Snoddy's top media stories of 2018

19 Dec 2018  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Snoddy's top media stories of 2018

By any standards the year that is passing has been a vintage one for media stories – sad, mad and bad

Top billing has to go to the threesome that locked Disney, Comcast and Murdoch in a corporate dance that delighted us all for an entire year, before it rose to a perfectly choreographed crescendo with the $39 billion Saturday afternoon shoot-out.

Comcast emerged as the owner of Sky but was Rupert Murdoch a winner or a loser? It’s difficult to say but although the Murdoch high-water mark has been reached, we have not heard the last of the Australian American. He has the financial firepower to start building again and you can bet your bottom dollar that is what he will do.

It could have been settled much earlier. Once Comcast intervened in the cosy Rupert Murdoch-Bob Iger deal the ultimate destination was clear. Each party would get what they most wanted – Murdoch’s main US interests to go to Disney with Comcast getting Sky.

It could have been done and dusted in a weekend and saved all those bankers fees, but that would not have been half as entertaining.

The reason this particular dance got under way in the first place was the rising threat of Netflix, which continued to demonstrate just how potent that threat actually is.

Subscriptions worldwide shot above 137 million and although long-term debt has also been increasing to more than $8 billion, Netflix opened up a new battlefront in its attack on the traditional entertainment industry by moving against Hollywood.

Netflix is now planning to release 90 feature films a year and has a realistic chance of winning an Oscar with the critically acclaimed Roma.

Another great shifting of the tectonic plates came at WPP, where the unthinkable happened when Sir Martin Sorrell - who founded the company - departed under a cloud, although there is still some doubt over whether it was a fluffy cloud or a serious black thunder cloud.

Whatever the cause it was probably time for both parties to go their separate ways and allow restructuring to take place.

But like Rupert Murdoch, Sir Martin does not believe in the R word and the string of acquisitions by an old man in a hurry will doubtless continue.

A bit unfortunate though to find himself being caught up in a lawsuit against Arconic, the makers of the cladding panels blamed for the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower.

Sir Martin is no longer a director of Arconic but was for a material period – from 2012 to 2017.

Change at the BBC

The BBC got itself in a pickle – and rightly so – over its pay policies and in particular how it rewarded, or didn’t reward nearly enough, its woman.

The splendid former China editor Carrie Gracie led the charge by resigning when she found that, despite her obvious expertise, she was being paid substantially less than, for example, the BBC’s US editor Jon Sopel.

Gracie proved that it really was more about principle than money by donating all her back-pay to charities campaigning for gender equality.

The little present left behind by former Culture Secretary John Whittingdale – a requirement to disclose top presenter’s pay - also bore fruit.

Even though mayhem, high profile poaching and wage inflation was the result, the BBC is still in a better place by being forced to become a fairer employer.

Women in broadcasting were also on the march outside the BBC as Dame Carolyn McCall became chief executive at ITV joining Alex Mahon, chief executive of Channel 4, who brokered a decent compromise on where the channel’s headquarters should be.

All the best evidence

Nobody brings out a marching band and waves flags to greet the arrival of a new audience research tool, but the eventual appearance of PAMCo was a welcome event. Though no-one knows whether young ad folk can ever be weaned off sinking their client’s money into company’s such as Facebook, however much it breeches the privacy of its users.

At least for the first time there is respectable, unduplicated data for the reach of traditional media across all platforms, complete with evidence of trust, dwell time and impact.

All you can do is tell people and then tell them again.

Zuckerberg's annus horribilis

The full scale of what Facebook has been up to came in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The revelations showed how personal information harvested, without permission, from more than 50 million personal profiles was used as a targeting weapon in the US Presidential election.

Facebook had been warned years earlier about the danger of privacy breaches but most critics believe the company’s response was tardy at best.

Some critics such as technology writer John Naughton have argued this year that Facebook is a monster out of control and that founder Mark Zuckerberg is uneasy about the power he now holds “and has few good ideas about how to discharge his responsibilities.”

And just in time for Christmas Facebook has been hit by another data scandal.

According to the New York Times the social media giant has given 150 companies access to the personal data of hundreds of millions of users without their consent.

Dark days for journalists

One of the most gruesome stories of the year was the brutal murder and dismemberment of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

The killing, because of its nature and security reports on how high the authorisation came from, dominated headlines around the world.

But that was only the most high profile murder of a journalist. The latest figures show that, as President Donald. J. Trump chuntered on about fake news, the all too real news is that so far this year, 63 journalists have been killed, many in Afghanistan and Syria.

The Daily Mail's new spots

One of the most amusing media stories of the year has been the transformation of the Brexit coverage of the Daily Mail since Geordie Greig took over the editorship from Paul Dacre.

The paper has been supporting Theresa May’s lacklustre agreement for all its worth and beyond the call of duty.

It will be even more entertaining to see where the Daily Mail goes once the May deal is shot down in the Commons.

Following the bumper year for media stories, where next?

It’s time – more than time - for the UK’s public service broadcasters to get together to run a unified streaming service that would at least stop Netflix having a free run.

It would mark a nice entry to 2019 - a year likely to be one of the most turbulent on record.

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