downloads. Check out the TV ad for the sandwich below.

Levi Roots has an interesting website, I like the promotional video on the site. He is evidently a very busy entrepreneur who finds the time to create new music, promote his sauce, promote his Reggae Reggae Cookbook, speak to students, and do some TV cook show gigs. Click on the highlight here to watch his "How to prepare jerk chicken" video. Based on the info on his website, Subway is not the only restaurant where this artist has his product on the menu. He does have his sauce associated with a fish burger at Hungry Horse in the UK. Here's a video of Levi Roots cooking on the BBC Good Food Show to promote his recipes as featured in his Reggae Reggae Cookbook.

Levi Roots' success has not come easy as he testified. He did much on his own, but things took off after he received £25,000 from two investors who took a 20% stake in his business. This apparently wasn't a bad deal, one of the investors made one phone call and got his products into the Sainsbury's retail chain. There's been no looking back since. Here's a video of Levi Roots talking about what it takes to be an entrepreneur, the video is part of the Inspiring Entrepreneurs series in the UK. Take note of his thoughts on Caribbean food at the end.
(USP = unique selling point)

I remain a champion of the idea that we need to introduce more Jamaicans to the possibilities of cultural enterprise. I led the design of the BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI) so that we could address this. However, the buy-in at the top has been very very slow in coming. Part of the challenge comes from what economics professor Vanus James identified as the paradox of entrepreneurship in the Caribbean. He wrote, "entrepreneurs with substantial capital are usually not drawn to invest in key creative activities of the copyright sector, such as music; those entrepreneurs who are drawn typically have only small amounts of capital." I'm pretty confident that Levi Roots would never have attracted that £25,000 investment from the Caribbean. This is a sad reality, because there are many many more business opportunities I see coming out of Jamaican music and culture by leveraging the range of our intellectual property in a variety of ways.

For starters, creatives will need to take themselves more seriously and think big, but equally, the folks in the Caribbean with capital need to seriously work on their biases. I think Levi Roots is an entrepreneur that we should invite to impart some of what he learned along the way if we want to take what we do to a higher level.

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