by Lucy Wyndham
Back in 2007, all the talk was of how Connecticut was to become the new Hollywood East, creating tax breaks, building up a trained crew base and hoping that the number of actors and directors already living in the state would attract the likes of Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes.
Ten years on, things have panned out a little differently to the way that many had dreamed. The big budget movie producers might not have adopted Connecticut as their own, but the state nevertheless has a strong digital media industry that is growing, not on the big screen but on the smallest of all.
Niche is the new mainstream
Some directors might be disappointed at the direction the industry has taken and the shift in focus. But while cable TV and online media such as YouTube and Twitch TV might not be as glamorous, every piece of market research from survey sites says that this is where the smart investment dollars should be spent in the 21st century.
The big screen is by no means dead, but it is also not the entertainment powerhouse that it once was. The digital revolution, and the rise of mobile and smartphone technology in particular, mean that today’s consumers want bespoke entertainment that can be accessed when and where they choose. In other words, niche is rapidly becoming the new mainstream, and the Connecticut digital industry is in the right place at the right time.
From wrestling to animation
Lobbyist James Amann represents almost a thousand small filmmakers. He was the speaker of the House of Representatives when the push to grow Connecticut’s film and media industry got underway in 2007, and he looks back on the past ten years with mixed feelings. He applauds the progress made in building a digital industry, but feels the movie side was “mothballed” and represents a missed opportunity.
However, Catherine Smith, the Commissioner of the State Department of Economic and Community Development pointed to the breadth of development seen in the state, citing everything from World Wrestling bouts to recordings of the Jerry Springer Show to the popular animated productions coming out of Blue Sky Studios, all of which are created in Connecticut.
A world of opportunity
Since the inception of the tax incentive program in July 2006, qualified companies have earned $604 million in tax credits which leveraged the expenditure of over $2.1 billion in Connecticut’s economy encouraging the relocation of major networks, digital media companies and production operations. These in turn have led to the creation of close to two thousand jobs, including the following:
- NBCUniversal relocated talk shows including Jerry Springer (200 jobs)
- NBC Sports HQ consolidation and relocation (600 jobs)
- 20th Century Fox Blue Sky Studios relocated (500 jobs)
- ESPN Digital Media Center-2 (200 jobs)
On top of these success stories, there has also been the relocation of Emmy Award winning home makeover series This Old House Stamford and numerous ot
her expansions including Tantor Audiobooks and XVIVO, the scientific digital animation company.
To prepare constituents for the job opportunities created by these successful incentives, the Connecticut Office of Film Television & Digital Media has partnered with UConn School of Digital Media Design to establish the Digital Media CT program. This develops training, programming and events specifically to encourage participation and employment in this ever-expanding industry.
The sectors that Connecticut’s digital industry are focused on are areas that seem set to go from strength to strength. It could be less a question of whether Connecticut will become East Hollywood as whether Hollywood will be seeking to become West Connecticut in the years to come.
Lucy Wyndham is a professional freelance writer with many years of experience across a variety of sectors. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, she enjoys reading, hiking and spending time with her husband and two children.