Interview: Philanthropy & Entertainment

Money, or lack thereof, is a major concern in the world of philanthropy. The funding process is a challenging and exhausting experience, even soul-crushing. Securing financial support for a charity or development project can decide about life and death. Even if you successfully accomplish the task and gather enough money, another urgent cause will emerge soon after. It is a never-ending battle. The budget and good will of generous donors have a limit, though.

I pitched the idea that the philanthropic sector should adapt to the ways of the entertainment industry by producing and selling movies, video games and books. They are huge moneymakers. Money that could be used to finance development programmes.

I have asked several organisations for their opinion on this matter. Three of them were kind enough to answer my questions:

 

ReadingSaves: What is your opinion about the partnership between the entertainment industry and your organization?

Mang: Partnerships with the entertainment industry have helped to raise awareness as well as funds for UNICEF. Fame has some clear benefits in certain roles with UNICEF. Celebrities attract attention, so they are in a position to focus the world’s eyes on the needs of children, both in their own countries and by visiting field projects and emergency programs abroad. They can make direct representations to those with the power to effect change. They can use their talents and fame to fundraise and advocate for children and support UNICEF’s mission to ensure every child’s right to health, education, equality and protection.

Marecek: Cooperation with celebrities can definitely raise awareness for certain causes. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and many other organisations carry out campaigns with celebrities.

Carretero: At Greenpeace, we have a strong history of working with Key Influencers and have seen time and time again the positive impact they have had on our campaigns and projects. They have helped us to access new channels and platforms, reach new audiences, and have given us the opportunity to test and try a range of innovative projects that otherwise might not be possible.

Key Influencers also strengthen the people-powered campaigning that we do. Their support can have a significant impact on mobilization (for example, boosting petition signatures), which can have a considerable effect on our campaign outcomes. They also help to increase public awareness, typically through attracting major media attention to a campaign or action. Celebrities and influencers can also have major impacts on our fundraising, particularly through making appeals to our supporter bases or even through contributing personally. They can be wonderful incentives for our supporters to purchase tickets to our events, and can introduce us to influential networks of their own, which can help us both programmatically and financially.

Key influencers also help us to influence big decision-making bodies – whether that be world leaders, governments, CEO’s of companies, etc. They can make groups like Greenpeace more relevant, and help to validate the work that we do. They also share our stories and act as a familiar voice that helps to build trust and bring in a range of new audiences. We are incredibly grateful for the influencers we work with and the multitude of others who are supporting charities, as they are using their platform to create real change at a time when it is needed most. They have a very unique ability to really engage people in a deep and meaningful way, and we are so appreciative for what they do.

 

ReadingSaves: Do you think selling entertainment products (books, movies, video games) could help your cause?

Mang: Examples for current partnerships with the entertainment industry: Disney Partnership (Link) and Paddington Movie (Link).

Marecek: The Red Cross is open to cooperate with many industry sectors. Of course partnerships between the entertainment sector and humanitarians have the possible potential to be fruitful. The core competence of humanitarians is to deliver aid to those in need. I think that should be the contribution of the humanitarian sector – also in cooperations with the entertainment industry.

Carretero: While selling products such as video games, movies, toys, etc. can be a great business model for some groups, Greenpeace typically avoids mass production of products, as we believe that there is already enough ’stuff‘ being produced in the world today. We try to incorporate Key Influencers into our story, into our campaigns, and into the every day work we are doing to protect the planet. We have typically avoided selling items or manufacturing products to further engage with influencers or the entertainment industry, but understand that it may work for other organizations.

Christoph Topitschnig

 

Why the United Nations should create an Entertainment Empire

The United Nations needs to have its own entertainment enterprise to sustain its future operations.

The Digital Age has changed the way we produce and consume entertainment products. Everything has become faster, cheaper and more global. New digital technologies give companies and individuals the opportunity to develop, publish and distribute their creative goods to a global audience. The rise of online companies like Amazon and Netflix is a clear sign for a changing media landscape.

Which leads to the question: Why are organizations like the United Nations not seizing this opportunity to become a major player in the entertainment industry?

Movies, video games and novels should be produced and published by the UN. The net proceeds raised by the sales of these products will be used to finance the UN Development Programmes (UNDP), or programmes of other UN departments like the WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP,

Here are 5 reasons why the UN should seriously consider this proposal:

1. Entertainment is a lucrative business

The UN is frequently underfunded. Shortfalls and budget cuts for aid programmes or relief missions have become the norm. Meanwhile Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry report record earnings. The Disney Company has earned $55.1 billion in total for the fiscal year of 2017. The studio’s entertainment segment made over $8 billion, thanks to Marvel’s superhero universe and the Star Wars galaxy.

Rumours about a possible sale of MGM and Sony Entertainment persist. Even Warner Bros. Studios might be up for grabs, if the AT&T merger fails. The United Nations could buy at least one of them. Just imagine, James Bond, Superman and Batman fighting together under the banner of the UN!

But movies are not the only way to make big money in the entertainment industry. Net revenue for the video game giant Electronic Arts has been over $4 billion for the last couple of years. Author Earnings reports $1.3 billion in E-book sales for the last three quarters of 2017 (US only).

These numbers suggest a profitable market with potential for expansion. In the beginning, the UN would need some serious commitment to establish itself on the global market, but the gain and the benefits could easily outweigh the risks.

2. It’s (relatively) cheap

If movies and TV shows are considered to be too expensive to start with, then the UN should sell books. They can be produced and published budget friendly in electronic form. Selling E-Books online would cut the distribution costs dramatically. Additionally, many well-known books are in the public domain, therefore freely available with no license fee or any other copyright issues attached. The UN would be able to publish stories written by Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells and many more.

Even the development of video games has become affordable, thanks to the mobile phone and tablet market. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter are popular places to find supporters. While the UN is already using the website for its aid programmes, a different approach could turn out to be more successful in the long term.

Take for example the video game Star Citizen. Star Citizen is a space simulator that raised over $182 million; meanwhile an UN refugee campaign has reached $1.7 million. People would rather spend their money on the development of a video game than a charity project. Crowdfunding should be used for the production of entertainment commodities. The net proceeds from the sales of these products will be transferred to UN programmes.

3. Increasing awareness and social relevance

Brand recognition is not necessarily something the United Nations has a problem with. Celebrities like Emma Watson are already supporting UN campaigns and social causes. But entertainment products could help the organization to broaden its audience and reach people who normally wouldn’t bother with the UN and its mission.

4. The entertainment industry is recession-proof

Depressions or recessions take a toll on the economy. Many businesses are struggling to survive during such troubling times. There are few markets that are not only resilient to a downturn but actually gain from it. The entertainment sector is one of them.

Why?

Because the entertainment industry offers people a distraction and an escape from the cold, harsh world and all its tribulations. Hollywood knows how to sell dreams and illusions to the masses and so should the UN.

5. Achieving Financial Independence

The UN depends on the goodwill of its member states with their flaky leaders and unstable economy. An entertainment enterprise would not only decrease the UN’s vulnerability to unforeseen budget cuts but also secure funding for future peacekeeping efforts. The ultimate goal would be a self-sufficient and financially independent United Nations.

Conclusion:

The United Nations should act decisively and not miss the opportunity to establish an entertainment enterprise. Other NGOs like Greenpeace, Red Cross, WWF or PETA could follow its lead.

People are more likely to spend money on entertainment products than on charity. That certainly doesn’t speak for humanity, but instead of ignoring this fact, we should use it to our advantage. Why should Hollywood be the only one making profit by selling dreams and fantasies to people all around the world? The philanthropic industry should claim a piece of the pie. It’s time to give the money to those who would invest it for a better and more humane future.

A final word of warning: If the UN decides to enter the entertainment world, avoiding preachy content would be recommended. Building schools in Africa or providing food supplies to war torn areas are certainly important and admirable tasks, but people don’t pay money to watch that in a movie theatre. The audience wants to be entertained, not lectured.

by Christoph Topitschnig, BA

 

About the Author:

  • Studied Film & Media at the University of Vienna.
  • Created the “Austria Alliance”, a short-lived political party.
  • Founder of the “Reading saves Lives” – Initiative.
  • Author of “Endgame – The Tragedy of Kings and Pawns” (eBook, 2018).
  • Contact: topitschnig [AT] lesenrettet [DOT] com