As part of the prize for the RTS Young Technologist of the Year Award, Lawrence card received a one day ass to the RTS Cambridge Convention. This is his report .
David Zaslav International Keynote
David Zaslav gave an insightful overview about how Discovery see themselves in the Broadcast industry, particularly how they intend to continue to differ from others. I was particularly intrigued by his attitude to content ownership and how Discovery don’t want to go head to head with the largest players (like Netflix) but obtain rights to things like Golf, Cycling, Natural History and Science content. David stressed that for the big players, it is about having as much content as possible whereas he wanted Discovery to focus more on what content will people actually pay to watch before they go for the quantity content. A striking potential example David gave, which I thought was interesting, was that if China ever want Golf, then they will have to come to Discovery for it and that market is huge. There was also a focus on how good content isn’t just ‘great angles’ but more in the story telling. Meaning that if the story is good then the production quality of the content could be quite low (often found for example in user generated content).
The Rights Stuff
Here the BBC stressed how important the development of Ofcom allowing the BBC to leave content on iPlayer for 1 year rather than 30 days is. Especially in the context of returning viewers. An important point here was something I had experienced myself, where people are put off from watching something everybody is talking about because the beginning of the series has already come off the platform before they could start. Another key point made by the BBC which is critical to maintaining recognition is attribution and helping people understand that the content they might be watching on a platform such as Netflix is actually BBC content. Working within the BBC myself, I know that this is a really big focus internally, especially to retain younger audiences who are more attached to SVoD platforms. It was good to hear the same message on this bigger stage. iPlayer was also described as being a particularly strong offering against the other SVoD platforms as it does things that they don’t, for example,. live content, sport and news. Whereas the likes of Netflix go for more specific (mostly fiction) based series’. This was interesting to hear how iPlayer can potentially continue to compete and I think its a strong case. Disney is going to be very brand focussed (i.e. Marvel, Lucas etc…) in terms of tackling attribution. They also asked whether the new 8 big streaming platforms will be sustainable as consumers may not want to pay for 8 different subscriptions. If they eventually condense down to a smaller number such as 4, then Disney see themselves as being in that group given their size and the brand attribution they are going for. The question of ‘are we at peak content’ was raised. This is a good question as essentially the big platforms like Netflix have several ‘hero’ series’ and then a lot of filler. It was said that there was no strong evidence that we were ‘at peak content’ and the U.S. actually struggles to fill many production based roles, which was a surprising revelation.
Jeremy Darroch Keynote
Jeremy said that since the ComCast purchase, Sky would be doing generally more of the same but now able to utilise much of ComCast’s expertise, especially in things like fibre distribution to the premises. Jeremy described the key to success as being able to be light, agile and able to move quickly, particularly on infrastructure. This makes sense but certainly a challenge for a company the weight of Sky to implement. Though he said that to do this, there will be ‘fewer deeper partnerships’ and more constant refreshing which would therefore tie in to the aim to be agile. He also sees the vision of Sky to be a consumer goods like company and admires companies like Adidas who are so effective at this. Another point was that he said it makes a huge difference to employees if they feel they have support from the top which I felt was refreshing to hear. Jeremy said that Sky would be pulling funding back on sport which I thought was very significant, especially as I personally see sport as such a key draw to Sky’s offering and a big USP for them. This is to focus more funds on Studios which indicates that they do want to go head to head with Netflix. The justification for switching focus was that less than half of Sky subscribers actually take the Sports package, showing that there are more people signing up to Sky for their other content.
Who You Gonna Trust (Martin Lewis, Ed Williams + Panel)
According to Ed Williams’ research, across the board all ages don’t think Public Service Broadcasters are catering well for them. Personally I don’t think this is due to lack of variety or quality content but I think that this finding surely demonstrates the huge ground PSB’s have to cover in order to cater adequately for everyone. The diversity and needs of the population are different to what it was many years ago and the internet expands this further. Therefore, especially without increased funding, the job for PSB’s gets harder and harder. Ed also explained how Netflix is now equally trusted as much as the BBC which has to be a wake up call, especially as Netflix don’t specialise in factual content or any news! Although attention has switched to SVoDs now, people are starting to question their value for money given the number of these services. This I believe, will be the first big test for the primary SVoDs as they have probably had a relatively easy ride up to this point. The other major point on value for money that Ed made, was that there is still huge confusion over what the TV licence actually pays for. This is a disappointing finding as a BBC employee and I believe that this should be as great a priority as trying to gain the interest of the Generation-Z population for the BBC. I also think that conquering this confusion might make many other objectives and challenges easier - such as the issue around people feeling that PSB’s are not catering for them. The perception of TV was interesting too. Ed reported that TV is the most trusted resource but social media was more trusted by the young and that young people think that watching TV is something old people do. This highlights the slipping grasp of people’s trust that TV is experiencing and has to win back with the young. Martin Lewis delivered possibly the strongest speech of the day (alongside Alex Mahon’s). He gave an enlightening outside view of what trust really is which resonated given the huge applause. He stated that trust isn’t about being impartial but about doing the right thing whilst sticking to your word and that trust is not a function of marketing. He used himself as an example of how his whole brand hinges on trust yet he is hugely biased towards consumers. He called out an earlier comment in the day about the importance of ‘being seen to be doing the right thing’ as rubbish and actually doing the right thing is what should be done. This was very powerfully delivered and inspiring. Further excellent points from Martin were that trust isn’t just facts but it’s instinctual and emotional and that PSB’s might appear top of the EPG but that doesn’t mean that they are entitled to trust, trust must still be earned. Trust is also not binary but on a sliding scale and its expensive. A good example given here was Ryanair, whereby they do things that the customers don’t like (such as extra charges, poor leg room) but they don’t need trust because they are cheap and people will still use them even though they don’t like them. As part of the panel, the point was raised that PSB’s aren’t a ‘platform’ and therefore there is no reason why they can’t be effective on social media by using it as a tool rather than seeing it as competition. This makes great sense as if PSB’s can master that, then they will automatically be back in the interests of the Generation-Z audience. According to the panel, the U.S. were ahead of the curve on this and broadcasters were effectively gaining trust via social media already. During the panel discussion Martin pointed out that ‘publishing’ on social media should make you a ‘publisher’ and therefore accountable legally to the same rules as publishers are but platforms such as YouTube will never call it ‘publishing’ as they don’t want to take on the liability. This was thought provoking as it gives an opportunity for social media platforms to push some responsibility to the users but also highlighted that upsetting the users by doing this is probably not good for business. In my opinion, this skews the playing field and if the social media platforms aren’t going to sway more ethically, then the effective presence of PSB’s on them acting ethically might be the best way to combat this. The YouTube representative on the panel said that ‘openness’ comes at a cost, meaning that to allow people to express themselves and say what they want, you have to take the rough with the smooth. This felt like a cop out statement to excuse bad things on platforms (such as misinformation) but the example of discovering unsigned talent was a positive to this approach. I personally feel that there are positives here but essentially the social platforms should still be doing more. The key figure here for me is that PSB’s are under such strict constraints yet the social platforms operate within such a ‘wild west’, surely there is a middle ground somewhere? Continuing this point, the Ofcom representative said that they were not angling for more things to regulate and that their expertise was broadcast only. This therefore leaves the wanted regulation of online platforms hole still wide open.
The World’s Gone Nuts - Piers Morgan Q&A
Piers cannoned into the point that kids should be encouraged to be competitive again and that prizes for not winning were damaging their view of the real world. When children grow up thinking it's ok to lose and not push yourself to be better, then they hit a harsh reality when they find out real life is about winning and losing, he stated. I personally regularly reflect on my competitive experiences in earlier life as a way to push myself and reach higher, especially the highs and lows experienced through sport and therefore can see some underlying value in this statement but there should certainly be a balance here as everyone is different. Branding everyone that doesn’t win a loser is damaging, as there will inevitably be a lot more of them than there are winners and it doesn’t consider adverse emotional impacts it may have on people. Piers also commentated that demonising people makes them stronger, using his friend Donald Trump as an example. I felt Piers trod a murky line in his evaluation of Trump. He described how they were friends but he would never vote for him which led him into this point. He then explained how we should give Trump credit when deserved and that this would help ease the polarisation of his views and therefore the public he serves. I am personally unconvinced by this and was concerned that this front was to increase sympathy for Trump’s cause rather than being as balanced as he tried to make out. When describing the internet, Piers said that it is great but fuels hysteria. This I felt had some truth but a very simplistic way of describing the social intricacies of the internet and therefore a point designed to get a ‘quick win’ of support. He did however say that he was ‘one vegan sausage roll brand away from being fired’, which was a humorous comment I felt was equal parts true, though I think the point Piers was really trying to make was that by riding so close to the line is what makes him successful.
Alex Mahon Keynote
Alex outlined in her speech the visions of Channel 4 in detail and especially where Channel 4 fits in the ‘landscape’. She described how the online streamers rely on a few hero titles and have lots of irrelevant, irrepresentative filler. Channel 4 can differ here by wanting to develop localism and social cohesion but bring that to a national audience. Alex used the example of Derry Girls to demonstrate this point. Making sure the content is special and uncompromised quality, whilst scaling it up is also important, like craft beer she explained. Channel 4 will continue to bring out the untold stories and the unfound stars as they did with shows like Black Mirror and The Circle. I feel that this is all a really exciting niche for Channel 4 and a novel approach to separating from the large SVoDs. Another key point raised by Alex was that Channel 4’s 16-34 audience is double that of the BBC’s and so the pressure to succeed online is greater. She pointed out that the ‘Social Media Generation’ are experiencing more pressure to succeed with more anxieties than ever before. Channel 4’s approach reduces siloed, fragmented viewing that users experience on platforms such as YouTube. She called for the now 20 year old ‘EPG Regime’ to change. Referring to the government and Ofcom needing to update regulation to allow PSB’s to compete more fairly in the future with the SVoDs, though not necessarily to have less regulation. I think this was a serious warning that the playing field needs to be fairer for PSB’s and it was delivered strongly. Alex made special note that she wants Channel 4 to be ‘in trouble’ for the ‘right reasons’, those being for ambitious, risky programming that pushes boundaries. This attitude I felt was really energetic and shows they are really up for the fight they may have ahead. Overall I thought that this speech alongside Martin Lewis’ was the strongest and most confident of the day. Alex came across as having real fire to succeed and belief in the direction Channel 4 is heading in which was inspiring.
Mad Men v Math Men - Will Data Kill Advertising?
Possibly the main point to come out of this discussion was that data can inform you but it can’t tell you how to do something, which is an important distinction to keep focus on. The use of influencers was also discussed, particularly how Waitrose use them for promotion. The influencers tend to already be people who love the brand, making it easy for them to get involved. They also use lots of ‘macro influencers’ when they need to reach a wide range of people which can be effective. Companies are shifting from short term marketing to long term brand building and Waitrose also explained how they try to make good quality promotional content that people want through longer form stories such as food sourcing tales or recipes on their YouTube channel. They said that this encouraged much deeper brand engagement than quickfire styles of advertising. The gaming industry was also revered here in its ability to monetise from existing fans at a deeper level (like in game purchases) rather than constantly trying to stretch to new audiences. A member of the people’s panel mentioned that they actually enjoy TV advertising as the quality is generally quite high but detest the force fed targeted ads online that often come about through recent browsing behaviours. This really highlighted that the positioning and delivery of an advert makes such a difference to consumer perception.
Tony Hall Keynote
Tony made it clear that PSB’s are more important than ever in times of uncertainty and when trust is challenged. He also stated that the first wave of disruption has come about with the rise of the SVoDs like Netflix and Spotify and that the second wave is coming, with the new entrants such as Apple. He hopes that the BBC’s offering on the iPlayer and Sounds platforms will ensure they are robust against these threats and made the point that the BBC can offer much more than what Netflix can offer. Local content, especially local radio will also receive more support as this is so important to the BBC’s offering. As someone who volunteers in Community Radio, I am glad that this is seen as an important area for the BBC. A further announcement made by Tony was that of ‘BBC Upload’ which will become the equivalent of what BBC Introducing is for music but for speech. It will be interesting to hear how this develops and how the public takes to it. During the discussion, Tony expressed that those in power (such as the PM) should be prepared to put themselves forward for scrutiny via long form interviews. This was in response to Boris Johnson rejecting to appear on the Today Programme. I couldn’t agree more with this and the room seemed to respond in the same way. When asked if the BBC should be more robust at calling people out as liars when facts are untrue, Tony diplomatically played down that course of action and instead said that the use of BBC Reality Check should do the job of presenting the evidence but not necessarily going as far as calling people liars. I understand the cautious approach but hoped that the BBC would be more confident in their research to be stronger against fake news and disinformation as those underhand approaches grow in strength themselves.