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How digitalization is transforming the creative economy

Digital transformation is profoundly impacting the production and consumption of creative goods and services, generating opportunities for some and challenges for others.

The creative economy includes audiovisual products, design, media, music, performing arts, publishing and visual arts. An evolving concept by nature, it involves goods and services based on creativity and intellectual capital as primary inputs.

With exports of these products growing strongly in recent years, robust regulatory frameworks are necessary to ensure technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) benefit everyone and foster a competitive and sustainable creative economy.

That’s the main message from the Creative Economy Outlook 2024 released by UN Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Marisa Henderson, head of the creative economy programme run by UN Trade and Development, says: “As a driver of sustainable development, the creative economy requires continued policy attention and investment to maximize its positive societal impact.”

The report comes as government officials, businesses and researchers convene in Geneva for the 11th Multi-year Expert Meeting on Trade, Services and Development from 10 to 12 July.

The meeting looks closely at global trade trends of creative services amid the growing impact of digitalization on development opportunities, challenges and policy implications. Participants also discuss ways to better collect and leverage statistics on trade in services.

An economic driver

In 2022, global exports of creative services surged to $1.4 trillion, while creative goods totalled $713 billion, up by 29% and 19%, respectively, from 2017.

Developing economies primarily export creative goods, while developed ones account for 80% of creative services exports. However, the gap in the latter has slowly decreased over the past decade, with the share of developing countries doubling to 20% between 2010 and 2022.

By product group, the most exported creative services in 2022 were software services (41.3%) and research and development (30.7%), followed by advertising, market research, and architecture (15.5%), audiovisual services (7.9%), information services (4%), and cultural, recreational, and heritage services (0.6%).

Digital impact

Digitalization is transforming the creative industries. For example, in 2023, streaming services expanded their share by 10.4%, now accounting for more than two thirds (67.3%) of global music market revenues.

Meanwhile, AI is enhancing content creation, distribution and consumption. It generates scripts, movies, music, images, captions, animations and virtual reality content, while improving post-production workflows and analyzing user data.

AI is widely used in newsrooms, with 41% of news teams employing it to create illustrative art, 39% for social media content, and 38% for writing and generating articles.

While digitalization and artificial intelligence expand opportunities for growth and efficiency, they also raise development concerns about the digital divide, job shifts, quality control, privacy and consumer protection, copyright, and market monopolization.

Policymakers need to monitor technological developments and update policy and regulatory frameworks to seize development opportunities and mitigate risks. Stronger international cooperation is necessary to bolster technological development and regulatory design.

Growing market concentration threatens innovation

The top five publishers in the United States hold about 80% of the book market, while six movie studios account for nearly 90% of box office ticket sales in recent years. In 2021, three companies dominated 59% of the global streaming music subscription market.

The Creative Economy Outlook 2024 emphasizes the need for a level playing field to promote a diverse and vibrant creative economy, pointing to effective policies in some countries that have fostered thriving creative sectors by protecting intellectual property and ensuring competitive markets.

More sustainable and inclusive

Social inclusion and environmental sustainability are becoming a cornerstone of the creative economy.

A headline example is British rock band Coldplay cutting CO2 emissions from its current global tour by 50%, showcasing efforts to reduce the environmental impact of large-scale events.

Besides, governments are increasingly integrating inclusion and environmental sustainability into policies targeting the creative economy.

12 out of 36 countries surveyed earlier in 2024 have specific initiatives for creative industries, while another 12 promote sustainable business practices, including sustainable design, energy efficiency, circular economy practices, and increasing the participation of women, youth and disadvantaged groups.

“The contribution of creative industries to sustainable development aligns with three axes: economic, social, and environmental,” the report concludes.

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