MONTREAL, THE MULTIMEDIA CITY
Las Vegas is identified with gambling, Detroit with the automobile industry, Los Angeles with Hollywood movies, San Francisco with the Silicon Valley computer industry, New York with television.
But no city is yet identified with multimedia, although this promises to be the leading industry in the new economy. The position is still open. And Montreal has to become the City for multimedia.
What is multimedia? Multimedia is the digital universe, with industry sales soaring by billions of dollars annually.
This is no idle dream: Montreal has many assets. Just look at the dynamism of our local companies, large and small: Teleglobe, Videotron, Bell, Nortel, Softimage, Discreet Logic, Behaviour, Alis Technologies, CAE, Virtual Prototype, Coscient, Cinars and many more.
Montreal also has a close-knit network of small businesses that have built up genuine expertise in computers, micro-electronics, software and on-line business solutions.
Montreal is home to nearly half of all Canada's high-tech venture capital and is one of the top four cities in North America and ranks first in terms of high-tech jobs per capita. Montreal is already renowned for its aerospace, biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
The Quebec government has made its own contribution with a series of bold steps: a policy of government information highways, information highway funds F.A.I., SODEC funding for multimedia production, tax advantages, and generous subsidies for job creation in the form of centres for the development of information technologies (CDTIs), as well as launching the Cité du multimédia, and more. Montreal also has a growing number of training centres for multimedia personnel, in colleges, universities and private institutions like ICARI, Nad Centre, Cyclone schools, the Multimedia Academy that has just opened. etc.
IFMA, the International Federation of Multimedia Associations, has its permanent headquarters in Montreal.
Bruno Bonnel, president of Infogrammes, a leading company in the European electronic games sector, explained at last MIM - Multimedia International Market -, why he decided to launch his North American operations in Montreal instead of San Francisco, Austin, New York or Chicago: because the quality of our Quebec creators, our multilingualism and our multiculturalism make our products better suited to the international market. The French companies Ubisoft and Microïdes made the same decision. And this month's Infotech magazine refers to the tremendous expansion of multimedia as James Bay 2.
In addition, Montreal production costs are reasonable and the quality of life here is excellent. Even in winter!
The very favourable context already prevailing in Montreal is a strong argument in favour of this goal, and there is no doubt that the city would benefit from the added prestige. But we must do more and we must act fast! We only have a year or two left to assert ourselves against the international competition and ensure we benefit from the major spin-offs of the new, enormously challenging global economy.
Multimedia has major economic and cultural dimensions. We also have to realize how important the new digital technologies are. This is truly a revolution, bringing together a host of different industries: information, the Internet, image and sound, telecommunications, advertising, film, television and entertainment (games, theme parks, etc.).
With their integrating role, digital technologies are transforming traditional industry and market sectors. These technologies are directly affecting creation, production, post-production, broadcasting, distribution, telecommunications, cultural life, scientific research and its applications, even the world of politics and communication between individuals.
Multimedia industries create jobs: the government has announced that the Cité du multimédia alone will account for 10,000 new jobs. These industries can now play a decisive role in positioning Montreal internationally, thanks to the reach of these technologies and the way their markets function.
Strategically located at the geographical and cultural intersection of the North American and European markets, Montreal has all the attractions and certain unique assets allowing the city to rise to the challenge and become the world centre for multimedia.
To achieve our goal, we need leadership from prominent business people and government. There is work to be done to promote Montreal. Two major American magazines (Wired in September and Newsweek in November) recently published a list of cities ranked highly for new information and communication technologies. Among the cities featured were Seattle, Austin, Salt Lake City, Washington, Boston, Tel-Aviv, Taiwan, Tokyo, Prague, Bangalore, etc. But, although it is much more dynamic in this field, Montreal was ignored.
We must act now!
To go into action, we need to combine our strengths and work together. For nearly a year we have been recommending that Quebec hold a multimedia and information highway summit; more and more people are now supporting this idea. A concerted action plan is needed to boost research and development in digital technologies, to strengthen the training system, as recommended by CRIM (Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal), to encourage our companies to adapt themselves, to expand our sales force on the local and international market, as recommended by APMQ (Association des producteurs de multimédia du Québec), and to make Montreal Multimedia a familiar trademark on international markets. We need a set of focused measures coupled with a grand gesture bestowing an international symbol in Montreal. The need is urgent!
Accordingly, we have suggested a major Montreal Multimedia Centre - a kind of public forum - and we plan to make our own contribution by organizing an International Multimedia and Information Highway Summit in Montreal before the new millennium begins.