ONE: The Art of the Reveal Secrets and surprises are adding ‘stickiness’ to shows regardless of genre
Keeping something secret and fresh, or tense and unpredictable until just the right moment is the media challenge of our era. Even in pre-recorded shows such as The Apprentice or Bake-Off, TV audiences are increasingly addicted to this form of ‘liveness’, to unpredictability, to the ‘reveal’ of memorable real-time moments that cut through the noise. Shows as diverse as Richard III: King in the Car Park and Catfish offer different examples of this, but it is also becoming popular in drama, as shown by the almost complete blackout on advance information regarding the return of this week’s Broadchurch. The only way to find out how the story would continue was to watch. Regardless of genre, what all these shows share is what broadcasters right now consider a Holy Grail – the ability to create news and hook viewers right to the end.
TWO: Goodnight to Overnights How can networks judge success in the face of changing viewing habits?
For US networks, the traditional Fall Season bloodbath was surprisingly restrained in 2014, with more shows being treated leniently despite weak ratings. Or, more accurately, seemingly weak ratings. With fewer finished shows waiting to replace axed projects, and with uncertainty regarding the new DVR dominated landscape, many networks opted to let go of the once-reliable same day ratings and saw huge audience increases once time-shifted viewing was taken into account. Hollywood has been left scratching its head over when to judge whether a show is successful, and will likely continue to do so until a new ratings metric that truly reflects audience behaviour is found.
One of the biggest trends to emerge at Mipcom 2014 was the growth of international drama co-productions.
THREE: Money In The Bank Will VOD pre-sales help networks absorb the cost of drama production?
Based on projections by RBC Capital Market, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime will be godsends to the major studios in the coming years. These three subscription VOD services are projected to spend a collective $6.8 billion on programming in 2015, a sum that can only be a comfort to producers facing an uncertain network market. Most notably, SVOD budgets are being spent on content before it even airs on TV. Warner Brothers Studios and Netflix reached an agreement for Gotham while CBS Productions sold big summer series Extant and Zoo to Amazon Prime. This new model of spending can help put a studio closer to profit before shows have aired for a year, enabling them to take some of the risk out of producing content.
FOUR: International Drama Co-Productions Are international collaborations the new standard for European drama?
One of the biggest trends to emerge at Mipcom 2014 was the growth of international drama co-productions, both in English and local language. eOne Television’s hostage drama Ransom comes via Canada’s Shaw Media and France’s TF1. Haut et Court is working with Britain’s Sky Vision and Germany’s Tandem on jewel heist series The Last Panthers, and also partners with Tandem and Israeli July-August Productions on the eco thriller Rubber Ducks. Tandem has also announced participation in cocaine drama Zero Zero Zero, which comes from France’s Canal Plus Création Originale and Italian indie Cattleya.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Wildside partners with Sky Italia and Germany’s Beta Film for political thriller 1992, and Beta Film also joins X-Filme, ARD, and Sky Deutschland for Tom Tykwer’s noir detective series Babylon Berlin. With broadcaster budgets shrinking, particularly in countries with austerity-stricken pubcasters, more and more expensive dramas will be funded in this way.
FIVE: Mega Mergers and Small Start-Ups Will industry consolidation and fragmentation spell the end of mid-sized production?
The turbulence of the global economic situation may be settling down, but the ripples are still being felt. The industry giants continue to expand through mergers and acquisitions, creating formidable vertically integrated TV pipelines. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the scale, more and more enterprising small indies are being formed by people breaking away from these behemoths. A similar process has actually been ongoing in the games industry for the past few years, with the result that there are now a small number of expensive blockbusters, dozens of tiny independent releases but virtually no product to occupy the mid-tier of the video games market. Different media have different needs, of course, but it’s a potential pitfall that should be heeded.
Keeping something secret and fresh, or tense and unpredictable until just the right moment is the media challenge of our era.
SIX: Crime Still Pays Is True Crime the next factual genre to reach critical mass?
True Crime remains one of the most reliable documentary formats, and will no doubt continue to do so. There’s a sense, however, that the genre may be about to join topics such as food and property as one robust enough to support not just series and programming strands, but entire themed networks. In the US, new cable venture Justice Network is trialling exactly that: wall-to-wall true crime shows, punctuated with localised police alerts and appeals. These are early days, but given the public’s appetite for the content, and the willingness of modern viewers to binge watch across multiple platforms, we suspect this is a trend that could easily grow.
SEVEN: Digital Video comes of age The rise of bespoke media outlets that are entirely digital
TV advertising spend was down in 2014, as brands diverted increasing portions of their budgets towards digital where campaigns can be more precisely targeted and react to audience behaviour, unlike the inefficient scattershot cost of buying prime time slots on TV. Quite apart from the well-documented ascent of Netflix, Hulu and other VOD platforms, we are seeing the rise of bespoke media outlets that are entirely digital in both their product and outlook. Vice is the obvious success story in this regard, but even traditional media companies such as Conde Nast and once-moribund online giants such as AOL have gained fresh traction by developing and delivering quality online programming that exists and thrives outside of the broadcast ecosystem.