Boston’s Digital Entertainment Economy Begins to Sense Its Own Strength

6/19/09Follow @wroush

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thinkable before the sector emerged; and what the companies in this area, as well as Governor Patrick’s office and legislative leaders, should be doing to ensure the sector’s long-term growth.

These panelists can also speak about the special ability that Boston-area engineers and entrepreneurs seem to have to invent a cool technology, connect it to a market need, and hone it over time until customers can’t live without it. EveryZing, for example, started out in 2006 under the name PodZinger, and spun its technology as a way to make the content of podcasts more understandable to search engines—a useful but not immensely lucrative idea. Now, just three years later, the startup’s technology has morphed into a versatile platform that creates tags and metadata for text, images, audio, and video, and is used by media giants like NBC Universal to index thousands of media files across scores of allied Web properties.

That said, there are plenty of other organizations around town who could have supplied great panelists. Just to eliminate room for skepticism about my “critical mass” claim above, let me list a few of them. In what you might call the digital tools area, there’s Autodesk, Avid, GenArts, Parametric, Spaceclaim, Solidworks, and Z Corporation. In virtual worlds, there’s Hangout Industries, WeeWorld, and the North American office of Weblin. In online communities there’s GamerDNA, Mocospace, Nextcat, and SnapMyLife. In media hosting and infrastructure, there’s Extend Media, Brightcove, Maven, Seachange, and Verivue. In the area of search, measurement, and monetization, there’s Echo Nest, EveryZing, Jumptap, Localytics, Third Screen, and Visible Measures. In the area of music and technology, there are too many companies to mention—see a list we created in 2007. In digital publishing technology, there are companies like Zmags and E Ink. In video games, there’s Conduit Labs, Creat Studios, Galactic Village Games, Harmonix Music Systems, iRacing.com, Lycos Gamesville, Muzzy Lane Software, Quick Hit, Rockstar New England, 38 Studios, Turbine, 2K Boston, and Worldwinner, to name just a few.

And, of course, there’s an array of supporting organizations and institutions; the MIT Media Lab, the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Lab, the Interactive Media and Game Development major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the Creative Industries Initiative at Northeastern University come to mind. I haven’t even touched on the fields of design, architecture, marketing, and advertising, which are all becoming more digital every day. And none of these lists are even close to comprehensive: indeed, the state says there are over 14,000 creative-industry businesses in Massachusetts, with 80,000 employees overall and a net economic impact measured in the tens of billions of dollars.

In the end, if you’re someone who simply enjoys the creations of the media industry, or who cares more about whether people are fulfilling their creative potential than about where they do it, the fact that Massachusetts has a strong digital media cluster doesn’t mean a whole lot. And indeed, I’m not trying to build an argument that Boston’s innovators are more talented than people in other technology clusters (like Seattle or San Diego, to take two non-random examples), or even that they offer anything that can’t be found elsewhere. But I am saying—in the spirit of the XSITE motto, “The Recovery Starts Here”—that the local digital media sector is positioned to pull a lot of weight as New England and the country create a new foundation for prosperity. I hope you can join me next week as we talk about exactly how we’re going to do that.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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