Senior executives from the world of British television assembled in Edinburgh for the annual gathering of the clan. Once again they confirmed their faith in the future of television while reminding themselves of the risks of ignoring the lessons of the past, as Brent MacGregor reports from Edinburgh for informitv.
The informative Deloitte report in the delegate pack reassured the record number of attendees that everything is well in the world of television. The report suggested that second screen usage may end up with a similar status to eating in front of the television: an everyday experience for some and absolutely unthinkable for others, but nevertheless here to stay.
The report opined that connected television is more likely to be appreciated in a similar manner to the personal video recorder, which it argued is only used occasionally, despite being in half the households in the United Kingdom.
The report concluded, with some caveats, that the traditional television advertising model is neither broken nor breaking. In 2011, television advertising revenues in the United Kingdom of £3.6 billion were significantly higher than global ad revenues for all social networks.
Secure in the knowledge that they had still not been killed off by new media, delegates could begin the fun and it was business as usual. Nevertheless, new media permeated the agenda, and smartphones and tablets were prominently on display. The programme even began with a session on how to record video on an iPhone, complete with a tiny tripod, tracks and teleprompt software.
Ted Sandros of Netflix presented the Future View. He revealed that Netflix has five original series in the pipeline but was coy about his global production budget. A version of the series House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey is due in 2013 and the plan is currently to release it all at once, rather than in weekly episodes. The Netflix commissioning process is apparently data driven, according to “taste-based algorithms” to provide statistical assurance that there will be an audience for such shows. If data mining replaces elusive editorial judgement, will there still be room for commissioning editors?
Possible reform of the commissioning process was discussed in connection with the challenges facing the new director general of the BBC. More radical was the suggestion from Professor Steward Purvis, echoing that of the Lords Select Committee on Communications, to which he is an advisor, that television should be taken off the airwaves and delivered by broadband.
Elisabeth Murdoch was the third member of her family to deliver the prestigious MacTaggart lecture. Clearly out to build bridges, she talked of creating a community rather than selling a commodity.
Quoting Eric Schmidt’s words from the previous year: “ignore the internet at your peril,” she added “we ignore the rising generation of digital natives at our peril” and warned about coming late “to the party that other people are having with our audience”.
“Digital platforms can translate audience trust into transactional relationships incredibly efficiently and without the middle men, agents, media buyers or programme makers reliant on broadcast based business models,” she said. “Let’s not be entombed by what we once defined as a television screen.”
“Commercial broadcasters must figure out how to have a real one to one relationship with each and every one of their viewers — if they don’t, they are destined to become increasingly marginalized and dependent on the occasional national live events.”
“The new world demands that we create services that are sufficiently valued to allow a more interactive and transactional relationship with the viewer,” she continued. “Moving from closed to open, control to trust or even fear to confidence is hard. Not least because we fear that we may be letting the genie of technology out of the bottle and destroying all our established certainties and business models.”
This all received a rather warmer reception than the stunned silence that greeted her brother James three years previously.
Every year the organisers take such warnings to heart and provide stands that celebrate new media technologies but somehow they seem to remain on the margins of the event. This year the festival programme included a session entitled Boxing Clever: Making the Most of Connected and Second Screen TV.
The warnings taken, new technology examined and noted, no doubt many in the world of television were pleased to hear that all the talk of the second screen must mean that television is still the first screen in every sense. Nevertheless, the second screen was still the one most of them had in the hand for most of the festival.
Ask a 17 year old which screen comes first and the answer may be surprising. If they bother to answer they may well tap out their response on a smartphone.
Down the road from the television fest, in a parallel universe, the Turing Festival drew Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple as the keynote speaker. There wasn’t the professional media slickness of the television festival but the event was more exciting in many ways. “New television” was discussed and one notable event was a BBC mashup. The idea was that rather than sitting in a conference passively listening or pitching afterwards in the bar, participants got stuck in to produce an app.
Convergence may now be a reality but for television executives the main screen is still the television screen. Elisabeth Murdoch was clearly keen to communicate her passion for television, which she described as her friend, comfort and window to the world. Many might say the same of social networks, and as new media modes mature the second screen may yet become the first screen they rely on for their view of the world.
For those that were unable to attend, many of the main sessions can be viewed in full online through YouTube.