|Australian Journal of Educational Technology
1995, 11(2), 52-74.
The Australian multimedia industry needs to pay closer attention to original market-driven content development if it is to survive an increasingly competitive global marketplace. This paper provides a schema for future developments in multimedia and reports some results of an investigation of multimedia content developers in terms of size, composition, information flows, types of activities undertaken, technological orientation and project focus. The aims of the study were to provide a "snapshot" of the industry at the current time, to serve as a benchmark for future research, and map current industry activities against predicted trends in multimedia. The results have implications for government programs supporting new multimedia ventures, and for present policy and strategy mechanisms employed by multimedia producers.
Since 1983 the Australian software industry has greatly benefited from taxation concessions and government grants directed at high technology enterprises, the "sunrise" industries touted by Barry Jones during that year's election campaign. Interactive multimedia is currently enjoying the same level of popularity, interest and support from both the private and public sectors, with little apparent understanding of the industry's composition or likely future. The Broadband Services Expert Group's final report Networking Australia's Future; the Australian Science and Technology Council's report on Australia's Research Networks, The Networked Nation; the Employment and Skills Formation Council's discussion paper on converging communications and computer technologies, and the former Prime Minister's cultural statement Creative Nation illustrate but a few of the recent investigations that earmark multimedia as a strategic concern for Australia in coming years.
While noting the desirable benefits from a prosperous multimedia industry, and using the usual mix of cultural and economic arguments to sustain claims of catching the global "content wave", policy has failed adequately to address the same problems that plagued software development generally in 1983, and which will ultimately affect multimedia development in years to come. It is original, market-driven content that will establish Australia as a centre for excellence in interactive multimedia and industry policy should be directed towards this aim. An understanding of multimedia markets, the current state of Australian multimedia producers, and the likely direction of content production are important considerations for the future of the industry.
The Commerce in Content report estimated that the Australian content industries are currently valued at $8.4 billion, while the domestic interactive multimedia market may be valued at $500 million per annum. To gain an appreciation of the size of the Australian market, it is worth considering the number of multimedia publishers in Australia, as accurate statistics on the number of titles produced are difficult to obtain. In 1994 Australia had 29 CD ROM publishers, representing approximately 2 per cent of the world market. The entire Asia/Pacific sector (where Japan dominates) represented 7.4 per cent, North America 46 per cent, and Europe 46.3 per cent. The success of a mass-market title is dependent on its acceptance by the North American market where a best seller will ship 500,000 units compared to 20,000 in Australia. Not surprisingly 45 per cent of multimedia developers are in North America, and only 9 per cent in Australasia.
The economic arguments for Australian multimedia content development are further strengthened by the remarkable growth in the multimedia appliance industry, including CD ROM drives, and multimedia-capable desktop computers. US research firm Market Vision estimates that the multimedia appliance industry is anticipated to grow from $250 million in 1992 to $15 billion by 1997. Microsoft's Bill Gates anticipates the world CD ROM .market to double annually for the next three years. Indeed Australian CD ROM pressings grew from 40,000 in 1992 to 250,000 in 1993, with an expected target of 1,000,000 reached in 1994, providing further support for the strong economic bias to support an indigenous multimedia industry. These sentiments were reflected in the former Prime Minister's launch of Creative Nation:
We can, for instance, if we move rapidly, gain a significant share of the CD ROM market. In the longer term, though not very much longer, we can create a dynamic multimedia industry in Australia.
What is distinctively Australian about our culture is under assault from homogenised international mass culture .... The revolution in information technology and the wave of global mass culture potentially threatens that which is distinctly our own. In doing so it threatens our identity and the opportunities this and future generations will have for intellectual and artistic growth and self expression.These words have led to not only an economic imperative, but a cultural necessity for an Australian multimedia industry. Moves for the establishment of the Australian Multimedia Enterprise (AME), funding of the Australia on CD program, and $252 million in multimedia arts initiatives under the Creative Nation program were justified under the auspices of cultural dynamism.
Broadly speaking there are three main waves of content production which will be developed over the next two decades: CD ROM, followed by online PC services, then broadband interactive services. Understanding the success of CD ROM over this period provides the key to understanding the development of the other two waves of content production. A conceptual schema has been developed to map the development of multimedia markets in Figure I.
In phase one technology drives the market; hardware installations, purchases of multimedia capable machines, and peripheral devices such as CD ROM drives are responsible for the rapid growth of multimedia. Necessarily there is a time lag between the development, purchase and utilisation of the new technology before content producers are best able to use the unique features that multimedia has to offer, and adapt to the limitations of CD ROM (primarily speed and storage capacity) where the market reaches phase two. As CD ROM drives reach a critical installed base and developers became familiar with the technology, content is the critical determinant for the success of new titles, primarily through "repurposing" existing content and "republishing" on CD ROM (phase three). The final phase involves excellence in content, as new market driven content "pushes the envelope" of the medium, employing innovative techniques, new forms of immersiveness and interactivity and significant features that differentiate the product from existing offerings. Titles are platform independent, able to deployed using a variety of mediums and network technologies, and consumer demand drives the direction of the market.
The justification for adopting this particular framework in analysing multimedia markets stems from the observation that the market for interactive multimedia products is still in its infancy. Dataquest, a leading research firm in the field, compares multimedia to televisions and VCRs. Both technologies took approximately ten years for developers to take advantage of the hardware and for manufacturers to simultaneously improve quality and reduce prices to obtain a critical mass market.
Figure I Conceptual schema of multimedia markets
According to data recently released by the Software Publisher's Association for the first quarter of 1994, sales of software on compact discs rose from $29.1 million in the first quarter of 1993 to $135.8 million in the first quarter of 1994, a 366% increase. Dataquest says there will be 23.6 million CD ROM drives in place by the end of 1994. By 1996, Dataquest predicts 36.6% of desktop PCs will include CD ROM drives, while the current installed base for CD ROMs is only 20 per cent. Will this installed technology base reach the critical point required for mass market title development? Some observers indicate that this will have been reached in early 1995, with a mature 10 million player market allowing specialist and niche market publications to become viable.
There were 9,500 CD ROM titles on the international market in late 1994, a minimum of 250 titles are released worldwide each month, and a typical US retailer carries only 30-50 titles. The Washington-based Software Publishers Association's CD Software Sales Report notes total CD ROM disc sales were $139.6 million, up 421 per cent from the second quarter of 1993. The consumer market is currently attracting the most attention, with the Association noting that three of these categories totaled $102 million for the first quarter of 1994 , followed by a 392 per cent rise in video games alone to US$23.86 million in the second quarter of 1994. Analysts in the computer storage industry believe that 75 percent of CD ROM drives will be sold to home users, signalling further growth for the consumer market, adding further support to the influence of consumer interests as a key driver for the industry.
Within the multimedia community, these sentiments are reflected in the actions of key content developers, Microsoft included, that are leveraging their presence in this sector. Sony America believe that the 10 million or so installed base of CD ROM drives make the market closer to the consumer TV industry, providing an economic base in which people can try new ideas, possibly supplying a solid entertainment platform for the future. Microsoft, spurred by the success of the 50 or so consumer titles released under its "Home" Banner, and its expectation that the average consumer will buy 5 or more multimedia titles a year, has doubled its consumer division from 700 to 1400 people during fiscal 1995. Other industry leaders, including Compton's New Media, are also looking toward the consumer, stressing that quality and content are key to success in this market.
What will this next phase look like? Above all it will involve innovative, consumer-driven uses of the technology that take advantage of the interactive nature of the new technology and satisfy consumer needs for information, education, and entertainment. Already we can see this trend emerging with a shakeout of title developers imminent. Charlotte Guyman, general manager of lifestyle products at Microsoft, says that her division follows a three-part formula in order to ensure the commercial success of titles: paying close attention to quality, ensuring the compelling nature of a title, and taking advantage of the new ways of exploring information offered by the multimedia format to provide a unique experience. Australia's most recent study of international trends in investment and strategic alliances focused on multimedia content, Excellence in Content, reported that the best chance of international success involves leveraging excellence in four areas: compelling nature, instructional design, interface design, and quality control.
Concerns about the rapid development of titles extend far beyond "repurposed" content however. Some analysts believe that many entertainment titles are too expensive, do not run correctly, are poorly designed, or feature content of little interest to most people. Others have discovered that programming bugs, incompatibility problems, speed, memory troubles, deceptive packaging and unresponsive vendors top this list of complaints. Yet more claim that poor installation, interface and navigation difficulties and inferior interaction and discovery paths do little to interest users. Such claims add up to a title bearing the tag "shovelware": poorly designed software pieced together from pre-existing content.
The definitive content market for multimedia material is the knowledge producing institutions of the world - traditional colleges or universities. A testament to the lack of quality in current offerings stems from a recent survey by the Association of American Publishers of Faculty and Students' Opinions of the Value and Use of Textbooks. While 34 per cent of college students own a multimedia capable computer, only a quarter of professors in the survey agreed with the statement "computer-based multimedia instruction promises to be a better means for delivering course content." Lending further support to the poor quality of multimedia content today, more than 70 per cent of the institutions surveyed in the 1994 CAUSE Institution Database Survey responded that less that 10 per cent of professors were using multimedia software in the classroom.
Clearly the key to success in the next phase of multimedia production lies not in leveraging the technology, distribution channels, or the ultimate form of the product, but using original content to add value to a company's multimedia offerings, regardless of its format. More importantly multimedia producers should be seeking to leverage this original content regardless of its format, as new digital mediums such as online services, broadband interactive, and digital television take hold, replacing the use of CD ROM as the primary delivery platform.
|End Product/Service Focus||No. of firms||% of firms|
|Interactive multimedia training and education
Commercial CD ROM titles
Customised client or cross platform solutions
Niche market titles
Multimedia front ends
On-line documentation/help systems/manuals
Republishing/re-packaging for the local market
The activity specialisations of firms appears to correlate with the industry specialisations of respondents as set out in Table II. This table indicates that the education and government sectors dominate the focus of Australian organisations in the sample; consumer products such as entertainment systems, home reference titles and games represent approximately 40 per cent reflecting the lower activity focus in commercial and niche CD ROM titles at approximately the same level. At the other end of the spectrum, Table I demonstrates that less than 6 per cent of firms are concentrating on adapting overseas content for the local market, with a bias towards customised client solutions (35 per cent), furthering limiting the potential for the creation of mass market titles appropriate for overseas audiences.
|Industry Specialisation||No. of firms||% of firms|
Consumer Products (Durable Goods/Entertainment Systems)
Publishing (Broadcast/Print/or Electronic)
Professional Services (non-computer Consulting)
Wholesale or Retail Distribution (non-computer)
Industrial Manufacturing (Heavy Equipment/Machine Tools)
Materials Processing (Chemical Agriculture/Construction)
Scientific or Technical Instruments Manufacturing
The Multimedia Content Activity Specialisations of respondents are set out in Table III. The majority of firms (>75 per cent) concentrated on design and development aspects of projects, with a lesser emphasis on Management Consultancy and Post-production services (33 and 22 per cent respectively), a task generally outsourced to contractors and consultants. Several firms cited business development as an important aspect of project planning and design, possibly reflecting the poor relationship between project initiation and profitability as set out in the histogram of one year cumulative multimedia project life cycle in Figure II.
|Activity Specialisation||No. of firms||% of firms|
|Project planning and design
Writing, scripting and title development
Authoring / Programming
Instructional / Interface design
Graphics / visual design / animation
Video, audio and other media services
Organisations identified 321 multimedia project conducted in the past calendar year that went through the process of concept design and testing. Only 60 per cent of these (193) projects reached the phase of commercialisation, a period where the project is presented to a client (in the case of customised implementation) or brought to the market (in the case of commercial or niche market titles). Given the high rate of customised solutions performed for contract work versus the number of commercial titles outlined in Table I involving significant risk undertakings in bringing a title to market, it is postulated that the majority of commercial titles fail the test of business planning and are subsequently abandoned. Of those projects that proceed beyond commercialisation, only 35 per cent of the original entrants (111 projects) broke even within the past year, and 31 per cent became profitable (101 projects). While the study did not examine the precise mix of projects that involved work for hire (customised solutions or systems integration for example) and those that involved new market development and subsequently higher risks (consumer entertainment titles for example), such information would provide a more holistic picture of the relationship between market entry and profitability. A general benchmark figure provided by multimedia market research organisations is that only 4 per cent of all commercial multimedia titles reach profitability. The substantially higher figure observed here, in the 31 per cent range for this particular study, appears to suggest that there is a greater mix of projects that involve lower risk, possibly in the domain of work for hire or customised client solutions, as opposed to riskier endeavours that involve more careful business planning.
Figure II One year cumulative multimedia project life cycle
|Geographic Focus||No. of firms||% of firms|
|Domestic (Australian/New Zealand Market)
European/North American Market
|Language Focus||No. of firms||% of firms|
|English Language Titles
Non-English Language Titles
While it is difficult to generalise on these results, given the broad descriptors used in the survey, the typical firm may be described as a relatively small concern, employing one to five persons (48 per cent), have an annual turnover between $100,000 and $1,000,000 (50 per cent), be one to five years in age (56 per cent) and incorporated as a private company (51 per cent).
Figure III Organisation annual turnover
Figure IV Organisation employee size
Figure V Organisation age
Figure VI Incorporation of business activities
Interesting also is the difference in employment levels between groups. While the demand for employees follows a relatively stable progression across the ten occupational groupings, demand for contractors and consultants does not follows a similar pattern, lending support to the thesis that organisations internalise different risks and activities among employees and contractors. Ignoring unclassified (other) consultants and contractors, occupation groups 1, 5, 7 and 8 for language specialists, technical team leaders, creative directors, and computer technical and software expertise have the highest contractor engagement in relation to the base of employees. Except for occupation grouping 1, it would appear that these generic groupings are already employed at high levels within firms, and may be called upon to work on a contract or case by case basis. Disregarding occupational grouping 10 (other functions), it appears organisations were least willing to externalise those functions most critical to the success of projects. As a proportion of employees, Groups 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 had the lowest ratio of contractors to employees. This would appear to indicate that telecommunications and broadcasting expertise, high level management roles such as executive producer and project management, and specialised personnel such as software design and development and information retrieval specialists were key to the success of many projects, regardless of their level of supply in the market.
Figure VII Employees vs contractors and consultants
Figure VII Legend
|Group 1||Language specialists/literary and story editor/key quality assurance role|
|Group 2||Librarian/Information retrieval specialist|
|Group 3||Telecommunications/broadcasting expertise|
|Group 4||R & D/Computer Science orientation (hardware, operating systems, object oriented design)|
|Group 5||Technical team leader/audio and video know how/authoring tools/ focus on software usability/QA|
|Group 6||Project manager/on-time and on-cost competence/probably with TV/Film Experience|
|Group 7||Creative director/art director/graphic designer (product "look and feel")|
|Group 8||Computer technical expert creative systems designer/ systems integrator/broad based hardware and software knowledge/commercial know-how|
|Group 9||Executive Producer/publisher/negotiator of contracts/marketer/ business developer|
|Group 10||Other Functions|
Table V provides a picture of the highest educational qualifications attained by the 620 people working in the field of multimedia. The large percentage of unknown qualifications skews the data significantly (34 per cent) but conclusions can be drawn from the remaining results. Overall the multimedia field is extremely educated with 42 per cent of the total or 68 per cent of all known qualifications awarded at the University bachelor degree level or above. With an emerging gap between the demand for and supply of suitably qualified multimedia workers, one would expect this gap to be serviced by private colleges or informal training. Less than one per cent of multimedia personnel indicate that this is not the case.
|Higher tertiary qualification (Doctorate or Masters)
University bachelor degree or Graduate Certificate
Diploma or Associate Diploma
Private college qualification
Higher School Certificate School
No formal qualifications
Table VII provides results of four key indicators for a typical project. Respondents were asked to nominate key variables that typified a recent project undertaking or broadly represented their current mix of projects. Most undertakings ranged in cost from $10,000 to over $100,000 (76 per cent) with the mode being at the $10,000 to $50,000 range (33 per cent). A typical project engaged 1-10 persons in its production (96 per cent), and took from one month to a year to develop (75 per cent). By far the most popular implementation means was CD ROM (58 per cent) with few projects using the new technologies of on-line services of any description (13 per cent) or CD-I or Video-CD (6 per cent).
|Type of Project||No. of Projects||Percentage|
Dedicated music or video
Dedicated graphics or text
|Cost||No. of Organisations||Percentage|
$2,001 - $5,000
$5,001 - $10,000
$10,001 - $50,000
$50,001 - $100,000
> 50 persons
|< 1 month
> 5 years
CD-I or Video-CD
The majority of firms surveyed appeared to concentrate on provision of products and services in the field if interactive multimedia training and education (57 per cent), information kiosks and directories (52 per cent), and commercial CD ROM titles (39 per cent). In terms of industry specialisation, firms nominated education (65 per cent), government (52 per cent), and consumer products such as entertainment systems and games (41 per cent) as the core area of market orientation.
In terms of specialisation by activity in multimedia content development, respondents indicated that tasks ranging from project planning and design (78 per cent), writing, scripting and titles development (76 per cent) through to other areas of the development process were important activity foci. Management consultancy and post-production services were of lesser concern (33 and 22 per cent respectively).
Australian firms see the domestic Australasian market as the target market for their development products (90 per cent). To a lesser degree firms seek to leverage content investments in the English-speaking markets of Europe and North America (54 per cent). A majority of firms see English language as their core direction, while the emerging markets of Asia are potentially strategic (45 per cent) though non-English language title expertise is of secondary concern (33 per cent).
In terms of demographic indicators, the typical multimedia content developer is a small concern, employing one to five persons (48 per cent), has an annual turnover of between $100,000 and $1,000,000 (50 per cent), is one to five years of age (56 per cent) and is incorporated as a private company (51 per cent). Over 70 per cent of those people engaged by multimedia producers are employees of the firm, the remaining 30 per cent are contractors or consultants. Contractors are generally more prevalent in occupational groupings that exist in high numbers as employees, probably to supplement the firm's resources in times of additional work. Contractors are least likely to be engaged in "strategic" areas of the production process, particularly in specialist areas of design, or key areas of project management. Of all known educational qualification held by multimedia professionals, over 68 per cent hold a bachelor degree or higher awarded from a university.
Organisations typically allocate 67 per cent of their projects to multimedia production. The remainder of their expertise is spread evenly among projects involving dedicated music, video, graphics, text, or other productions. A typical project costs between $10,000 and $100,000 (76 per cent), involves 1-10 persons in its production (96 per cent), takes from one month to one year to develop (75 per cent), with the end-media employed being CD ROM (58 per cent).
The rewards and incentives proposed under these investigations are not trivial. Initiatives announced in Creative Nation included important undertakings such as the establishment of the Australian Multimedia Enterprise and $252 million in arts funding. A primary concern of a majority of the current inquiries is not only the strategic nature of multimedia but the corresponding opportunities for overseas export revenue, particularly in the markets of Asia. Three key observations from this study would seem to undermine confidence in these predictions.
Firstly, the Australian multimedia industry consists primarily of smaller firms, both in terms of their annual turnover, personnel base, titles produced, or their experience in the market. Secondly Australian producers are extremely limited in their scope, primarily concentrating on the local market for their products and services. Thirdly a majority of firms are concentrating on training and education, kiosks and directories, and customised solutions. While a significant proportion are concentrating on commercial titles, they do not have the size or experience to compete on international markets. The high attrition rate between market entry and profitability in Australian firms would further suggest they will be unable to serve international content markets. Finally Commerce in Content argues that the multimedia industry will follow the music industry model, where approximately 20 firms will control the distribution of multimedia titles, locking out smaller publishers.
Where does this leave Australian industry policy? Will our multimedia industry realise success on the international market? Do we have the skills base to compete in the established North American market? Will Australian multimedia, which stands at a cross-roads, become a victim of well-meaning, but ill-conceived government support like the software industry generally did in 1983? Will multimedia remain a highly localised concern for years to come? Has Australia the drive and ambition to undertake significant risks to realise significant returns in multimedia? There are no obvious answers to these questions, but they bring into question the entire scope and goals of Australian industry policy in multimedia.
The obvious area for further investigation is in targeting Australian industry policy, and linking this with actual outcomes in multimedia. While other studies have identified constraints to Australian multimedia, particularly in terms of distribution, access to venture capital (a recurrent theme in high technology generally), and intellectual property rights, more research needs to be undertaken on the peculiar problems facing the industry. Finally, if Australia's success lies in exporting commercial titles, or indeed services, one needs to question how we can best utilise our limited skill base in targeting this aim, and where Australia's natural advantage lies in this unique field.
The findings of this study are significant. While there are important opportunities in the multimedia field, the Australian market is not yet of sufficient size or maturity to tackle the demands of world-class content that satisfies the requirements of mass-markets in a global environment. While the Australian experience indicates that its industry has a broad commercial base with a strong publications focus, the players are small concerns concentrating on highly localised content for specific purposes, and few successes have resulted in global distribution of generic commercial titles appropriate for a world audience, capable of generating significant returns on investment. The recommendation is that Australian industry policy should concentrate on developing those skills appropriate for a world-class multimedia industry, if it is to compete in such global markets. There are excellent opportunities in this field for how Australia might best take stock of these emerging markets.
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|Author: Dean Jason Noacco can be contacted through Department of Information and Communication Technology, Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong, Wollongong NSW 2522. Phone 042-214142; email email@example.com
Please cite as: Noacco, D. J. (1995). Multimedia markets: A study of Australian content developers. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 11(2), 52-74. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet11/noacco.html