This week’s Media Podcast is full of their contributors’ predictions for 2015. Lots of websites have lots of predictions, but for whatever reason, I’ve never bothered doing something like in the past.
But why would I let that stop me? So I’ve put together a list of some things that I think might happen in 2015. Note that I’m excluding anything I have any direct knowledge of. For example, this year is going to be big for the BBC with a Charter renewal beginning after the election. And goodness knows what kind of government we’re going to have in May. Setting all that aside, here’s what I reckon 2015 will bring, trying to avoid everything that has already come up on the aforementioned podcast. If I remember, I’ll try to revisit these at the end of the year and see how I’ve done.
- The year of dirty TV. No I don’t mean more Richard Desmond stuff. I mean the dirt and grime of Beowulf and The Last Kingdom. Both of these dramas are set in the Middle Ages, and it’s probably not a coincidence that they some of the less fantastical elements of Game of Thrones. OK – these are two shows that have already been commissioned. And we can add into the mix a UK airing of Outlander which although set later, is also full of grit.
- Slow TV. I am genuinely amazed that no UK broadcaster has done this so far. I’m talking about some of the things that Norwegian TV in particular has done in broadcasting a cruise around the fjords, travel along one of their more picturesque railway lines, a log fire or knitting. Why hasn’t BBC2, say, given up an evening for something like this? Aside from anything else, it makes pretty cheap TV, and I think UK viewers would like it. (NB. We’ve done the reverse of course, with London to Brighton in 4 minutes, and I remember a QED where they strapped a camera to an RAF fighter and flew it around the entire British coastline.)
- Maker TV. In a similar vein, more about making stuff. Interestingly this year’s Royal Insititution Christmas Lectures were on hacking things. But this isn’t just for kids. With 3D printers, Raspberry Pi’s and websites like Makezine and Instructables, the growth of “How To…” YouTube videos, and the general resurgence of crafting, there’s a massive gap in the market for TV shows along these lines. You’d support such shows with instructions on the broadcasters’ website and perhaps more detailed videos you could follow along at home.
- Drones. In particular, more drones being used by programme makers. They’re already out there quite a bit, with lots of broadcasters using them to get cheap aerial shots. But there’s only going to be more of it. Indeed why isn’t there already a daytime show called something like “Britain by Drone” featuring beauty shots of the countryside shot by one man and his remote control? Cheap and beautiful!
- Podcasts growing. I’m not alone in thinking that there will be some kind of “Serial effect.” I’m just not quite show how it will happen. There are certainly going to be more producers making more challenging podcasts. But there are still some issues surrounding how these are going to be funded. It’d be nice to think that crowdfunding UK productions will become more of “a thing” in the UK.
- Impact of Serial on Radio 4. I’d like to think that the only radio station that has the scale and impetus to learn from what Serial has achieved is Radio 4. I wouldn’t want to see a carbon copy of Serial – in any case such things take a long time to produce by their very nature. But I’d love to see more demanding long-form radio. In some respects in the UK we leave that to TV. A TV documentary maker might spend many months putting together a carefully crafted programme for BBC 2 or Channel 4, whereas you won’t get a multi-part fly on the wall documentary series on the radio. But TV makes more demands for “characters” with lots of “casting” happening before production starts. Radio can cut through a lot of this. On the other hand, I don’t want to see Radio 4 copying some of the lazier traits of US “NPR”-style production. I think we’ve had enough plinky-plonky music and unusual cutting between narrators and contributors.
- Advertising/Product Placement and YouTube becomes a bigger issue. The case at the end of 2014 involving various YouTubers and paid for advertising by Oreos was very interesting because it highlighted the fact that mainstream brands are spending significant sums targeting the millions of viewers of these podcasts. But I suspect that the Oreos case was just the tip of the iceberg. I heard some very unusual defences of the practice which all went along the lines of “well where’s the boundary anyway?” Well that doesn’t wash. If we have rules (and we do) then they need to be applied equally to every platform. That means YouTube and that also means Twitter where there’s still an awful lot of undisclosed paid-for product placement.
- A national paper closes. And you’ve got to think that it’d be the Indy. It could “merge” with the “i”, except that the “i” is only really successful if it can use the Indy’s resources. How much can Lebedev afford to lose?
- Tough year for Local TV. I’ve never been convinced by Jeremy Hunt’s plans for television that he foisted onto Ofcom (and the BBC through your licence fee). London is struggling, Birmingham will finally get off the ground, and Scotland seems to be doing OK (by virtue of being part of STV). But I suspect that we’re going to see more issues as stations shut down. And has the BBC actually used anything from any of the stations so far. That was part of the plan wasn’t it? That the BBC should buy things from them?
- New radio brands on D2. When Ofcom awards the second national commercial radio multiplex sometime in the early summer, we will probably be presented with a mix of established and new radio brands. Established brands will be some of those that for various reasons don’t have national carriage (perhaps only being on some local multiplexes). But we should finally see some actual new brands. I think we’ve probably taken this whole “Extra” thing as far as we can. I’m still curious to see how Heart, a station that plays less than 800 tracks can support a spin-off brand. But let’s forget about them, and get something that’s actually new and a bit different. What’d be really exciting would be if someone could make a business case for a commercial station with no traditional 30 second spots (yes, there is Team Rock, but I’m talking about a station that can support an actual business case).
- iPlayer Radio introduces downloads. OK. That’s a bit unfair as we know it’s due to happen. It has just been a bit slow. But this will be great for those who want to listen to specialist music shows complete. For example, I love Radio 3’s Sound of Cinema show, but the podcast is just a tease with so much music edited out!
- Netflix/Amazon air more UK originated offerings. We know that Netflix has The Crown on the British monarchy coming, with Peter Morgan writing no less. And Amazon has saved Ripper Street. But I think we can expect more to come, with the shows being nearly as internationally saleable as US fare.
- Netflix/Amazon will strike out a bit more. Undoubtedly the pair has done well so far with House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Transparent. But throwing money at a project does not guarantee success. With the best will in the world, you will experience failures, and these services will have them too. The bigger issue will be determining what they are since neither tell anyone how well they’re doing. So I might be right about this, but I won’t be able to prove it.
- Audible shakes up UK audio drama. Last August, Amazon subsidiary Audible launched its first UK audio drama, The Child, starring Andy Serkis amongst others. It followed this up with Six Degrees of Assassination starring Andrew Scott, Freema Agyeman and Hermione Norris. Audible has the clout to commission more of this, and in doing so might give audio drama a bit of a kick. (NB. I’ve heard neither so couldn’t say how good/bad they are)
- Another tough year for UK music. The end of 2014 saw a significant fall in downloads revenue, and although streaming revenues are still climbing, it’s not clear that one makes up for the other. We’ve yet to see streaming companies arrive at viable long-term business models, and although some of the big players like Apple and Google can afford to lose money, even they must turn their ventures profitable in the medium term. In the meantime, I suspect we’ll see more artists like Taylor Swift pulling their wares from the store.
- And another tough year for cinema. To say that Hollywood has put all its eggs in the superhero basket would be an understatement. It’s all very well mapping out five, six or seven year’s worth of Marvel/DC/Universal characters, but audiences can and will tire of the same old same old. The problem is that even as US and European audiences tire, the money continues to come in from places like China where they love Transformers et al. That also leaves problems as to who your villains are. Because you can’t use people from countries that are your new biggest markets (China, Russia). And nobody is using North Korea any longer because they’re scared. Will it be us Brits again?
- Advertisers actually begin to care about rampant online advertising fraud. It’s not a secret, but billions of dollars are being wasted by blue chip companies on advertising fraud, and very little is being done about it. That cannot be sustainable as online becomes the biggest part of an advertising budget. I’ve heard it argued that fraud is factored in to the price that advertisers pay, but I can think of no other media where you’re mentally doubling the effective price you’re paying because you know half the inventory won’t get displayed. There’s still a lot of naivety and an element of the Wild West about online advertising. But that’s unsustainable given the size of the market now.
- Sky launches a 4K channel (and quietly closes its 3D channel). This might not happen this year, but it’ll only be shortcomings due to Sky digital hardware if it doesn’t. 4K is coming, and Sky want to be at the forefront. You’ll pay a bit more for it of course. In the meantime everyone knows 3D has run its course. Even Sky has given up covering sport in 3D and that Attenborough show they had over New Year was probably commissioned ages ago. Occulus Rift is more exciting…
- Some serious product placement on ITV. Despite all the freedoms, product placement bought, it feels that so far it has largely been buried away in daytime. It would be really interesting if a big glossy primetime show was essentially brought to you by an advertiser. There seems to be a feeling that advertisers will do this sort of thing online – and they will. But it’s ever harder to get cut-through online. You spend money on your YouTube channel and you are up against literally millions of other videos. Even in a multi-channel world, a show on ITV has massive reach. (My idea would be to produce an ad-free show suitable for running in primetime after a big glossy ITV show where they want to shift the advertising minutage into the glossy show. That’s what ITV does with X-Factor etc. And it’s the reason that you get those commercial breaks where you only ever see trails for other ITV shows. It’s not that they couldn’t sell any ads – it’s just that they’ve used up their minutage.)
- Someone successfully launches a TV format that involves playing a long at home on apps. ITV of course had Rising Star which was supposed to be precisely this format. But technical issues aside, it was clear that this was a flawed format. But the idea is potentially still strong. It just needs the right treatment (which includes not excluding viewers who don’t play along.
- Someone makes a really good phone that is less than 6 inches in screen size. Seriously. Bigger is not always better. Phones have got way too big. I think that a large proportion of the population want something they can use one-handed, can put in their pocket, and won’t have to worry about bending. Also, thinner is not better. Make it a millimetre thicker, but give me longer battery life. I’ll thank you for it. At the moment Google is advertising Android with the slogan “Be together, not the same.” I like that. Apple has become that Ridley Scott Apple ad. But then all Android phones look the same too. 6 inch slabs of glass, metal and plastic. Let’s do something new.
- Apple watches won’t be a massive hit – indeed wearables in general will take another couple of iterations. By the sound of things, Apple is putting a certain amount of processing needed for its watch into the accompanying phone. Because watches are still expected to last longer than the two year phone cycle that consumers have come to expect. Could Apple change that? Possibly. But someone who wants to spend £5000 on an Omega expects to be able to maintain core functionality beyond an OS update or two. Elsewhere we’re clearly not there yet with smartwatches. 24 hour battery life is unacceptable (how many chargers do you expect me to carry around?) and there’s still some significant improvements that need to be made with functionality – health monitoring measurements spring to mind to start with. They’ll get there, but I’m holding back for a while.
That’ll do. I’ve not talked about football rights, the prospective merger of EE and BT or ITV and Channel 5 ownership issues. They’ll all play out too. But let’s see where we get to with these…