Snoddy's review of the year

20 Dec 2017  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Snoddy's review of the year

In his final column of the year, Ray Snoddy looks back at some of the most interesting and impactful media business stories of 2017

We can now state without a shadow of a doubt that one of the defining media trends of 2017 was the fight-back against the negative aspects of the apparently all-powerful social media.

They have had to be dragged kicking and screaming towards taking greater responsibility for what appears on their sites - wherever they appear on the spectrum from tech giants to publishers, but dragged they have been.

Increasingly society is saying that whatever the difficulties of finding and taking down terrorist material, hate speech, paedophile images or unacceptable abuse or death threats to MPs, or indeed anyone, more action is required.

The fairy on the Christmas tree turned out to be the appearance before the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee of senior executive from the triumvirate - Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Yvette Cooper led the charge by arguing that once users found one dodgy item the tech companies' algorithms then linked them to similar things “whether that be racist extremism, or Islamist extremism, your technology is doing that job and you are not stopping it from doing so.”

All the MPs had their favourites - from Northern Ireland’s pro-IRA postings to “KILL ALL TAIGS,” the abusive term for Catholics, to anti-semitic tweets.

The trend is up and running and cannot now be stopped and is one to watch in 2018.

Equally distinctive was the continuing rise of Netflix and the streaming TV phenomenon. It was the year that Netflix topped 100 million subscribers worldwide for the first time and by the year's end it will almost certainly have reached 110 million with the help of the international publicity generated by productions such as The Crown.

At more than $130 million for the current series, it is believed to be the most expensive TV series ever made.

The rise of Netflix during the year suddenly began to look irreversible, although there are a few clouds on its horizon.

Total debts and liabilities are reported to be $20 billion, annual investment in original content is rising towards $8 billion and bought-in rights may be harder to acquire in future.

From 2019 Disney will be holding on to its productions to stream its own service in what could become a growing trend.

Whether Netflix or whomever, you can be sure that internationally funded, streamed entertainment is here to stay as a sector, as Rupert Murdoch tacitly acknowledged with his Disney deal.

The consequences for traditional broadcasters are serious - though not totally overwhelming.

Spread production costs across 110 million subscribers and you can pay more to producers, actors, writers who love the new players with their fast-flowing gravy train.

They need to be careful what they wish for.

BBC director-general Tony Hall warned last month that the rise of Netflix, Apple and Google combined with falling advertising revenue could lead to a fall of £500 million a year - or 20 per cent - in the amounts available for British-made programming.

BARB data shows that in the UK just under 20 per cent of viewing is non-linear, leaving domestic broadcasters fighting for a slice of a declining pie.

And to rub the salt in the wound, the new players with their worldwide subscriber bases concentrate entirely on glossy entertainment without any responsibilities for, or the costs of, providing news, current affairs, politics, documentaries, indigenous comedy, educational or local programmes...

The moves towards ever-greater media consolidation in the US took further lurches during the year although the largest AT&T $85 billion bid for Time Warner looks as if it will head for the regulatory buffers. The $66 billion Disney-Murdoch deal looks much more likely to succeed.

The trend should get an additional push from the new Trump tax law, which slashes corporate tax in the US and free even more acquisition money. It might tend to keep more American media companies at home although the Brexit inspired fall in the value of the pound means UK media assets remain a bargain.

In publishing the continuing trends are all too clear, and so apparently remorseless - the continuing decline in print sales which in most cases are only partially being offset by rising digital revenues.

Yet if you look carefully enough there are a few hopeful embers to warm yourself on in the bleak midwinter - often involving increased levels of co-operation, international and domestic.

The Guardian teamed up with publications like Der Spiegel, El Pais, La Stampa, Le Monde and Politiken to work together on a migration series.

In an increasingly inter-dependent world such collaborations help to make scarce resources go further and also provide greater strength in the battle against fake news in all its forms.

In a similar way Channel 4 joined an alliance of Europe’s largest broadcasters to run commercials across their video-on-demand services to take on Google and Facebook.

This was the first full year of the online-only Independent and although there are the inevitable listicles, and it’s a far cry from the original vision of Andreas Whittam Smith, after 18 months or so it is clearly not as bad as feared. You can still see some Independent-style journalism.

Organisations such as the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) only usually get headlines when there is a Royal involved, or choices go wrong.

A small thing went right this year when IPSO finally persuaded its member newspapers to sign up to a low-cost arbitration scheme which opens up cases of invasion of privacy or libel to those who are not millionaires.

It involves binding arbitration, although because it is voluntary on both sides, it can only be judged by its actual performance - or lack of it. But still a small, positive step in the right direction, certainly compared with the pointless, would-be regulators who regulate hardly anybody at all.

And finally - that rare thing - a potentially positive development coming out of Sky and BT for football fans, rather than the usual rising subscription levels.

The two big players in UK sports rights recently reached agreement that from 2019 football fans will be able to watch all Premier League and Champions League games though a simple, single contract rather than having to subscribe to both Sky and BT TV.

Here, as in many things, the proof of the mince pies will come from what they subsequently charge for their new contracts.

For now at lease, in the spirit of Christmas, let’s give then the benefit of the doubt - cheers.

Raymond Snoddy will be helping to host The Year Ahead in January - our invite-only networking event for senior professionals from across the media industry, which sees panellists give their views on key media issues from the year, and their predictions for the year ahead.

Ray will be joined by Tess Alps, Torin Douglas and Lindsay Pattison. They'll share their thoughts on 2017 and a few predictions for 2018.

Details here.


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