TBI Weekly: Top takeaways from RTS London

A vibrant RTS London conference earlier this week saw top figures in the UK market underline the pressing need for collaboration in the face of FAANG. But opinions were split on whether the likes of Netflix and Amazon are friend or foe. 

The day-long event saw senior figures such as All3Media’s Jane Turton label the rise of SVOD competition a “positive” in the wake of stagnant primary commissioning spend from domestic broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. Amazon’s director of European originals Georgia Brown also insisted that contrary to former Studios boss Roy Price’s ominous threat last year, Amazon “desperately” wants to be in business with broadcasters. 

However, numerous calls were made for the regulation of digital giants in order to level the playing field and broadcasting bosses such as ITV’s Carolyn McCall all but confirmed the rise of a domestic equivalent to Netflix. 

Below are TBI’s top takeaways from the conference:  

1) Amazon “not out to step on any toes” 

The SVOD’s European boss Georgia Brown used her platform at RTS to do some serious damage control, pedaling back on the bold claims made by former Studios boss Roy Price last year, when he said that Amazon could “take the whole show” from broadcasters if the latter didn’t pay up on co-productions. Brown said repeatedly that Amazon was “not here to compete” and is not in the business of warehousing rights – positioning the platform as a flexible alternative to Netflix. “The idea of warehouseing rights, sitting on rights and owning these things globally is mad. That will kill our industry,” she said. 

2) SVOD opportunity for the UK  

Sharon White, the head of British TV regulator Ofcom, said the body was “very supportive” of broadcasters uniting for a UK streaming service. Plans were in place for a similar initiative 10 years ago, but were struck down by the UK competition authority. “With the benefit of hindsight, it was a mistake. We want to signal very strongly that the PSBs are stronger, together,” she said. 

However, messages were mixed from figures such as ITV chief exec Carolyn McCall, who has suggested that the business is potentially looking outside a broadcaster alliance, and could be involved with an international partner. “What we have said is we won’t be a British Netflix. ITV is ITV and we need to play to our strengths.” The exec revealed this week that ITV has hired Britbox exec Reemah Sakaan to push new SVOD plans for the company. 

3) Time is right for innovative partnerships 

Channel 4 boss Alex Mahon called The Circle broadcaster’s recent content sharing partnership with Sky – and indeed its previous content pact with Vice – a sign of things to come, noting that “that deal is about thinking of them as a platform and trying to increase our reach. We will always be looking for more of that.” Elsewhere, Sky UK director of programmes Zai Bennett added that “we have to see how that works but I would hope that if it does, it would look very positively [for more collaborations]”. 

4) Working with FAANG can bring business back

Channel 4 director of programmes Ian Katz was not as reticent as some of his peers when it came to the threat of FAANG, noting that “when a multi-series show goes on to Netflix, we see clear evidence of new audiences finding them and then coming back to C4.” The exec said that selling sitcom Friday Night Dinner into Netflix had brought “new viewers” back to C4 for the show’s fifth installment. Similarly, Jeff Wachtel, president of NBCUniversal International Studios, said that SVODs presented a “virtuous cycle” and “enabled an audience to come to a show they wouldn’t have otherwise.” 

The exec labeled Netflix a “friendversary”, highlighting that “they were very friendly at first and paid us an incredible amount for second windows” but also then branded the content as Netflix Originals. “They were an enabler, but now we are working towards the adversary category.”

5) Digital regulation is key 

ITV’s McCall was among a number of execs, including BBC director general Tony Hall (pictured, left), who insisted on tougher regulation for SVODs. “We have to make sure that regulatory regime is either diminished or applies across the board. The 9pm watershed for broadcasters does sound very old-fashioned because it doesn’t exist in other media,” she said. 

Ofcom’s Sharon White said the regulator’s “understanding [of tech players] is deepening” but admitted that more work is to be done on how to regulate effectively. “The answer is not simply to transplant broadcast regulation unamended into online. The Internet is different in audience and scale, and the sheer volume of audio or video shared online far outstrips the output of traditional media.”

(Photo: RTS/Paul Hampartsoumian)

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BAFTA will honour Saturday Night Live with a special award to celebrate its influence on television comedy in the UK and around the world

IPCN, the Anglo-Chinese TV producer and distributor, and UK indie Zig Zag Productions are set to coproduce a short-form series on street art for Chinese digital channel, Channel R

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