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Interactive media

Interactive media is a rapidly evolving industry and defining it can be difficult. It broadly refers to digital media with which the user actively interacts in order to change or affect their experience, and which can only be experienced through interaction. Interactive media products include web sites, multimedia catalogues, Digital Advertiser Locations and other red-button interactive television destinations, and computer games. These products are distributed to devices either via a network or on physical media (such as mobile phones, televisions, kiosks). The industry is divided into: web and internet; offline multimedia; companies specialising in mobile content; and interactive TV.

Technological developments, cheaper solutions and the increasing popularity of mobile and wireless connections means that demands for interactive media products is increasing. The consolidation of small specialist companies, the emergence of more specialist companies, increased outsourcing and the growth in freelancing (particularly the games industry) will all have a big impact on the industry and employment in the future.

Key statistics:

  • The industry employs around 40,000 people, representing 8% of the total creative industries workforce.
  • 29,500 people are in web development, 10,000 in interactive content and an unknown number in support services.
  • 68% of the workforce is male.
  • 6% of the workforce is from a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic background.
  • 58% of the workforce is under 35 years.
  • 5.2% report themselves as having a disability.
  • An estimated 17% of the workforce is freelance or self-employed
  • There are over 8,000 businesses in the industry: around 7,500 web and internet companies; 500 offline multimedia companies; and 40 companies specialising in mobile content and a growing number of interactive TV companies.
  • 46% of companies employ 1-5 people, 23% employ 6-10, 15% employ 11-20 and 13% employ 21-50 people.
  • Only 3% of companies have more than 50 people working for them.

There are no typical career routes into the industry. For many, the Production Assistant role is a good way into the industry as it is usually an entry-level position. This position can lead to a Designer or Developer role, which can be a good way to acquire combined creative and technical skills, experience of the production process, and build a portfolio of work. Individuals need to be adaptable and able to quickly learn new technologies, tools or techniques.

The workforce is highly qualified, with a combination of specialist and more general skills. 80% of the workforce has a degree; 36% of which are media related. 16% of the workforce has technical qualifications. Only 11% of the workforce does not hold any qualifications. 80% of employers rate any degree as important. However, vocational media courses that are designed to meet industry needs are often well regarded by employers. However, employers value experience more than formal qualifications.

Interactive media requires a broad range of cross-disciplinary skills. Workers typically need a combination of specialist skills drawn from at least two of the design, technical, content and business disciplines, and also a range of more general work-life skills. Working in interactive media is a team activity. Knowledge sharing and brainstorming are crucial to any project and everyone is expected to contribute. People employed in this sector must be able to communicate clearly and understand each other's demands.

The main gaps appear to be either in industry-specific transient skills, such as the use of particular software packages, or in higher-level business and management skills. The most common skills gaps reported by employers are:

  • Specific software/technical skills (e.g. ActionScript and Macromedia)
  • Engineering
  • Digital compression
  • Business skills
  • Management /leadership skills
  • General understanding of the sector/business

Employers also report that staff have little awareness and understanding of how a role fits into the wider sector and links to other industries. This broad expertise is essential for workers to progress into senior or management roles.

The interactive media workforce comprises:

  • almost 24,000 people are in interactive or games production, making this the largest occupational group
  • 6,100 people have roles in interactive or games business
  • 1,100 have roles in interactive or games operations
  • 6,300 people work in ‘other occupational groups’, such as finance, HR, IT, sales and general management roles

The largest interactive media workforce is located in: London; the South East; and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Source: Skillset AACS LMI report 2010 and Interactive Media Labour Market Intelligence 2009


Occupational profile of interactive media workforce, 2008

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Source: Interactive Media Labour Market Intelligence Digest 2009, Figure 2. Data from Skillset’s 2008 Creative Media Workforce Survey.