The Royal Television Society (RTS) annual convention, which took place all day Thursday (Sept. 27) in London, U.K., brought together some of television’s biggest hitters including Warner Discovery, Disney, Sky, ITV and BBC.
The title – and theme – of this year’s convention was “The Fight For Attention” and the broadcasters and content creators discussed challenges, strategy and sustainability, especially in the shadow of a looming recession.
Content is King
Undoubtedly, content is still the most important factor for broadcasters, streamers and viewers alike. “Content is still probably the most – for sure, in my opinion – the most important [factor],” in terms of consumer choice, said Warner Bros Discovery International president Gerhard Zeiler, who said that as well as continuing to invest in local content the company was of course investing in franchises such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and more. Unsurprisingly, Jan Koeppen, president of IP powerhouse The Walt Disney Company EMEA, also said that in an era of choice, content would be the deciding factor. Said Koeppen: “Even with economic woes that we have right now, people are going back to quality, and I think great content will win.”
Too Much Choice
With so much great content, the biggest problem facing viewers is how to find it. Stephen van Rooyen, Sky’s EVP and CEO for U.K. and Europe, was unequivocal. “It’s a terrible experience, right?” he said. “I mean, none of us should sugarcoat it. Big lumbering giant media companies all wanting to do their own thing have kind of left the consumer experience I think by the roadside.” Sky’s solution has been to create products such as Sky Glass, a smart television that effectively aggregates what van Rooyen described as “highly fragmented” content from different platforms with an easy-to-search interface.
WBD’s Zeiler agreed that while content is important, it’s the “package” that will appeal to consumers, which means distribution method as well as price. “No consumer wants to need 13 clicks in order to get to the product,” he pointed out.
Disney’s solution, said Koeppen, is to partner with various partners including Sky, Apple and Samsung as well as offering their own apps and platforms. “In the end, we trust in the fact that [audiences] will find our content,” he said.
The SVOD pivot to ad-funded tiers came up in a number of panels, with Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon putting it simply: “People want to watch things with ads in them because they’re free,” she said. “People are starting to cut those SVOD services because they can’t afford them. Whereas it turns out people still like free and that’s why broadcasters with advertiser-funded video on demand will continue to do well. And it’s why you see some of those SVODs piling into an advertiser funded tier.”
Disney’s Koeppen framed it as offering the audience “more choice,” “especially in this environment that might be coming our way,” he said, referring to the looming recession. He pointed to Hulu in the U.S. as “a model that has worked brilliantly.” Koppen was also keen to stress that the SVODs getting into the ad game wasn’t a threat to traditional broadcasters. “It hasn’t at all ruined the broadcast advertising business,” he said of Hulu’s impact on its linear counterparts.
With audiences’ attention increasingly split between SVODs, traditional broadcasters and social media including TikTok and YouTube, working out where and how to monetize the content is a challenge. Maria Kyriacou, Paramount International’s president for Australia, Canada, Israel and U.K., said that when it comes to social media, “Those platforms are important for us to reach the fans and the viewers. But it’s not about leaving them there, it’s about bringing them back into the services that we’ve got.” She noted, with some surprise, the same even applied to the company’s recently launched streaming platform, Paramount+, noting that some of the marketing for that had rebounded positively onto its linear channels such as Nickelodeon, which showed an increase in market share shortly after the streamer launched.
“Sky, and Disney and Paramount have put some of the most valuable content on the planet on YouTube, available for free for consumers in segments,” pointed out Ben McOwen Wilson, managing director for Google Play EMEA. “Why are they doing that? It’s because it’s driving that connection to those brands to their overarching brands.” He also noted that shows such as “Coco Melon” started on YouTube – and are still available there in their entirety – but have since migrated to the BBC, Netflix and Amazon Prime. “Historically that wouldn’t have made any sense at all,” he said.
Who’s Copying Who?
With content fragmented across various platforms and SVODs pivoting to advertising, it’s no longer clear whether streamers are copying broadcasters or vice versa. “If we look at release patterns, we saw a year or two ago everything being boxset released on SVOD services,” said Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon. “Now we see them moving closer and closer to broadcast weekly drops of shows to keep interest high.”
Conversely, the broadcasters are investing in their own streaming platforms, with ITV set to launch ITVX in November. “People are going to streaming services because there’s a huge amount of content that they can browse and they can pick from and they have choice,” said ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall. “And so it was our time to say that we had to do a big step change, and launch this service sooner rather than later.”