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Whither 'telly'?

04 Dec 2019  |  Bob Wootton 
Whither 'telly'?

As content creators align with distribution, it’s going to be harder for viewers to find what they want unless they subscribe to a lot of stuff, writes Bob Wootton. Is it a model TV will get away with? Plus: why The Ad Contrarian’s 'Ten Week Plan' won't work.

The arrival of Apple TV here and the launch of BritBox resurface some interesting questions.

I’m not a footy fan, but I recall the dudgeon when subscription-based Sky started ‘taking games away’ from the public service broadcasters and further grumbling when BT entered the fray with a quite different, loss-leading business model.

Enthusiasts had first to pay incrementally to their licence fee to access some games and then had to subscribe tactically to view what was most important to them. The only (costly) alternative was to subscribe to everything.

Formula One remained free-to-air but was adopted and orphaned by several broadcasters. Audiences are pale shadows compared to the glory days of BBC1’s coverage under the legendary Murray Walker.

Many reasons have been offered for the decline in viewing including the alleged and hotly-debated ‘death of TV’, but the audiences that gather when you get serious events on accessible BBC or ITV prove huge appetite and availability remains, even in off-peak.

Die-hard fans will always find a way at whatever cost but the more casual ones don’t, and that’s surely where many of the losses are.

Now it’s going to be the same for movies and drama, only much worse as Apple, BritBox and doubtless others join Netflix, Amazon Prime and the terrestrial and satellite services.

Courtesy Addictive’s Simon Andrews, The Washington Post has a good summary of US streaming services. How many will get people paying? Every month?

As the content creators, e.g. movie studios, align with distribution, it’s going to be harder for viewers to find what they want unless they to subscribe to a lot of stuff – at a cost – and battle with integrating it in the home.

Aggregator apps like Titanium offer a glimpse of hope, but that seems to be suspended (surprise!) and in any case looks like it relies on hacks.

In this context, I’m not optimistic for BritBox. I simply can’t see many people paying (another) £6pm for a tiny amount of new stuff they’ve never seen and a ton of nostalgic stuff they (rightly) think they’ve paid for already. Sky doesn’t charge extra for giving access to lots of catch-up and archive?

A recent conversation with a content creator with a foot in both spaces led me to see parallels with the conundrum that is electric vehicles. Disregarding that electricity still has to be generated somehow, albeit hopefully with both economies of scale and ever more sustainably, electric vehicles are still far from the slam-dunk they should be.

They’re expensive, more so with the decline of Government subsidies; they’re unsuited to longer journeys and they’re dogged by a complete lack of standards when it comes to the utterly crucial issue of en-route charging.

Many early adopters love the virtue- and status-signalling they offer but in practice they’re disappointed and highly vocal.

I see similarities because many of the ‘business models’ in both fields of endeavour don’t seem to have the consumer at their heart or anywhere near it. And both in different ways require a firm hand with a sure touch from Government.

Maybe automotive, a capital purchase that is triannual at best, can get away with it. But Telly? Hmm, not so sure.

P.S I began to draft this before BritBox’s launch ad, via ITV Creative and the lauded Rattling Stick production house, was unveiled. I watched it on a small screen as I expect many to whom it is targeted will and could only recognise some of the stars which are its whole point. Instinctively, I desperately want BritBox to succeed. Somebody please tell me how/why it will...


The Ad Contrarian’s Ten Week Plan

Much has been written, not least by me, on the burgeoning problem of the societal woes allegedly being fostered by the social media giants, principally Google, Facebook and their subsidiaries.

My friend and mentor, the fabled Ad Contrarian, aka Bob Hoffmann, offers what is on the face of it an uncharacteristically constructive solution, which he dubs 'The Ten-Week Plan'.

In short, he suggests the advertiser and agency trade bodies serve the companies with a 90-day notice urging them to desist, after which they will ask their members to reduce their spends by 10% per week.

(The pedant in me asks whether this means 10% of the original sum each week, wherein spend would cease after week ten, or 10% reduction per week, in which case it would have declined by 65% at week ten. I think he means the former).

He rightly observes that the only way to get the companies to take heed is by starving them of their principal source of income - ad revenue.

It’s a great thought.

But it won’t work for two reasons:

1. It’s anticompetitive and, at least in this market, such concerted corporate action is illegal. The rules are particularly stringent for trade bodies as legislators and regulators attest that most historical concerted action has emanated from their auspices.

2. Even if it weren’t, it’s impractical for the simple reason that all advertisers compete with one another for media time and space.

TV was once the biggest game in town and ITV the biggest bogeyman and source of grumbling whenever advertisers gathered. Some care and diplomacy was sometimes needed to ensure that such grumbles did not morph into concerted action. (A pity, as someone - no names, no pack drill - could have made a bit of a name for themselves).

On one occasion, now beyond the statute of limitations, such a conversation suddenly became quite resolute, and therefore dangerous. But it extinguished itself before I had to intervene thanks to the intervention of one advertiser representative (who subsequently served time at Her Majesty’s pleasure for some rather unsavoury activities involving minors).

He cheerfully announced that if others were to reduce their spend, he would simply divert his company’s funds to clean up the airtime liberated at bargain prices, thereby securing competitive advantage for his employers – i.e. doing his job. The conversation closed down abruptly.

Nothing has changed since, neither the law nor the competition between advertisers that is so often overlooked.

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