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PERSPECTIVE

Weaving a new cocoon

By Gary Carter 20-01-2017

Today sees the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Donald Trump taking his seat in the White House is the latest in a string of geopolitical events that have shaken the foundations of the established world order.

But how will increased global uncertainty following the election of Trump; Brexit; renewed tensions between Russia and the West; the threat of terrorism; and the escalation of global warming affect the television being pitched, commissioned, made and broadcast in 2017?

All genres will grapple with the realities of the emerging changes in the global order, and there will also be a predictable counter-movement towards so-called ‘cocooning.’

First defined by the influential trendspotter Faith Popcorn in the 1980s, “the impulse to go inside when it gets too tough and scary outside” is as relevant today as it was then. However, this time a major focus will be a kind of tech cocooning, with concerns expressed about the impact of ‘fake news,’ WikiLeaks et al, social media, surveillance and the rise of the far right online.

We will see more programmes exploring questions of identity politics and ‘authenticity’ – note that Altt Förr Sverige won an International Emmy, as did Deutschland 83.

Uncertainties about modern life and the fear this uncertainty generates will also become a dominant content theme throughout this year. Along with our ignorance of what ‘the threats’ actually are, there is also our incapacity to determine what can be done to counter them, and our inability to identify who should be responsible for doing so and at what price.

Concerns about the media, its role and its position as a democratic estate will ensure that all kinds of media content become themselves a subject of media content.

Donald Trump in Celebrity Apprentice

Donald Trump

I expect questions of responsibility and transparency in media reporting to be journalistic and factual themes, with related sub-themes of ‘fake news,’ the ‘post-expert’ assertions of what Steven Colbert calls “truthiness,” the role of social media in journalism, the relationship between power seekers and media, the personalisation of politicians and the globalised nature of media.

Identity politics, political correctness and related debates will make media content both more outspoken and simultaneously more conservative, and will leave regulators and politicians concerned about issues of bias.

Themes of global vs local, action and engagement, of ‘taking responsibility’ and of ‘doing something to make a difference’ are also to be expected.

Already in 2017 we’ve witnessed the start of a series of Dispatches reports on Donald Trump’s election, courtesy of the UK’s Channel 4, plus the commissioning of a series of programmes across various platforms focusing on fake news as a dominant theme. President Trump’s Dirty Secrets, broadcast this week, was seen by 1.4 million people and gave Dispatches its biggest audience since March.

Additionally, consider Fox Network’s upcoming adaptation of scripted comedy format Servant of the People, where modest and humble teacher Vasily is unexpectedly voted to become president, and ITV’s newly commissioned I’ll Give It a Year, based on the statistic that eight out of 10 new businesses fail in their first 12 months. And, of course, there is to be a one-off Brexit-themed Wife Swap, which C4 confirmed only this week.

Since every trend has a counter-trend, I also expect a return to aforementioned American social forecaster Faith Popcorn’s notion of cocooning – the need to build a shell of safety (which she predicted in the mid 1980s as a retreat from the perceived harassment of modern life), including less social and political engagement.

This is not quite the same as the idea that in times of economic recession, such as the late 1920s and the years immediately following the 2008 global financial crisis, escapist diversion becomes a key trend. Instead, this is more about a desire to protect, to shelter and to exclude. As a result I expect a mixture of survivalism and identity-based nostalgia, and developing themes of protecting the self and the family while at the same time battling against odds that seem overwhelming.

I think that questions related to so-called identity politics, who are ‘they,’ and who are ‘we,’ of belonging versus exclusion and having or not having, will be important corollaries to these larger, more global uncertainties.

And who knows, perhaps global warming, climate change and what we do about it will finally penetrate the consciousness of primetime.

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today's correspondent

Gary Carter Non-exec board director
gary-carterpersp

TV industry luminary Gary Carter is a non-executive board member of international media consultancy K7 Media. The company provides intelligence and insight on global content trends to broadcasters, digital producers, distributors and advertisers, and is based in Manchester.

Described by C21's David Jenkinson as “one of the most influential players in the formats business,” Carter has previously received the Formats Gold Award at MipFormats for his contribution to the industry. Carter is regarded as a pioneer of the Reality TV genre. He is a former co-CEO of international operations at production giant Endemol Shine Group, and former chief operating officer of FremantleMedia Group. His work in the television industry, on numerous high-profile projects, included overseeing the early roll-out of Survivor, Big Brother and The X Factor.

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