For this next season of the Media Voices Podcast, kindly sponsored by Poool, we’ll be publishing ten episodes exploring the biggest trends of 2022 and how they affect publishers; from subscriptions and membership to local news, platforms, emerging technology and more. This first episode explores how key moments in broadcast, streaming and TV have shaped the media landscape this year.
2022 saw streaming overtake cable in the US, key talent leaving established media brands like CNN and the BBC, and subscription services come under pressure as consumer budgets begin to tighten. Some studios are launching ad-supported tiers to offer a cheaper option, while others consider ‘rundles’ – recurring revenue bundles.
The year has also seen big potential changes on the horizon for UK broadcasters. Channel 4 and the BBC have been through the wringer this year, with endless back-and-forth on the future of the licence fee and potential privatisation. New News UK station TalkTV has struggled to establish itself alongside rival GB News, despite heavy investment in production and talent.
To discuss these trends and what they mean for publishers, we’re joined by Charlotte Henry, a British journalist covering media, technology, culture and politics. She’s behind The Addition newsletter and podcast, which publishes investigations, news and opinion on everything from Web3 explainers to broadcast trends. She was previously the UK Associate Editor of The MacObserver, and has written a book – Not Buying It – on the facts behind fake news.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Changes in viewing habits
Charlotte: This idea of event television has completely disappeared, with the exceptions of live sport, and live major breaking news events. The conversation that you have with your friends now, it’s not “Did you watch XYZ series on Thursday night?” It’s “Have you watched..?” so that you don’t spoil it for someone. And I’m actually including things from streaming services and traditional broadcasters in that. So there might be a series that’s buried on the iPad that you haven’t caught up with yet. You’re still ‘streaming’ even though it’s from the BBC.
Love Island [still counts] – watching it as it plays out so it’s not spoiled. And there’s this second screen phenomenon as well, people tweeting the whole way through the show. I think live sport is basically the last man standing on that. There’s a reason why the Sky Sports advert is ‘It’s only live once.’ That really is the thing that keeps the whole show on the road.
Adding up subscription costs
Peter: One of the things that we did was for the first time ever was like do a subscription audit. We actually added up what we were spending between Amazon Netflix, Spotify, Disney, Sky… It’s actually quite scary when you add it all up and you realise that you haven’t watched [one] in ages. For us it was Amazon, although we kept Amazon because of Prime.
Chris: What we’re leading up to here is the idea that as we come into what looks to be quite severe cost of living crisis, some, I suppose some streaming services have had to adapt, because the idea that people will pay for something that they don’t necessarily get the most value out of is, it’s it’s changing, you know, it’s scary for them, the idea that people don’t have that disposable income now.
There have been lots of arguments that the streaming revolution has peaked the kind of the boom, time for that the Gold Rush has been and gone. And Netflix with a big headline here, they lost 200,000 subscribers in the first three months of the year, and an additional 1 million in q2.
Charlotte: With subscription audits, that’s a really important point. If the four of us are doing it – and let’s be honest, we are not by any stretch of the imagination an average media consumer – if people like us are doing that and having these thoughts and considerations, normal people are going to be doing it by orders of magnitude more.
The knock-on effects of the subscriber slowdown
Esther: Because Netflix was one of the first [to conquer streaming], they’re almost being used as a bit of a kind of canary in the mine. So Netflix shares dropped about 65% when they announced their Q2 results, and it wiped about $70 billion off their market capitalization. But it was the fact that all the other streaming stocks took a hit because of Netflix’s poor performance. Investors are saying ‘Well, are we likely to see this across other services too?’
We talked to Toolkits’ Jack Marshall, a couple of weeks after Netflix announced their first subscriber loss. And he he had that same theory that it wasn’t that streaming was over by any means, or that other companies should be worried. It just showed how much that pressure is on having good shows, and having shows that keep people subscribed.
Peter: Scott Galloway, a marketing guy in the States, has described regular revenue bundles as ‘rundles’. And I think that idea of, people like Indie TV becoming part of other people’s services is actually quite interesting. Because publishers knowing their own niche, knowing their own audiences, can create a product that maybe doesn’t justify its own subscription, but as part of a rundle… As part of that, it might work.
Potential changes to broadcasting in the UK
Chris: For years now, both Channel 4 and the BBC have been subject of much speculation around how they’re funded, whether that’s through licence fees, whether that’s through Channel 4’s ad-supported businesses. This year, there has been endless back and forth on what’s going on with the licence fee and potential privatisation of Channel 4.
The general idea – which for all the government’s faults is absolutely true – is that the broadcast sector has been changed with the rise of over-the-top services. So that’s VOD, live streaming, that’s some of the streaming services you mentioned before, and that traditional broadcasters absolutely need to evolve in the face of it. So back in February, it was reported that the BBC’s effectively had a £2 billion funding cut forced upon it. And then in the immediate aftermath of that, there was talk of the Channel 4 privatisation.
Charlotte: This seems to be a recurring theme that comes up. I mean, Nadine Dorries came out and spoke about it and the most recent was back on April 4th, where she tweeted about her plans to prioritise Channel 4. Obviously things have shifted since then, she is no longer the Culture Secretary, she will no longer be responsible for this. So it will be very interesting as this new government comes comes in and a new culture Secretary gets her feet under the desk.
Why TalkTV has struggled to find an audience
Esther: I’ve got a theory [about why TalkTV has struggled]. And that is – no offence to the more chronologically accomplished members of this podcast – people that that sit down, turn on the TV and watch whatever happens to come on live tend to be of an older age bracket. And they’re going to have watched either the BBC or ITV or the news channel of choice for quite some time.
To actually change that, they have to be pretty unhappy to get to the point they’re going to switch to GB News or TalkTV. GB News swept up the dissenters quite early on. I just don’t think anybody under 40 watches TV like that.
Charlotte: I think we have a very, very, very different media culture here to the US. [TalkTV] tried to recreate a US media culture of big name news, and talk shows. And basically, unless you’re obsessed with James O’Brien, or Dan Wootton, or people who are very, very strident in their views, and you’re obsessed with them as a personality, we do not have that culture. We do not have that ‘I’m a Rachel Maddow viewer, I’m a Tucker Carlson viewer, I’m a Sean Hannity fan,’ that does not exist here in the UK.
All these things that we’ve just mentioned, particularly TalkTV have tried to recreate that. And I just don’t think it works here. I suspect the existence of the BBC and it’s the idea of neutrality around news in general – TV news in the UK is part of that – but for whatever reason, it has never taken and worked here.
This topic will be one of the chapters we explore in detail as part of our Media Moments 2022 report, launching on November 30th. Find out more and pre-register here to receive the report.
This season of Media Voices is sponsored by Poool, the Membership and Subscription Suite used by leading publishers like Future, Euronews, Elle Magazine France, Harvard Business Review and others from around the world. Their all-in-one platform helps publishers convert, manage and retain their members and subscribers.