TBI Weekly: The decade ahead

Gary Davey, Laurine Garaude, Derren Lawford, Farhad Massoudi

TBI has spoken to an array of leading execs from around the world to get their take on how the TV business is changing and what their businesses are doing about it. From streaming and short-form to distribution and development, we delve into the major trends affecting the content business right now and explore how the industry might look this time next year.

Gary Davey, CEO, Sky Studios

What does the formation of Sky Studios and its huge ambitions tell us about the way the content business changed in 2019?
2019 was an amazing year for content and for Sky. You’re completely right to describe Sky Studios as having huge ambitions. It’s hard to believe that it was only six months ago that we opened our doors and now we have 52 scripted shows in production, over 100 people working at Sky Studios across Europe and of course big plans for Sky Studios Elstree. Physical studios space was the last bit in the puzzle, if you like, and I couldn’t be more excited as we look ahead to 2020 – we’ve got a diverse slate, the right team in place and very strong partnerships across the production industry in Europe. The ambition, scale and energy of Sky Studios tells us that the content business is in rude health and nowhere more so than here in Europe. Two of the biggest, most important shows of 2019 – Chernobyl and the final season of Game Of Thrones – both had British and European talent right at the heart of them. It’s this kind of creativity that Sky Studios will showcase to audiences around the world – it’s a massive vote of confidence in the creative community here.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from 2019?
Not necessarily a new lesson, but launching Sky Studios at pace and at scale, was a good reminder of the importance of teamwork and creating a strong collaborative culture. A good culture is built on the foundation of trust. At Sky Studios we are creating a culture that encourages us to be open with one another, be pre-pared to admit our mistakes or uncertainties, never hold one another in judgement, but be open to disagree, to listen, to debate and then commit. This is a good reminder for any business, but particularly a new one like Sky Studios that is growing rapidly.

How will the streaming ecosystem look this time next year?
It’s always hard to predict the future but one thing I learnt very early in my ca-reer is that you’ve got to listen to and be guided by your customers. At Sky, we have over 30 years’ experience managing direct-to-consumer relationships and this understanding of our customers is core to how we build and deliver our services. By this time next year all the new major streaming services will have launched so there’ll inevitably be a period of refining the proposition (including factors such content, pricing, release structure and ad load) based on consumer feedback while each service finds its place in the market.

How important will short-form programming be for Sky?
Sky’s always been ahead of the curve in looking at new trends in how people consume content – whether that’s VR and AR or even thinking back to 3D TV, so short-form programming is certainly something we are exploring and understanding the consumer appetite for. Though our initial focus at Sky Studios is on creating more full-length drama and comedy series for TV, I always tell my team that we on-ly have one rule, and that’s that we have no rules. So if the right project comes along in 2020, then who knows… watch this space.

Do you expect to see more consolidation in 2020 compared with 2019?
Possibly, but not at the scale we have seen in 2019. Whether it’s Disney/Fox, AT&T/TimeWarner or Comcast/Sky, I think all of these major acquisitions will now go through a period of evolution and bedding in. I would add that integration and knowledge-sharing between Comcast and Sky is going extremely well across all areas of our business from content, to advertising, to sport to consumer products. And the learnings are going in both directions too – Comcast to Sky and Sky to Comcast. There’s a tremendous amount of respect and shared vision on both sides.

Laurine Garaude, Director of TV,  Reed Midem

The events calendar for TV has proliferated over recent years, what does this say about the evolution of the content business?

It’s a reflection of the huge changes in the global content industry – ongoing consolidation, the launch of streaming platforms, new technologies and distribution platforms, new business models. In this increasingly complex landscape, the industry needs face to face networking more than ever, and established international markets like ours offer business-efficient ways to do that. Additionally they are looking to these events to provide insights they can trust and strong curation to help them discover new content and make new partnerships and deals.

How do you foresee the events side of the content business adapting to a world increasingly dominated by streamers?

I see a few key areas of evolution we are seeing in our markets:

  • There’s a huge opportunity for content producers to satisfy the increased demand and international production is more significant than ever.
  • With increased competition for top talent and new voices, there is new opportunity for content producers from around the world.
  • Streamers also need events where they can meet producers and they are also developing strategic partnerships in certain territories with broadcasters for co-productions.
  • There’s been a significant shift to commissioning projects at very early stages, and due to the consumer demand for very high quality content this is also creating the need for broadcasters and distributors to seek more co-productions and co-financing deals.

In this complex and changing environment , we see our role as leading content events, to help make new connections from around the world across all genres  to help identify new projects, and to provide a  filter for buyers and commissioners by presenting curated showcases and pitches of projects, works in progress and world premieres. Given the proliferation of quality content, markets and festivals are also increasingly key as media platforms to drive visibility and awareness in a crowded landscape

Development of projects across scripted and unscripted is happening ever earlier, how is this affecting the events business?

The distribution business is evolving with many distributors more involved in early stage investments, which is what led us to launch the Production Funding Forum at MIPCOM and In Development at MIPTV, which helps identify projects at the initial development stage.  In Development continues to grow as a business accelerator that combines the discovery of great new projects across unscripted and scripted, and enabling access to international financing and the creation of strategic partnerships, so key in today’s business.  Content development sits at the heart of all our markets so we are well positioned to support the industry as it evolves.

How is the market for finished tape sales changing and what does this mean for event organisers?

The importance of transactional efficient meetings to buy and sell is of course still an ongoing key part of the business but – as explained in my answers above – it is coupled now with the need to meet the production community  and to source and finance new projects and that is reflected across all our international markets.  I’ve already talked about the Production Funding Forum at MIPCOM and InDevelopment at MIPTV and meeting production partners is also an important part of MIPCancun and MIPChina through a programme of pre-scheduled co-pro meetings. MIPTV continues to have a strong focus on buyers with a new-hosted buyers’ programme and expanded content discovery and content curation.

Do you expect to see a consolidation in the number of content-related events occurring over the next couple of years?

With so many markets out there, probably, but from a Reed Midem perspective, no we don’t. Our portfolio of MIPCOM, MIPTV, MIPChina, MIPCancun has evolved to support a growing and increasingly important international content market. We had a really vibrant, highly successful MIPCancun, now in its sixth year, with some 1000 participants from 50 countries and 6,625 pre-scheduled meetings. The need for face to face is only growing. There is always going to be a need for efficient markets that bring together key decision makers from around the world. People will start to be more selective about which ones they attend, they will choose the ones that best understand, and support the changing needs of their businesses.

Derren Lawford, Creative director, Woodcut Media

Interest in factual has proliferated recently, do you expect to see this growth slow down over 2020?
No, not really. There are even more buyers and more platforms some of whom are launch-ing next year. They all need distinctive content, and factual is a key part of any direct to consumer TV offering. As such, I think what will grow in tandem with interest in factual is the desire for bigger, more ambitious series and higher editorial expectations irrespective of the programme’s tariff by those trying to compete with the streamers.

Streamers have been increasing their output deals with high profile scripted talent over the past year, do you expect to see this behaviour increase in unscripted this year?
It’s possible but it’s harder to identify the one person who makes a factual series sing. In scripted if you’re generating IP and showrunning like Shonda [Rhymes] or Ryan Murphy or Phoebe [Waller-Bridge] then that comes at a premium. It’s harder to name a director in the factual space that has that same impact. However, I think it’s possible that an exec with an Indie with specific output and a proven track record could get signed to an uber-output deal.

What unscripted show (outside of Woodcut’s slate) of 2019 most surprised you and why?
Rhythm & Flow. It reinvented the talent show genre by backing a music genre neglected by TV; reinvented format development by having different format points in different episodes; and reinvented VOD/TV scheduling by dropping episodes in a binge viewing and expectation raising manner.

What will be the single biggest opportunity for producers (at least that you’re prepared to tell us about) in 2020?

The volume and variety of buyers, commissioners and platforms who could fund your shows – if you have enough time to meet and develop for them all.

What has been the biggest challenge for Woodcut in 2019?
Satisfying the demand for our shows and the increasingly mixed economy of funding factual shows. It’s a nice challenge to have but a challenge, nevertheless.

Farhad Massoudi, CEO, Tubi

How will the AVOD market change in 2020?
As free streaming continues to grow, free linear streaming will become pretty commoditized. Most streaming platforms and OEM devices will directly integrate free linear feeds into their platforms, while a lot of networks will launch their free linear feeds as a mechanism to have a bet in AVOD. In light of the success of the free streaming business model, AVOD is only going to continue to take over TV viewership as linear declines.

Do you expect to see AVOD services commissioning more content over the next year?
AVOD content will improve across the board. On Tubi, a number of titles are AVOD exclusive, as we are democratizing premium content and making it easily accessible to a broad spectrum of underserved audiences. You will see a general upward trend across AVOD with commissioning content as well as securing exclusive content.

What is the single biggest challenge for continued AVOD growth?
The biggest challenge in AVOD is the same for all of television: content discovery. What we are striving to achieve as an industry is pairing the consumer with the right piece of content in a short amount of time across any device.

To read more insights and predictions about the year ahead from top executives from across the industry, check out the links below:

Sony Pictures Television’s Nina Lederman, StudioCanal’s Francoise Guyonnet & Starz’s Superna Kalle

Fremantle’s Vasha Wallace

Synchronicity Films’ Claire Mundell & Submarine’s Femke Wolting

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