Streaming and the prospects for new UK-content service Britbox came under the microscope at RTS London’s review of the 2019 RTS Cambridge Convention.
The late-September event was hosted by the University of Westminster, and chaired by media producer and consultant Aradhna Tayal. It featured Bloomberg media reporter Joe Mayes, London Centre Chair Phil Barnes and James Cordell, a London committee member and first-time attendee at the convention.
The panel noted that one of the key themes throughout was the rise of streaming and whether the already established subscription video on demand (SVoD) companies – with more set to enter the market – will dominate the UK broadcast industry.
”Streaming was the big thing in Cambridge,” said Mayes, recalling the widely anticipated session with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who was interviewed by Kirsty Wark.
The Newsnight anchor extracted some useful information from Hastings, including the fact that Netflix’s spend on production in the UK will likely continue to be its biggest outside the US, with some $400m spent this year, and the company signing a long lease for production facilities at Shepperton.
Wark pointed out that the competition for “great stories” was going to become intense in November when several large content companies join the subscription market, including Disney, Apple and a revamped Amazon, all with deep pockets.
“It’ll be tough competition” admitted Hastings, but he insisted Netflix was up for it – insisting it would be good for UK producers – “It will be unbelievable for you for the next couple of years”, with the new streaming companies bidding higher numbers for the best content.” It will make The Crown look like a bargain” he joked. Joe Mayes reckoned Hastings and Netflix would have to move fast to keep the likes of Disney at bay.
The 2019 convention was organised by ITV and its CEO Carolyn McCall set out ITV’s strategy for the future. “The power of our creativity will see us becoming increasingly a digitally led media and entertainment company,” she said.
The RTS London panel were not won over by her enthusiasm for the ITV and BBC joint venture, Britbox. Intended as a subscription service to take on Netflix, it may be too little, too late, thought the panel. “Will it succeed?” asked Mayes. “The markets aren’t convinced – they think Britbox won’t get the subs in competition with Netflix.”
Phil Barnes agreed: “ The price point versus other streamed services is not encouraging, especially when you consider the BBC will hold back some of its content to be available free on iPlayer for a year. Britbox could end up being a library/legacy service,” he said.
Mayes pointed out that Apple’s offering will be cheaper that Britbox. “It’ll be really tough for Britbox, and there’s no question the mood of the convention on Britbox was really sceptical of its likely success,” he added.
The panel were more positive about the prospects for increasing diversity in the UK TV industry. They applauded Lenny Henry’s call to make serious progress on diversity, with his message that “diversity makes television better”.
Sharon White, the outgoing head of Ofcom, expressed her disappointment that diversity had not increased in broadcasting as much as she’d hoped –her final report said there had been no discernible change in the industry’s diversity’s profile. Barnes pointed out there had been some positive changes, but they just weren’t quick enough.