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Show Biz-Is-Socko Note . . .

September 20, 1987

If airplanes are the United States' most lucrative export product, with a net trade balance of $10.8 billion last year, if soybeans were No. 3 at $4.6 billion and if coal was fourth with $3.9 billion, what was No. 2? Not automobiles or steel or any other traditional merchandise product. Not even computers, which ranked 13th. According to figures compiled by Forbes magazine, the nation's second-biggest trade balance came from the entertainment industry. This news is of particular interest in Southern California, of course, because this is where most of the entertainment trade product originates. And many of those dollars find their way back into the Southern California economy.

Entertainment earned the nation a $4.9-billion export balance last year, and the figure is expected to rise to $5.5 billion this year. The 1986 total includes $1.8 billion in videocassette recordings, $1.4 billion in musical recordings, $1.2 billion in motion pictures and $500 million in television programming.

"Entertainment is probably our least-recognized export, but foreign sales are coming on strong," Lee Rich, the chairman of MGM/UA Communications, told Forbes. "In a very short time, foreign (sales) will be at least 50% of a picture's revenues."

Traditional economists may quibble with the classification of entertainment as a trade product, but Forbes argued that "the entertainment business is creating wealth for the nation as well as for the entertainers." Bill Cosby, the top-earning entertainer this year with an estimated $57 million, is adding wealth to more traditional industries. If Cosby's new movie, scheduled for release at Christmastime for Coca-Cola's Columbia Pictures, boosts Coca-Cola stock by just a single point, the total book value of the parent company will grow by an estimated $400 million.

Entertainers sometimes are tolerated with bemusement in Southern California for eccentric living styles, extravagant spending habits and occasional brushes with the law. But their economic effect goes far beyond the newest "in" restaurants, Malibu real-estate brokers and Wilshire Boulevard auto dealers. Show Biz is Big Biz, and getting bigger all the time.

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