It’s that time of the year where it’s obligatory to make a few predictions about the year ahead. Here’s my topline thoughts on what’s in-store for British TV broadcasters and producers in 2012:
5 things that are likely to happen
1. Massive upheaval in TV commissioning teams
For those commissioners that have their fingers firmly in their ears when it comes to multi-platform storytelling 2012 will be the year they get found out. Maybe five years ago it was cute to say “I’m no good with computers”, now it’s frankly embarrassing when you’re supposed to be in touch with how your audience are behaving. Channel 4 will probably be the most visible broadcaster to transform its commissioning team – weeding out people that are either not capable in a convergent age or are stale from too many years in the same place, and unlike in previous years where it was a case of musical chairs in the TV commissioning job market expect to see new types of producer stepping into their empty shoes. With some big departures already announced at C4 it will be interesting to see who they hire. Where Channel 4 lead expect others to follow – not least at UKTV now 50% owned by US network Scripps who will be looking to drive revenues through their digital lifestyle properties. ITV on the other hand will probably continue to flail around in a state of utter confusion.
2. Reform of independent production commissioning quotas
With NewsCorp, NBC Universal & Time Warner rapidly snapping up indies (plus Endemol and All3Media likely candidates for acquisition in 2012) there will be an increasing pressure to reconsider the effectiveness of indie commissioning quotas in supporting grassroots creative TV production businesses. I’m told that when Jeremy Hunt recommends reform to quotas in the forthcoming Communications Act he’ll be under considerable pressure from the BBC to replace the current ‘catch all’ indie quotas with a quota for start-up and small independent producers. The likely effect on the big indies will be marginal as they already have diverse and often international businesses, but for smaller players this could be a huge boost and precipitate a new wave of startups (particularly led by key talent currently in broadcasters and the bigger indie groups).
3. The Rise and Rise of YouTube
2011 was the year where Google’s Eric Schmidt extended the hand of friendship to the TV broadcast and production community at Edinburgh TV Festival – wanting to bring together the ‘luvvies’ and the ‘boffins’ (all of course mediated by Google technologies and platforms). Burnt by the lack of interest in Google TV in the US during 2011 Google were in overdrive wooing the British TV community as they prepare to launch Google TV in the UK. Now in 2012 we’ll see how far Google are willing to go when the broadcasters most likely don’t play ball. Google already have thousands of hours of professional content in production for a new suite of YouTube ‘channels’ and expect them to ramp this up further. I’d put money on YouTube securing exclusivity with a number of key TV personalities to front content for them (is Jamie Oliver’s contract up soon? Or what about Oprah or Doctor Phil?) plus they’ll go after sports rights, first look movies, bring back TV series – expect Google to write some big cheques for content in 2012.
4. Battle of the connected TV services
Putting Google TV to one side there will be a huge push by Microsoft to turn the XBox in to a premiere entertainment hub with a number of high profile content deals coming on stream in early 2012. There’s the launch of youview *sometime* next year which, if done correctly, could be the logical next generation of Freeview for 8million+ homes. There’s the increasing sales of connected TV’s from the likes of Samsung, Panasonic, LG etc as people upgrade their TV’s for the summer olympics (although a continuing lack of compelling ‘app’ content will remain on these CE devices because of platform fragmentation), and finally there’s the rumoured entry of Apple in Q3 with an Apple TV set which will inevitably have a fantastic product design, intuitive UI (possibly using Siri) and great content via iTunes. Away from the consumer electronics space there will also be some big entrants on the content distribution front – not least Netflix launching in the UK in early 2012, but don’t be surprised in Tesco does something clever too following its purchase of Blinkbox.
5. A breakthrough multiplatform format
This is the one I’m really hoping for! There’s been success with shows like “Million Pound Drop” and tomorrow Channel 4′s next big interactive gameshow “The Bank Job” is due to launch, but I hope 2012 will deliver something truly transmedia that breaks all the rules. I’m not saying “Million Pound Drop” isn’t a great show – it is – but I’m not sure how much we’ve really moved on in terms of play-along since BBC’s “The National IQ Test” which is now officially 10 years old! Yes achieving 12% playalong levels is very good but I would love to see something that is so compelling to the audience they just have to participate! I’m not saying all TV should be like that – lean back television is what the audience want most of the time – but I’m hoping 2012 will see at least a couple of new immersive formats that push boundaries, particularly in genres other than traditional studio gameshows… that’s certainly my personal focus for 2012.