The Value of an MBA in the Entertainment Industry

Published: Mar 10, 2009

 Job Search       
by Gabrielle Dudnyk

I thought that succeeding in entertainment was based on the apprentice system, whereby you get in early, work as an assistant to several different people while building your skill sets and then moving up within the organization from there. I didn't think that entertainment companies valued the MBA degree. Is this true?

Gabrielle: In fact, there is plenty of opportunity for MBAs in the entertainment industry and this opportunity is growing every day. Sure, you could always put your MBA to work in the entertainment industry by working in the finance department. But now it is becoming easier for us to find the jobs we want in other departments where creativity is a job requirement. In the finance department, creativity is usually not a good thing. Discounting cash flows and determining return on invested capital is serious business and being "creative" here could land you in hot water. In other functional areas like Business Development and Strategic Planning and Marketing, companies are now more willing to pay a premium for applicants with an advanced degree and in some cases, proactively seek them out.

There are several reasons for this. First, the industry is consolidating tremendously. In the cable industry, for example, there used to be thousands of small, regional cable operators that could best be described as "mom-and-pop" businesses. Now, much of the country's cable systems are owned by MSOs, multi-system operators, like Time Warner, Adelphia Cable, Cox Communications, and AT&T. These companies, by virtue of their size, operate differently than small businesses and can change the nature of the industry. There can be more bureaucracy, more legal consideration and more money to spend on promotional activities and acquisitions. Instead of just operating regionally, many MSOs are thinking nationally and are swapping systems and reconfiguring their operations. These activities tend to demand a more rigorous business analysis than day-to-day operational activities do.

Secondly, media and entertainment conglomerates are consolidating in order to vertically integrate and therefore gain control of more areas of their business. Viacom's recent acquisition of CBS is a perfect example of this. CBS's ownership of television stations and the Infinity radio property complements Viacom's content production businesses such as VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Showtime. AT&T acquired MediaOne's cable and content business because it wanted access to the cable infrastructure that covered the coveted 'last mile' to the consumer's homes. So while content production is still a differentiating factor of many entertainment companies, it is now more often a part of the whole rather than the whole itself.

Finally, many of these conglomerates are public companies. Viacom, Time Warner, Seagram Company Ltd. (parent company of Universal), and of course, Disney, are all examples of companies whose shares are publicly traded. Being a public company requires a different set of performance measures that are often in conflict with the more subjective business of entertainment production. MBAs, however, often speak the language of Wall Street and can help the entertainment organization understand and meet the performance objectives that the Street demands.

Because the entertainment industry is consolidating, vertically integrating and going public more often, companies who wish to be competitive are trying to manage their costs better, become more strategically focused and pay more attention to the bottom line. This might not be such a challenge in any other industry, but in entertainment, where the definition of a successful product is in many ways a subjective thing, it can be a daunting task. While the creative product, the television shows, the films, the best-selling records, continue to be the reason the industry exists, it now exists within a framework that is driven more by the bottom line than ever before.

So what does this mean to an MBA looking for a job in entertainment? Well, for one thing, companies are now more in need of the skill sets that MBAs possess. Secondly, MBAs themselves are being more proactive about finding their dream job in entertainment and the network of MBAs is growing. It still isn't easy and the job search requires persistence, confidence, and no small bit of good luck. As long as entertainment is thought of as a sexy, glamorous industry, jobs will be competitive at every level. But with the face of the industry changing and more studios, networks and cable companies owned by large corporations who answer to Wall Street, the need for people who speak the language of business will continue to grow.