2020 not predictable, but anyway…

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Most years in digital media could be captioned “a significant year of change [development], [evolution], [revolution]”, your precise description choice probably depending on your perspective.

2020 will, I think, be a year of very significant evolution of the revolution that already happened. The revolution was (is) OTT and all the technological, commercial and cultural consequences it unleashed that, in 2020, will begin to be the ‘new normal’.

We used to wonder whether the success of OTT – specifically exemplified through Netflix – would drive big content over a tipping point where it would risk the prevailing ecosystem and go direct. Well, now they have all ‘gone over the top’ – and in 2020, we’ll find out whose attack will work and whose will bog down. So much is at stake that some will probably stick at it longer than they should and, therefore, all the new plays will still be going at the end of 2020. But the die will be cast and not all will make it through 2021.

Partly as a result of the above, expect more M&A in content. Comcast, Disney and AT&T are now ‘too big to fail’ and probably also too big to be allowed to buy any more. By comparison, others such as ViacomCBS, Discovery, AMC, for instance, look puny. They could get together or be snapped up by the techs – Google, Amazon, Apple – who are toying with media and make even the biggest media companies look like corner shops: Apple’s value passed $1.2 trillion in 2019, at the same time AT&T TW was valued at $278 billion.

The value of content per se will continue to climb. Good content is the crack-cocaine of SVoD and the suppliers just saw a whole new bunch of billionaires get hooked. Trouble is, you can’t tell a good batch from bad until after it’s made. And the cook’s track record often isn’t much of a guide. That’s why even the most second-hand of shows can trade for a billion dollars if the audience still love it. In 2020, the vocabulary of what constitutes a hit will need to evolve. Can anyone yet define what blend of publicity, reputation, eyeballs, budget, new subs, sub retention, constitutes a Hit? The Irishman (a long movie about a hit man) cost Netflix $140 million and has had great critical acclaim and 26 million homes watched it (mostly all the way through presumably) in the first week – of course, that’s many times the number that see even a huge box office hit in theatres. But Bird Box cost $20 million and 45 million viewed it (definitely all the way through) over its first week.

Meanwhile, service providers will be getting used to cord shaving and they’ll be coping by keeping the cord intact but accepting that retailing content down it is no longer their business. QoS and QoE is their business, and gatewaying and facilitating – unified recommendation/selection(?) – the over supply of content by others are new models they need to get on top of.

Mobile. How many times was mobile TV the next big thing and then wasn’t? Now it’s all just bandwidth, but 5G is still promoted as a big boost to mobile media. Not in 2020 – progress on roll out is slow and, anyway, where TV on a small screen is concerned you won’t see any difference to 4G, unless it’s cheaper – so you won’t see any difference.

Advertising; globally still the mainstay of most of the television most people watch most of the time, it isn’t going anywhere. But is it going to significantly change to become predominantly, or even significantly more, programmatic? No, it won’t. Targeting will get better as use of data mining improves, but there is still a fundamental disconnect when the kind of companies who use TV the most value the reach more than the – to them – modest savings on wastage. Targeting comes into its own only as the kind of companies who see TV as beyond them are drawn to the market, but that is a slow process.

Nearer to home our remaining category of TV; publicly-funded PSB, looks like it will have to face the uncomfortable reality of its licence model being out of date rather sooner than it hoped. Our new government has an attitude the BBC akin to a cat with a mouse. And the cat just got a big majority.


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