Former Agence France-Presse, Reuters and AFX News exec Eric Scherer (left) is now director of future media at France Télévisions, while continuing to blog about all aspects of the digital revolution and its impact on media.
Today, he gave the opening presentation for a late afternoon of MIPFormats keynotes, taking to the stage at the Grand Auditorium to talk about what digital has been doing to TV, and how this evolution will continue in the future, before interviewing Zodiak Media CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin to get his perspective.
“This disruption has been expected for years now. We knew it was coming but we were short of some concrete evidence on this disruption. And guess what? In the last few weeks, the last few months, boom. Everything is coming almost at once,” he said. “TV is changing very quickly, and this change is right now.”
He offered a 10-point summary of these changes. The first was new formats for news: a new syntax – new grammar and vocabulary – that is coming from “the new kids of the block” on new platforms and apps.
Examples included BBC News’ Instagram micro-video clips; Snapchat’s recently-launched Discover section with reports from Vice, CNN, National Geographic and others. “They are always mobile, they are always social, they are always interactive… and it is more and more live.” He said that apps like Meerkat and Twitter’s Periscope will help anyone film and broadcast news.
Scherer’s second point: new narrative formats for storytelling beyond news. He noted that YouTube now reaches more 18-34 year-olds than any cable network. “This is just the beginning of a huge hyper-offer of content on every single stream.”
Third: a crucial role for data, which will help the TV industry increase its audience and to have a stronger relationship with those viewers; to improve the content; and to “improve the relations with the big brands” to drive more revenues.
But with data comes (point four) trust: “Trust is the next killer app when you talk about data,” he said: at a time when governments and big internet firms alike are tracking people’s internet habits “you better have a good relationship with your end users.”
Fifth: a new culture of innovation. “The fact that you have to change culture inside the company internally is one of the big challenges we have in front of us. Also, a big talent war is going on at the moment to find the best people.”
Point six: immersion. Scherer cited 4K-resolution televisions first – already adopted by Netflix and Amazon, but also opened to user-generated public with footage filmed on GoPro cameras. Not forgetting virtual reality headsets like Facebook’s Oculus Rift. “VR is a total immersion inside the content, inside the fiction, inside the news, inside the documentary,” he said.
But the three biggest disruptive trends that he sees: “The young people will not come back to the TV screen: at least the major TV screen that we knew for the last 40 years,” said Scherer, showing a graph indicating that people born in 1995 are dropping their TV viewing earlier than any previous generation, and not bouncing back as they age.
Trend eight: “Mobile now is first. We believe the TV industry will have to work on a mobile-first strategy. Not a digital-first strategy, but a mobile-first strategy, because mobile is now the first screen, and it’s taking time away from the TV.” And that goes hand in hand with social networks, with Scherer claiming that in less than one year since adding video, Facebook is now bigger than YouTube in terms of the number of videos uploaded, with more than 1m views (crucially, though, Facebook videos autoplay; YouTube’s do not).
Trend nine: nonlinear versus linear TV, with people more and more able to watch shows when they want, rather than waiting for a specific time-slot. “This is a huge shift of consumption,” said Scherer, noting that Netflix recently overtook HBO in terms of the number of US subscribers, as well as HBO’s launch of its $15-a-month HBO Now streaming service to compete.
He finished by warning of an imminent “paradox of choice” for the TV industry, with broadcasters moving from “a mass media in a few markets – we were basically carpet-bombing without knowing where we were dropping our content – to a more precision media where we can target, and will more and more be able to find the market niches”. Making that move from mass media to precision media is the key challenge for TV firms in the coming years, he suggested.
As CEO of Zodiak Media, Marc-Antoine d’Halluin has the perfect vantage point on the disruption currently happening in the TV market, both in terms of digital trends and industry consolidation. After Scherer’s introduction, d’Halluin took to the stage to be interviewed about his thoughts on the industry, and Zodiak’s role within it.
He talked about his role coming in from a non-production background to take charge of Zodiak. “Clearly it’s easier if you’re neutral coming in from the outside: you see what can be improved,” he said. “We changed a few things to bring people together around the same table. When you do that in a resolutely neutral way… everybody understands what you’re doing and they start working together very well.” He added that before, Zodiak’s various arms “had been a bit too tribal”.
Around 70% of Zodiak’s production is non-scripted and 30% scripted, but might this change. “70/30, where will the production be in five years from now? Easy answer is I don’t know. But the trend is that scripted is growing faster market-wise, there are more opportunities to grow on the scripted side if we do a proper job.” He praised the series Versailles, including the fact that it was a co-production with the UK.
d’Halluin explained how he’s stimulating creativity within Zodiak. “We produce roughly half of our non-scripted is our original IPs: ideas that we create ourselves,” he said. “On the original ideas, what we have is local teams developing new shows for local broadcasters. That’s where it happens.” And its network of local producers and co-producers also helps Zodiak find talented “jewels” ready to be distributed around the world. “You have to be there, to be able to listen, to look with an open eye, and then to move quickly,” he said.
What about those young audiences who are leaving traditional TV behind in favour of online sources? d’Halluin cited Scandinavian show Paradise Hotel, where 40% of its viewing is happening online and on mobile devices. “I’m sure you already have shows in the world where already 50% is achieved,” he said. And Zodiak is working hard to make sure it thinks about how people will follow shows on other platforms for every new format that it develops. He added that Zodiak is “at the start” of relationships with companies like Amazon and Netflix. “We used to pitch to our primary broadcasters in each of the markets… now at the same time we can pitch to Netflix and Amazon, so the world is becoming bigger.”
Zodiak is also looking at Asia, where it has a distribution business but not yet production. d’Halluin said there is “massive potential” in China and other countries in Asia on the latter front, particularly through
Will Facebook or Google buy a production company, wondered Scherer as his final question. “I can completely picture that happening, and sooner than everybody thinks. Ultimately these guys will have a fundamental need to not only get the type of Maker-type videos that are user generated for most of it, but they’ll need some proper scripted and unscripted shows that are conceived to do well through Google, through YouTube, through all of their competitors.”