By David Jenkinson 26-03-2012
“How are you?” “Oh, I’m OK. But it’s getting so much harder. The networks know they have just a few years left. They think they’ll be OK for the next 12 months or so, but they are terrified about what’s going to happen after that. And they are becoming more and more cautious in what they are commissioning, and what rights they want to keep.”
This was how just one conversation with a leading European programme maker, who I’m sure would not like to be named, started the other week. During another, Electus’s chairman Ben Silverman said: “Everyone is trying to control everything, and it is all a little bit fear-driven, which makes deal-making a total pain in the ass. People are being so difficult on the deal, rather than just being fair. I feel that ‘fair’ usually should be the way deals get made, where both sides feel good. More and more people are fighting hyper-aggressively. People need to recognise that being partners in something that is successful is much better than owning 100% of things that don’t happen.”
It’s not surprising people are unsettled. This is the year of connected TV, over-the-top distribution, VoD, tablet ubiquity and advertiser U-turns. What’s not to be scared about?
But it’s not just the way content gets to market that is changing, the audience is changing too. Viewers are waking up to the fact there are a lot more ways to get programming than from a network. And once again, as this understanding grows, then erosion of traditional business models increases and panic sets in.
“VoD and digital distribution of content are now the biggest sticking points in the deal-making process,” another top executive in the distribution business told me, in a Groundhog Day cycle of pre-Mip conversations. “We’re at a point where we still need the major channels to commission shows, but we can also see the attractiveness of doing deals with Netflix, LoveFilm and other platforms that can provide long-term, broad and quite lucrative alternatives. And the channels want to lock those players out. It’s a tricky moment in the business.”
Perhaps as tricky, for everyone, is the movement of ad revenues. Major brands and agencies will be in Cannes again this year, only in bigger numbers, trying to work out how to reconfigure their relationships with the content business and, ultimately, the audience. How do they embed their message in content in a more meaningful way, break through the clutter to influence decisions and turn propaganda into more subtle digital persuasion?
And then, when it didn’t need to get any more complicated, along comes The Second Screen. Good work Apple.
Anyone who’s over 40 (and significantly, that’s most of the people trying to re-evaluate the new entertainment paradigm) may not be fully aware of the significance of this phenomenon. And anyone who hasn’t got an iPad will perhaps miss it too. But, along with connected TV, social second screening is the biggest disrupter to the models that supported a generation of TV producers and broadcasters.
New plays like Zeebox, GetGlue, Miso, not to mention Facebook, are designed to encourage audiences to interact around programming with apps that bring additional content or socialisation to the core TV proposition.
In many instances what happens off screen is now as rich an experience to connect with as what’s happening on screen.
During this year’s Superbowl – one of the biggest TV events of the year – Twitter traffic reached 12,000-plus tweets per second, with tablet use driving the growth. Nielsen now estimates 70% of iPad use occurs in front of the TV and 57% of iPad use takes place in bed. That means the future of TV is inextricably linked to what happens on the iPad and its copycats. What does that mean for programming, the commercial landscape around programming and ownership of the experience?
If these figures are true, deal-making around the digital experience and second-screen audience is going to get tougher. It may not be too long before the second-screen and first-screen experience are one and the same, in which case who loses out? The broadcaster, producer, digital platform, or content creator? Well, it certainly won’t be the latter.
It really is only a few years ago that TV execs quacked on about the threat from digital with gibberish like: “I don’t think anyone is ever going to watch television on a computer” or “Mobile may be good for shortform, bite-sized programming, but never for series television.” TVs are computers, computers are TVs, iPads are mobiles, and are a new category that brings community and portability into the picture.
It really is getting much harder!