CEO, iOMedia Group Limited
Was it Roy Thompson of Scottish Television who saw the dawning of commercial television in the UK as “a license to print money” - or was it Lew Grade at ATV ? It’s been contested, but it doesn’t really matter, because they and the lucky winners of the other, early tv licenses, were all right – back then.
But as Moses Znaimer, the Canadian media visionary was to lament 20 years later, “yes, but first you have to get your license.”
Certainly, times have changed. You no longer need to have a much sought after broadcast monopoly license of the type afforded to Thompson and Grade in Britain and withheld from Znaimer in Canada, or the many other would-be broadcasters around the world for many decades. As Lew Grade’s nephew, Michael was to find when he was the CEO of the successor to ATV, Scottish and the other U.K. commercial broadcasters at ITV, a license no longer guarantees the “rivers of gold” it once did (also ascribed to Roy Thompson at the time).
So what has evolved in media economics and what keeps changing? In a word “technology”, because of which you now longer need a license, nor even a mountain from which to use it.
Let’s just take a moment to look at where we came from, how we got here, and what that means in the financial evolution of the media.
Three major developments in more recent years have changed the world Thompson and Grade relished, and Znaimer hoped for.
We’d learned to cope with satellites, digitization and broadband, all of which offered never before dreamt of bandwidth for unlimited numbers of media channels and receiving and interactive devices.
But just when we thought we were learning to cope with the financial and business opportunities being created, along comes the Covid pandemic. The worldwide need for lockdown sent audiences for old fashioned broadcasting and newfangled streaming sky high, to record levels. It also sent us headlong into “remote location production”. Particularly for news media, this in turn is resulting in a reappraisal of the high Capex, long amortization lifecycle of the technology needed. We are moving from a Capex world to an Opex lifestyle.
Covid caused a world panic like no other. As in previous mass social upheavals, such as wars and panic stations, necessity became the mother of invention, and adoption of technologies such as “the cloud”, which may have otherwise taken another cycle or two to catch on, were hurriedly pressed into use.
Change specialists teach that there can be no systemic change, or evolution, in any system, unless there is a well understood belief that change is in fact needed. Soaring use of media, coupled with a never expected plummet in media revenues, mainly due to a fall in advertising and marketing activity, forced the reality that changes needed to be made – and they are.
Often this required expedient, temporary “fixes” to cobble together legacy technology as best as could be achieved for remote operation or changed production and distribution circumstances. We’re now starting to realize those changes which we may have anticipate as being “temporary” are actually becoming the “new normal.”
WARC is a file format for the long-term preservation of digital data. As brands and media operators shift their marketing and distribution strategies from temporary adjustment to permanent transformation, the recently released WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2022: Global Trends Report, which brings together insights from a survey of 1,500 global executives, reports that, “Far from signaling a return to normal, the opening up of economies emerging from lockdowns, has only created a new set of challenges for marketers. Attitudes, behaviors and market structures have resulted in significant change during the pandemic. With vaccination rates rising, many parts of the world are starting to see a return to what we used to assume was ‘normal’. However, even in these markets, consumers are rethinking and evaluating lifestyles, resulting in different behaviors, preferences and patterns in their use of media and technology.”
The international media research giant Kantar can also detect that the video streaming subscription model, which rose mightily during the harsher parts of the pandemic, is starting to lose its power to drive long-term growth. In its latest Media Trends report, Kantar forecasts that the fight for audience numbers will drive a further diversification of business models in 2022, with a sole subscription offer becoming scarce. Kantar predicts further industry consolidation as platforms seek to offer more and better content.
Technology is giving consumers exponentially more news and entertainment options, and largely changed how people discover new content; which providers they get it from; and how they pay for it (if they pay, at all). As Kantar point out, the ultimate competition for media operators has become the one commodity that is no longer expanding: people’s disposable time.
The research organisation Hub was set up to study the intersection of technology and entertainment.
Three key trends emerged from Hub Entertainment Research’s latest Conquering Content study, which tracks how consumers discover TV content – and the platforms they use to watch newly discovered shows and movies:
The Hub report shows streaming’s advantage as the home for favorite shows continues to grow. Consumers are now three times more likely to discover a new show on a streaming platform than on a traditional network.
Among TV viewers who have discovered a new favorite TV show in the past year, 75 per cent say the show they’ve discovered is on a streaming service. Only 21 per cent have discovered a new favorite from a traditional pay-tv source such as DVR etc.
The proportion discovering a new favorite on streaming has increased every year since Hub have been tracking viewing behaviors, while the proportion discovering their latest favorite show on a traditional service has declined every year.
Another legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to be a fundamental and continued change to how and where journalists do their work – as well as a renewed focus on recruitment, retention, and diversity. It may not happen overnight, but news organisations are rethinking what the office is for and what kind of opportunities that throws up. Do they really need large production centers?
The Oxford based Reuters Institute survey notes that remote working has “made newsrooms more efficient, and that many employees also value greater flexibility, but it is also clear that people miss the creativity, collaboration, and communication (3Cs) that is the lifeblood of any newsroom.” The key question, it says, is how to strike the right balance between those features.
As many of the Reuters Institute interviewees noted, the hybrid future is about much more than just enabling any greater employee rights to remote working. It goes on, “In an ideal world, it describes a new operating model where work is done without reference to location, where talent is used more effectively, where hierarchies are less formal, and where diverse groups are included in conversations. It’s also likely to involve a greater amount of face-to-face contact with colleagues, whether that is just to socialize, reinforce company culture, or collaborate on creative projects.”
Some news organisations are just starting out on these journeys, while others are already some way down the line. All however are paying more serious attention to technologies such as the cloud, that only 18 months ago they may have been expecting to engage with in another 18 to 24 months from today. Instead, they’re evaluating and implementing – and using it - now, out of the combined necessities of reduced costs, regulatory changes allowing more amalgamation of once separate media units, reduced space and real estate requirements, cleaner environments, greater security from hacking and ransomware attack.
Another financial implication of the aftermath of Covid-induced and hastened media evolution is system security. “Hubbing” where the operations of co-owned media operators are combined in one location, is another development, brought about by regulatory changes in recognition of the fact that we don’t need to restrict media ‘licenses’ in the same way, anymore.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group is one of the largest owners of local TV stations - 184 stations in some 86 markets - and the largest owner of regional sports networks in the United States. On October 17th the company was the victim of a ransomware attack that took much of its local programming off the air, lost its commercial load and had data stolen from the company’s servers.
As media operators seek further synergistic interconnect, such ransomware attacks have added new financial and operational fears to the evolving media of today – and tomorrow.
At the iOMedia Group Limited we believe the safest way around most of the issues the industry is facing is via the Cloud Native route. That’s why we are releasing the LNS Cloud 9 newsroom system at IBC 2021. You can see it in action at www.livesystems.io where you can also arrange for a private demo.
John O’Loan is CEO of the iOMedia Group Limited, which releases the cloud native LNS live news and sports control system in Amsterdam at IBC 2021. He was responsible for the launch of Sky News and was also instrumental in the launch and running of Sky TG24 Italy, STAR News China, STAR News India, National Geographic Channels and FOX International Channels and as an independent consultant worked with more than 40 media brands worldwide.
He is a graduate of Culture Change studies at the University of Oxford and HEC Paris, co-founder of the Change Leaders Group and continues independent consultancy for media companies internationally, including NDTV India.