Left to right: FTI Consulting’s managing director Mary Ann Halford; strategist and journalist Angela Natividad; The Feds’ head of content Lisa Gray; Red Arrow creative partner Omri Marcus; and moderator James Martin, MIP Markets’ social media manager.
This afternoon, four experts summed up the key industry trends seen at MIPTV 2014. Each of the speakers brought a picture he/she thought was representative of their key theme.
All agreed on the pace of those changes: content, distribution and production are being altered forever, and sometimes not in the best way. Omri Marcus displayed Ellen DeGeneres’ famous Oscar selfie, which he picked up after noting at least six selfies-based formats at MIPTV this year. “This may be the next big thing in TV”, he said, “but it just shows that many producers are just looking for the zeitgeist and turn in into a TV format – lazy creativity!”
James Martin linked this observation to the growing number of formats using apps in real time, such as buzzing Spanish format The Shower, in which participants sing… under a shower, the viewers controlling the water’s temperature via their smartphones. “Some formats are using tech better than others”, he said. Marcus added that “shows using tech for the sake of using tech are doomed to fail!” The panel noted there are obviously counter-examples, such as Rising Star, which engages viewers in a new way.
Apps, second screens, multiplatforms: can a show even exist today without being active on many different screens? Lisa Gray, winner of the MIPFormats International Pitch competition earlier this week for The Feds’ Zombie Bootcamp project, stressed the importance of multiplatform presence: “You can’t just come up with a TV format that’s going to be on one screen today.” She also pointed out that such a presence is a great way to getting people to come back to the TV show each week.
James Martin took the example of interactive documentary Fort McMoney – presented at MIPDoc – to confirm that theory: engaging viewers has never had so much potential. Lisa Gray, who was present at the Kids TV Summit on Tuesday, noted the growing presence of gaming components in kids shows, such those presented by Interlude’s Yoni Bloch at the summit. “The opportunities for multiplatform content are here”, she said, observing that viewers are now ready to fully engage with a show.
Yoni Bloch is an Isreali producer, and as Marcus noted, “a lot of innovation has been coming from Israel in the last years“, and sometimes in ways even current producers like him couldn’t have imagined: “I grew up in the 80s, I had only one screen! People used to listen to the radio, then they bought TV sets; they now buy multiple screens; what’s next?”
Angela Natividad noted that broadcasters now see the difference between mere audience figures and fans’ engagement, two distinct results that need to be analysed separately. She took the example of show Broad City, whose executive producer Amy Poehler was onstage at MIPTV this week: it used to be an online show, but is now broadcast on TV, because Comedy Central saw its potential in terms of engagement.
“In order to have your show commissioned, you now have to have social media in its DNA right from the beginning”, she said, as it is still a great way to engage millenials. She added that some commissioners will now no longer accept show pitches without a social media strategy proposal.
Much of that engagement can be done via YouTube, as the numerous YouTube-related sessions at MIPTV showed this year, partly because online producers can rapidly adapt their contents based on the feedback they almost instantaneously get from viewers.
Mary Ann Halford was somewhat less enthusiastic on TV’s ability to learn from YouTube: “The TV industry is still focused on orders, numbers, what the best trends are, and who the best writers are.”
Those questions are all the more important as there is “so much content out there“, said Halford, and business models are still waiting to emerge, especially for online productions. Scripted series may be well installed, and their number increasing in the US, she notes that “US studio executives don’t do so many output deals any more.” A consequence of online viewing? Viewers crave original content more than ever, but the fragmentation of online platforms – Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, to quote but a few American ones – may have an impact on business models, said Halford.
According to Natividad, Netflix was “sexy” when it started because of its platform “agnosticity” – but it wasn’t Netflix’s end game. Now Amazon and HBO are creating their own walled gardens, which may lead to very distinct platforms, and viewers having to subscribe to each one of them if they want to see all the shows. “Internet will look like cable today”, Natividad predicted. The evolution is already visible in companies like Pluto TV and Spideo, present at MIPCube this year: the former organises its content by categories, whereas the latter organises its videos by brands.
For Marcus, it’s hard to predict what the future will look like in terms of platforms, but “the market will balance itself”, he said, as “people are attached to content, and giving them relevant content at the right time” remains key.
As for the qualitative differences between online and “traditional” content, they don’t seem to exist to the eyes of big stars any more. Stars Ray Wise and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who walked the red carpet at MIPTV this year, say they read the scripts and say yes if they’re good, no matter where they come from. Of course, it is very unlikely to see a new Mr Stampy Cat – a cat who gives guided tours of videogame Minecraft, and one of the MIP Digital Fronts’ stars – emerge on TV tomorrow. Some productions are clearly addressed to online audiences. Where’s the frontier then?
Some formats seen at MIPTV were clearly as “wacky” as some YouTube videos, the speakers noted, and some of these TV formats will be forgotten in one year, said Marcus. But if Dolphins with the Stars was first shown online, we wouldn’t have seen the same reaction, in Natividad’s opinion: we would be happy to discover it on YouTube. “It’s too bad that some shows happen on TV first”, she said.
All speakers agreed on the fact that the most notable internet players at MIPTV this year were news companies like VICE, who “wants to be 10 times CNN”, according to its CEO Shane Smith, who spoke at MIP Digital Fronts and during YouTube’s keynote. But we may only be at the beginning of a new era that will see all kinds of content emerge online, be it user-generated content, Slow TV — which started in Norway a few years ago and is now conquering the rest of the world — or… Dog TV, which announced a deal with Discovery Communications here at MIPTV. This means Discovery will soon broadcast content designed for dogs. Brave new world indeed…
Natividad closed the series of observations on TV and the internet by underlining TV’s importance for many producers, even those who started online: “TV is still considered as the place you want to be. It’s still the Holy Grail for many people, even YouTube stars. Our expectations from these two media are very diferent, but we want both of them in our lives!”
Many screens, many opportunities, and an online landscape that is still waiting for consistent business models… We can’t predict the future, but things change fast: who knows what TV will be like in just six months? See you at MIPCOM to find out!