RTS London Conference
As leader of one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies, Burke will share his views on global media trends, how NBCUniversal is capitalising on shifts in consumer, technological and market dynamics, and his expectations for the future.
These days, bigger is considered to be better by most executives in the media industry but, even as consolidations such as Comcast/Sky continue apace, some nuance is creeping into the thinking about size.
I feel very fortunate to have been in this wonderful role for three months. For the media, and for the television industry in particular, trust is a vital commodity. It may not capture the imagination in quite the same way as a new drama, be as immediately celebrated as an overnight Barb rating, or even be treasured quite as much as new revenue. But all broadcasters need trust to succeed.
Earlier in the day, several speakers had drawn attention to how their tightly regulated organisations and companies were forced to compete with the generally unregulated Faangs. They called for a level playing field – but taming the internet will be an enormous challenge for policymakers and politicians.
Now it was the turn of Ofcom CEO Sharon White, described by her interviewer, Kirsty Wark, as probably one of the UK’s hardest-working public servants.
One of the hottest topics at this year’s conference was internet regulation. Fortuitously, Ofcom had released a discussion document about it on the morning of the RTS event, and its findings were explored in a session devoted to the issue.
The panellists learned from Ofcom that one in five Britons say they’ve been harmed by something they’ve seen online, and 12 million have experienced harassment, fraud or abuse through the medium.
If Channel 4 was being set up for the first time today, “you would not plonk it in SW1,” observed Alex Mahon, its newish Chief Executive. She explained that she had an advantage coming in fresh to the London-based broadcaster in October 2017, when it needed a deal with government on a new national HQ and dispersing jobs to the regions.
Two programme “sellers” occupied the chairs vacated moments before by “buyers” from the broadcasters and Amazon in the previous discussion. Endemol Shine’s Peter Salmon and NBCUniversal’s Jeff Wachtel are TV veterans. After decades in the business, one could forgive them a little world-weariness. Yet both had clearly been energised by an industry currently in a state of ferment.
“It’s almost numbing, the pace of change and the revolutionary climate we are in right now,” said Wachtel. “There’s never been a time like this.”
Take three very different commissioners, all united by a common purpose: securing and showing content that satisfies their audiences. But achieving that simple aim is rarely straightforward in an increasingly complex media environment.
First things first. Picking up from Tony Hall’s impassioned plea that policy makers act to protect the BBC, session chair Kirsty Wark asked Georgia Brown and Zai Bennett – from Amazon Studios and Sky, respectively – whether public service broadcasting was still necessary in these contentrich times.
As a programme supplier to ITV, Expectation co-founder Tim Hincks felt he had to deny that he might pull some punches when interviewing ITV CEO Carolyn McCall. He announced to laughter that he would be asking her all the difficult questions, such as “where she went on holiday and what her favourite colour is.… I will absolutely go for it.”
McCall looked relieved at the distraction of Hincks’s humour as she was appearing at her first RTS London conference just two days after reports that the broadcaster might be bidding for Endemol Shine Group (ESG).