Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

We must pressure government to do right thing on prominence

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast March 25, 2021

Broadcasters have to work with the global streamers or risk becoming irrelevant – but they have an ace up their sleeve, says Kate Bulkley

Oprah with Harry and Meghan

Whatever you thought of the Harry and Meghan interview, it proved the media can’t live with them and can’t live without them. The Sussexes are in a similar conundrum: rejecting what they see as stifling rules of living inside the monarchical firm, but building their brand based on their ongoing relationship with it.

The two-hour interview set ITV off on a rollercoaster ride. On the one hand, it attracted a peak of more than 12 million viewers, while on the other, it led to more than 41,000 Ofcom complaints after Piers Morgan pooh-poohed Meghan’s claim that she’d felt suicidal.

His comments were out of step with ITV’s own campaign promoting good mental health and ultimately resulted in his exit. Whatever you think of Morgan, he has been instrumental in reviving Good Morning Britain’s ratings, so he will be a loss for the broadcaster in terms of audience numbers.

This ‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’ theme was also apparent at the Deloitte Enders Media and Telecoms conference last month, where the PSB chiefs all sung off the same song sheet.

They highlighted the global tech giants and the changing nature of media consumption as the biggest threats to their existence, while also acknowledging the need to work with those same companies to create the programmes they need to stay alive.

ITV chief executive Carolyn McCall warned PSBs would soon be even more reliant on the likes of Google, Amazon, Apple and Netflix. “If left unchecked,” these businesses could “kill off” our broadcasters “in their current guise” by dictating terms, she argued.

The PSBs want to ensure British programmes aren’t buried in the deep blue sea of SVoD content, and securing prominence and fair compensation are essential. Any new legislation replacing the Communications Act 2003 needs to better fit the digital world.

The nuance is that PSBs need both a level playing field and to align with their enemies. BBC director general Tim Davie said those that can’t “construct global solutions to delivering IP” would be at a “serious disadvantage” and warned we are at a “point of jeopardy”.

But what is the special sauce that makes British programming successful and eminently exportable? Banijay chief executive Marco Bassetti says that while English-language content is key, even more important is the rights retention system that underpins the innovation, creativity and quality of UK content.

“There is a danger that the pocketbooks and massive reach of the global steamers will simply overwhelm everything else”

Add to that the “warmth” of certain British shows, such as Strictly Come Dancing, and you have a winning formula, says Sony Pictures Television president of international production Wayne Garvie.

But even as revered as British production is, there is a danger that the pocketbooks and massive reach of the global steamers will simply overwhelm everything else. As such, digital Deloitte delegates heard Sky Studios chief content officer Jane Millichip argue that producers and broadcasters cannot obsess about complete rights retention and must embrace a more nuanced global marketplace.

Channel 4 chief executive Alex Mahon puts it this way: broadcasters have to learn where to fish. C4 found a way to reach 13-24s by working with Snap – 27% of the audience found here has now started watching C4’s longform nightly news programme after consuming digital content on the social platform. This underlies the importance of understanding how audiences access content in the streaming world.

The PSBs are now of one mind: they have to play with the big dogs or risk becoming irrelevant. They have an ace to play in this game – the ability to create TV that resonates with British and overseas audiences – and every part of the industry should be joining with them to push the government to make the legislative changes required.

Only with the right powers can Ofcom do the right thing over prominence.

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