Talent: the Changing Landscape
3rd June 2021
Like everyone, television personalities and other media talent have seen their lives rocked by the world pandemic. They are of course the lifeblood of the television and wider media world but in an ever-evolving media landscape, with changing viewing habits, and new technologies, talent and their representatives have long-since had to be nimble and adventurous in how they seek work. The pandemic has of course exacerbated the situation. We spoke with three top talent representatives to get their views on how things have changed over the past few years with regard to where talent earnings are coming from. Which areas have grown, which have declined, and which areas will grow in the next few years?
Louise Dyson MBE
CEO & Founder
LD: In 1994, the idea of disabled artists in mainstream productions was considered novel and outrageously optimistic. My objective of changing the mindset of the sector required unpaid slog. Fast forward to 2020, there was a great start, with VisABLE artists confirmed for well-paid contracts stretching out across the year: series, commercials, lengthy runs for prestigious theatres. But then every job was cancelled overnight, half a year of nil business, just a lot of casting requests with vague timescales. In autumn, bookings slowly revived. Commercials, then modelling shoots, Hollywood features, and the BBC eventually resumed casting old favourites. Theatre was more tricky; some embraced Zoom, with modest offerings. By February of this year, we emerged from the industry-wide devastation, with work now literally busier than ever and substantial contracts stretching ahead throughout 2021. Thankfully, talent pay is not reduced and we negotiate good buyouts. Covid costs decimate production budgets but stringent protocols have been key to reviving the industry. Happily, streaming services benefiting from our new stay-at-home lives pay fairly when commissioning new series. Luckily, diversity is now the biggest growth area across the sectors (about time!) but VisABLE did the heavy-lifting, placing us in the strongest position to service the demand we worked hard to create, with phenomenal potential.
JC: This year has most definitely been a time of flux, but it’s also given us the opportunity to review our priorities as an agency and reassess what matters most to our clients. When I first set up Wolfsong, TV and publishing were the primary focus, given my own background working within those industries. These remain key ingredients, but we ultimately strive to help the creatives we work with to share their expertise and experiences across as many different platforms as possible. Branded content and social media campaigns have become a significant part of our output, whilst the number of public speaking enquiries has also increased dramatically, although those have taken an inevitable temporary hit during the pandemic. We tend to represent our clients across their whole portfolio, as this allows both us and them to take an holistic approach to their careers. Many have been with Wolfsong since the early days, so there’s a real feeling that we’re in this together.
LL: Over the last few years we have definitely seen a change in how talent earns their income. Halls & Halls are proud to work with a wide array of talent that range from professional sports people, actors, to music artists, presenters and other high profile individuals, all of whom have a trade, skill or art. Now with the influx of influencers and reality stars, our talent have to make sure they are on socials and posting genuine content. It simply isn't enough for them to do "their day job" and not be in touch with their fans and followers. Before, as their representatives, we used to be very protective of their private lives and go to great lengths to not let people know where they were eating, drinking, and shopping; now it is a must for their fans to know their personal lives and views, and for that they are now rewarded handsomely. Production companies and talent bookers are now booking people who have traction on social media. You might not even know their faces or what they do but when they post about the show they are on the ratings go sky high, hence the fees they command. Brands now are working with celebrities on collaborations as opposed to endorsing their own products and I think that this will be the big trend moving forward. Certainly in my experience it is not enough for a celebrity or sports person just to be at the top of their game if they are not engaging with their fans. Brands need eyeballs! Over the next few years I think it will continue to be very much about talent creating their own content or platform and hopefully raising awareness and responsibility through that. If everyone took a leaf out of Marcus Rashford's book the world would be a better place...