Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Media landscape is changing fast

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

Share |

For Broadcast April 18, 2018

Sir Martin Sorrell has left WPP and Facebook is under fire. What’s next? asks Kate Bulkley

The lyrics to What A Difference A Day Makes are running through my head as I contemplate the media landscape minus Sir Martin Sorrell.

The WPP boss may be smallish in stature, but he is a huge presence in adland and beyond. He has set the media landscape agenda for literally decades: remember the bath-shaped recession curve? That was Sir Martin. The L-shaped curve? Him again.

His shock resignation over the weekend after 33 years at the helm of WPP came in the wake of allegations of personal misconduct.

An internal investigation is ongoing, and the likes of Adam Crozier and Jeremy Darroch have been linked to the vacant post.

In an age where global digital platforms are reshaping the media business from advertising to commissioning content to subscriptions, the question is: what’s next?

Sir Martin tweaked the WPP formula recently through something he terms ‘horizontality’. This means cross-selling agencies within WPP to give clients better value. With many moving for scale and consolidation, the concept sounds a bit left field, but then Sorrell likes to think ahead of the curve.

Beyond the ongoing consolidation of major entertainment and TV companies, there is another big reckoning occurring in media; one that has the potential to re-set the business models of the big data-gathering tech companies.

The poster child is Facebook, whose chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has been under fire in the wake of alleged data misuse by UK firm Cambridge Analytica. The implications of how the FAANG firms are perceived by customers and regulated by governments go beyond the social media giant, however.

“I’m not sure that Facebook will actually reform its business model to protect users’ data to the extent that many of us might like”

For those of us braving the rain in Cannes last week at Mip TV, Zuckerberg’s grilling in Congress was counter-balanced by a presentation by Facebook head of content strategy and planning Matthew Henick, who talked about a “new era of social entertainment”.

Here, social is the driver, and conventional windowing strategies will die a death as content gets to consumers via a ‘funnel’ that starts with ad-supported VoD, moves through SVoD, and ends with IRLs (‘In real life experiences’ – yes, they do still exist).

Henick told us that TV is a “window”, while mobile is social and that the social and inter active part makes IP more valuable. He pointed to Skam, the Norwegian teen drama that Facebook has purchased to repurpose for its own platform.

Thankfully for those in the content creation business, Henick believes that a “compelling story” is still key. But for Facebook, while the story is the “video spine” of the experience, it’s the interactions with the audience (the “second script”) that make the content compelling.

Make no mistake, this is not the Netflix model, which Henick says is passive viewing of TV-like content. The brave new Facebook video world is all about lean-forward, social entertainment.

Henick believes this is the new normal. He may be right – but only partly.

There are other ways to engage audiences: one example from Mip TV was a multi-territory scripted project called The Net, in which the perceived hero in one country may turn out to be the villain in another – a twist on multi-viewpoint drama.

It’s been an interesting period, with Mip TV offering clues as to the next attention-getting content, to Facebook’s public mea culpa and the end of Sir Martin. I’ll miss the latter’s metaphors on the economy and the media business.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure that Facebook will actually reform its business model to protect users’ data to the extent that many of us might like. The age of social entertainment may be coming, but I think it will remain a subset to those who want to be delivered a fully formed story.

Only tomorrow will tell – and that’s 24 hours away.

Columns Menu