TV Industry 2023: Waiting for the Future

Why you should boldly go into the Future and not wait until it overruns you. Predictions on trends and developments in the TV industry. Where are opportunities for growth and disruption this year?

The TV Industry globally has hit a stand still in 2023. Uncertainty is everywhere to be seen. An almost apathetic mood has started to crawl across the globe and some people even become outright pessimistic: words of war, dramatic change and massive disruption make the round.

In media, and in TV particularly, we became used to on-going growth, constant expansion and one sensational new move after another. We indulge in reaching for the stars, in breaking new records and driving our teams from one success to the next. Digital TV has open the watergate and Streaming was the ultimate flood: never ever have we created more TV channels and platforms, produced more content and distributed it more widely in every corner of the planet.

And now? Is the big recession halting all ambitions? Have we lost momentum in our continuous growth and acceleration? Is that it?

Quite a lot of people and experts speak of war now:STREAMING WAR has become a standard description of what is going on. The battles have started over who has the most subscribers and who conquers most territories. Fierceless fighting over the best content, for the best talent and ultimately the most efficient strategy has been predicted. Fiefdoms will be assessed, fought over and merged. Everyone has some idea who is going to buy whom. Netflix on the butcher block: get some piece of prime streaming meat now.

I personally despise this concept of a war. Especially in these days, where we have a real war right in Europe and where people in many parts of the world fight for their living in really hard circumstances, we should be very careful of talking about a ‘war’. It is competition, it is just normal market forces doing their act. It is nothing to fret about or aggrandize the working of economics into an epic battle of the very forces that manifest life. It is all a normal development in what I rather call a UNIVERSE instead of a battle ground.

The TV UNIVERSE is still expanding and not shrinking. It might expand slower than some have hoped (or rather bet on at the stock market) but does continue to grow. Streaming services will be launched in markets that have yet not seen a saturation. FASTTV has only started to take tiny roots outside of the US market and will offer many opportunities. New user habits shaped by social media will open doors into complete ‘milky ways’ that we cannot imagine yet. And the next disruption will soon materialize, like it always had. 

We need to be more patient. Yes, we do not know what is coming next. We do not yet have any clear vision of where the markets are going and where new developments arise or take us. That is why everyone feels uncertain. We lack a clear vision and a clear path. It is like really about “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. We are on a mission to test new frontiers in TV and be willing to discover new stars and galaxies – maybe leaving the old ‘planet’ behind for good.  That is a very scary thought, I know. That is why people prefer to wait, prefer that the future is coming to them to pick them up. But the truth is: it will be too late if you wait too long and you will get overrun by the future.

Now, I would be a bad guide to hitchhike you through the universe, if I had not some ideas on what galaxies and stars are there to be discovered.

The role of the Radar Screen: Content Discovery & Curation is the central element of any future proof strategy

The Smart TV manufacturers and suppliers have been really smart over the years to wiggle their way into the most central and valued piece of real estate in the entertainment industry: the living room. Thanks to the pandemic people are spending more time at home and cuddling up in front of the TV set. Whoever owns that ‘location’ has control over people’s minds. You have basically the pole position, you are the relay that influences – even decides – what people can watch, and more importantly: what they should watch. Pepper that with some Artificial Intelligence for even more accurate, individualized content curation and discovery – hey – why not giving them the TV set for free: you are going to be everybody’s darling and partner of choice when it comes to entertain, inform and educate them.

No wonder everyone is looking at this space now and wants a piece of it, wants to play this central role.  Let’s not be naive: Big Tech has already started to occupy that space somehow. OEMs like Samsung are cutting themselves a hefty junk of the cake and I am sure it is on everybody’s executive mind who owns a major entertainment or media conglomerate on how can you get that position. It is indeed very difficult: because everyone remains in his corner, unwilling to cooperate and explore how combined forces and services can enhance such a curation and discovery offer.

It is actually the only way forward: the more of the content owners are willing to jump into that black hole, the less scary this journey will be and the more likely it will indeed expand the universe.

Which brings us to Bundling.

Create new galaxies with atypical travel buddies

I am sure you all have watched Star Wars once in your life (probably many more times). My favorite “team’ has always been Han Solo (ok, I also admit I am such a Harrison Ford fan) and his travelling crew: Chewbacca, R2-D2, and my beloved C-3PO. Weren’t these such an unlikely fit? A truly odd concoction of characters – yet they made the movie stand out and in their achievements saved the universe. 

That is exactly the way how you need to think about bundling from now on: think completely out of the box. Create bundles with your entertainment offer that are so awkward that they are spoken about; but more importantly: that everyone wants to have it. A car lease with a Netflix subscription; a broadband + transport + entertainment bundle (combining monthly telecommunications bill with local transport pass and a subscription); McDonalds monthly meal pass and access to a fitness bundle (you will need it if you eat regularly at McD); access to x number of new pieces of clothing with subscription to a fashion app and streaming service (well, that is a no-brainer and not really out of the box). I mean, you should really allow yourself and your team to go indeed boldly after the bundling concept that no one has dared to do so far. 

Just remind yourself: it is about creating new galaxies, discovering new universes. It is risky, but also only possible when you dare.

New monetization options

One thing is for sure: old methodologies might not apply when it comes to expanding into new galaxies. Hence, you must also be willing to explore other options for monetizing content. As we currently witness with FASTTV, this approach can be quite successful. While it is not new to finance content via advertising, the approach to target more niche and thematic audiences via ad-based content is somewhat new; especially since it is now combined with targeted ads. 

What about other models: sponsored content, for example,  is not so new, but FAST is a way of making that a more widely used concept. Paid by actual usage could be a game changer, but has not yet been implemented anywhere. Crowdfunding for content has been tried, but I have not witnessed any widespread adoption in TV content. Membership- based and financed content is a maybe a smart deviation of that concept; e.g. your subscription includes a shareholding and a say in the productions. 

We will also need to look at what has been premium content so far and how that can be monetized or financed differently. The outrageous rise in the cost of sports rights is a prime target for disruption and new financing models. Unless the investors from the Middle East continue to open their pockets and buy up more rights globally… But certainly not in niche sports. Here is the opportunity.

Many new Galaxies await us -and it could be a socialist one amongst them

Talking about niches: this is where I predict the biggest growth opportunities both in traditional TV formats and new, unseen ones. The future is indeed in niche, thematic and local market segments. This has not been explored at all widely enough. People will be more inclined to watch and use content that is relevant to them. Usually this is content that addresses their interest in certain topics, is about their community (either local or thematic or demographic). Streaming services can launch in this segment but also FAST offers. Less popular sports fall into this category, too. 

There is also another distinction that we slowly see develop: people tend more and more to choose content based on their political affiliation and if that is being reflected on screen. For example, content that is critical of capitalism and of the very way of life that made the so called “West” so “great” becomes increasingly popular. A trend that one should watch very carefully and adapt to it both in terms of the content production but also on a wider business perspective: we might have some more socialists tendencies in consumer behavior and demands. But that is not a really bad development per se. 

If you are looking at our industry in the past very carefully, you will see that is has been very socialist in its structure. Cable was more or less monopolized and often also heavily regulated by governments. In the past the number of TV channels was very limited: they had to provide programming that suited the masses, had a wide appeal and more or less full-filled a role in educating the populace. Now: we have free riding capitalism with all sorts of distribution channels and markets and the widest variety of content ever. People can feel very comfortable in their bubble – no common ground or understanding any longer. Maybe we should have some form of socialism again….

Beware the panhandlers

In times of uncertainty and when the future is even more blurry than usual, the panhandlers, the con-artists and the hustlers have their ultimate feast. Our industry has always been a bit prone to attract the bluffers and impostors (well, the heck: one even became US President… some will argue it was more than one who made that career). But when you are uncertain about your next steps, you lack good judgement on what is the proper path and might fall for the snake-oil salesman. We witness this currently, as an example, in the FASTTV industry. The rapid growth and the opportunites in this market segment have alured quite a good number of gold-diggers. They make you believe that you need to give them all your assets and they will convert even simple dust into pure gold. Have you ever in your life seen that happen? Neither the alchemists in the Middle Ages, nor the suspicious service providers in the FASTTV are able to do so. Use your common sense and rather work with trusted people.

It is true though, that in this age the middleman will have a more important role: because the universe has become so complex, so difficult to understand all of its corners and manifestations. It has become a true challenge to find orientation. That is why you need middlemen as a guide, as someone who can navigate you confidentially and with trust through this time of waiting and to explore new galaxies. Choose your guide wisely.

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