Ahead of the Trends: The Meteoric Rise of the Freelancer in the Media Industry

Olivia Broadley

Industry Trends

Sohonet CEO Chuck Parker Looks at how Freelance Creatives Transform the Workflow   The rising prominence of the freelancer in the media and entertainment industry has been astonishing. Freelancers have always been part of the on-set production in the film/TV industry and have been a part of editorial and post in advertising for years, but their presence is beginning to dominate the landscape across the industry. Currently, there are an estimated 800,000 professional video freelancers in North America and Europe. According to Forbes, freelancers made up 35 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, and it grew to 56.7-million people in 2018. Based on a survey by Edelman Intelligence, the numbers are expected to pass 50 percent by 2027.   Within the M&E industry, the trend has a couple of sources. Clearly layoffs, due to mergers, downsizing, and other pressures force some talented professionals down this route. Most recently, Disney and Fox Film Groups announced several rounds of layoffs that impacted hundreds of workers; some of those professionals will migrate to the freelance or consulting world. Lately, however, opening a small post house or visual effects business has never been easier. Putting compute and storage in a cloud service with a pay-as-you-go model provides a direct path to create a virtualized facility with little upfront cash costs–and with freelance staff that converges for a project and moves on when the job is done.  This is a highly attractive business model for many of the smaller post and VFX houses in the industry and meets the needs of the rapidly expanding episodic production slate.   That’s had a big impact on how films are being made. Five years ago, a tentpole movie would rely on a few large VFX facilities with 300 to 400 employees that might expand to 600 with freelancers during the feature. Now, a producer can bring in a visual effects supervisor and together they come up with a plan, find and lease office space, and bring in the people they want to work with. It’s not just the production crew hiring freelancers anymore–even established post and VFX facilities use freelance labor as a more significant part of their workforce.  The challenge facing larger VFX and post houses is keeping an inventory of talented freelancers integrated into their wider talent management process alongside their long term employees in the same manner top-tiered colorists and editors are managed today.   The shift towards freelancing also intersects with demographics. The vast majority of millennials prefer freelancing, finding it suits their lifestyle and is a worthy trade-off for long-term security. USA Today found that 57 percent of Americans and 75 percent of millennials say they’d prefer to freelance. In fact, about 25 percent of them said they intended to leave their full-time jobs to start doing just that in the next five years.   Simultaneously, remote collaboration tools have been booming. Grand View Research states that, overall, the team collaboration software market was valued at $8.19 billion in 2017. In the film/TV sector, an estimated $1.5 billion has been invested in these tools; Goldman Sachs and SoftBank invested $8 billion into WeWork, which was valued at $47 billion earlier this year and has hundreds of locations in major media cities around the world. There has also been growth in media-focused co-working spaces like Soho Works and Spring Studios, both of which offer a hyper-media-focused co-working experience the serve unique, data-intensive needs of media professionals.   Post houses and VFX facilities that employ creative professionals are faced with the challenges of adapting to these forces. Just as Hollywood had to transition from a studio-based system of making movies to working with outside production companies, history shows that while there might be some growing pains, our industry will be able to adapt to the new environment needed to thrive in the coming years.    All indications are that the industry will continue to rely on freelance talent. It’s attractive for the workforce and the companies who need their talent. Building a workforce of the best talent working efficiently is the goal for every business. As demand for talent grows in the media and entertainment industry, it will be imperative to attract the best talent by understanding the motivations of the workforce and then backing them with great collaborative tools that empower them regardless of their physical location while they add their magic to your creative masterpiece.

Check out Sohonet’s eBook on “The Top 8 M&E Content Production Trends you should be prepared for in 2020”

Olivia Broadley