Bold predictions for 2023

January 11, 2023
The marketing efforts of VOD players dry up: the focus will shift from subscriber growth to profitability.

Predicting the future of media is just like predicting the weather: the truth all too often overtakes the forecast. Last year, I made some tentative attempts to predict the future in a number of columns and - to my relief - those were more often right than wrong. That's why I've gained just enough confidence to look into the future again...

The first one is rather safe: AVOD is going to make a massive breakthrough this year. All major SVOD players are heading in that direction and eventually it will become roughly one-third of their revenue. Remarkably enough, VOD is starting to look more and more like commercial television in this way. Allowing advertisements on the platform used to be a taboo for Netflix a few years ago, but the market leader cannot avoid it, in a time when consumer purchasing power is so heavily affected. Co-market leader Disney is also going to embrace AVOD.

The next prediction is a more bold one. Currently, on-demand accounts for around 30% of the consumer viewing behaviour. I previously argued that the tipping point has already taken place and that the shift to on-demand viewing is going to accelerate significantly. I think major players like Amazon, Apple and Google will invest massively in sports rights, while DAZN will also stay very active. Sports are one of the mainstays for public -, commercial - and pay television: the above-mentioned trend will hit traditional television hard. At the end of 2023, more than half of the viewing time will be spent online, I think.

A few years ago, broadcasters took the initiative to cooperate more closely in order to withstand - in particular - the American Tech threat. I think this development will stop in 2023. Broadcasters have understood that they will have to protect their brand and that this is incompatible with common VOD activities. ITV has already launched ITVX in the UK and similar situations will emerge at local media companies in other countries. Salto and Britbox will gradually be suffocated in their own national market in the coming year.

The increase in scale of media companies will also be brought to a halt. There will be no more major mergers. Only in the production market there will still occasionally be a takeover, but mega deals like the Discovery - Warner merger are a thing of the past. 2023 will be the year of operational excellence. The merger plans of RTL and Talpa will falter because ACM is an obstacle. Thomas Raabe, the CEO of RTL and Bertelsmann, can forget about his dream deal in Germany, a merger between RTL and P7S1.

And finally: the growth will cease in the production market. The marketing efforts of VOD players dry up: the focus will shift from subscriber growth to profitability. The production market will decline by around 10% and will stabilize at that level. In and of itself, this already is fantastic news for producers, because this is still well above the market size of 5 years ago. There still glows a little hope because TikTok is going to invest in long-form content and YouTube will have to participate. Well, we'll see....

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I am rapidly approaching my 65th birthday. This prompts the same question from many friends and acquaintances: when are you going to stop? That is certainly worth considering, but I am thoroughly enjoying our great 3rivers team and the amazing projects we undertake for our clients. So the answer is always the same: not yet. After all, the wonderful world of media is in constant motion and therefore a fascinating work environment.

However, many media company managers are busy with stopping. In recent years, initiative after initiative has been developed, both pre- and post-Covid. But now that the growth has slowed down everywhere, it's time to cut back. This is not only happening with regards to traditional media activities, but also in the wonderful world of "new" media.

This month's very striking news was the discontinuation of Salto in France. This streaming service, founded by the country's three main broadcasters (TF1, M6, France Télevision), is definitively closing down. Salto was supposed to be the answer of the local French players to the American streamers. However, the number of subscribers did not grow beyond 800,000, making Salto a real bleeder for the shareholders. Add to this the fact that almost every broadcaster prefers its own brand when it comes down to online activities and it's clear that it's every man for himself. I'm curious to see how initiatives such as Britbox, Streamz, NL Ziet, and Joyn will fare. Closer cooperation with local players in the German market seems to be the direction CEO Bert Habets has in mind with the latter platform.  

Disney is also ruthlessly cutting back on non-profitable activities. The entire Metaverse division is being shut down in one fell swoop, with 800 people losing their jobs. It's remarkable how quickly the Metaverse (just a year ago, the Metaverse was the talk of the town at SXSW) is being discarded. Even Facebook, which changed its name to Meta (!), has scaled back its investments in the Metaverse.

I could go on and on about this phenomenon, because the number crunchers set the tone in the current era. Even the BBC is being forced to continue with cost-cutting measures, not only reducing staff but also cutting program budgets. Warner Discovery is the cost-cutting champion and the big Tech companies jobs are reducing jobs by the thousands.

Stopping activities is, of course, an energy drain that does not bring joy to anyone in an organization. That's why it's so crucial for companies to carefully consider what they especially do not want to do. As far back as the 1980s, Peters and Waterman recognized – while studying excellent companies – that the adage "stick to the knitting" is of great importance. In these difficult times, I wish this wisdom upon all media companies that want to take too big a risk.


Kritiek op Dionne Stax? "Ze is juist slim"

TV met Tina

"Tina Nijkamp is onze Nationale Kijkcijferfluisteraar. Hilversum siddert als zij ’s ochtends op Instagram haar analyse van de cijfers van de avond ervoor deelt. De oud-zenderbaas van SBS6, tegenwoordig consultant bij 3Rivers, is messcherp en altijd recht door zee. In Veronica Superguide beantwoordt ze de tv-vragen van nu."

Dionne Stax heeft een kijkcijferhit te pakken met Het Hoge Noorden, terwijl veel kijkers kritiek hebben op haar als presentatrice. Hoe komt dat?

Anders dan veel mensen denken, is het format, het programma zelf, veel belangrijker dan de presentator of presentatrice. Zeker bij niet-talkshows. Het Hoge Noorden is ‘gewoon’ een goed programma. Het was eerder al succesvol in België en omdat het daar goede kijkcijfers had, is het aangekocht door Omroep Max. Het Hoge Noorden is een soort combinatie van Ik Vertrek en Floortje naar het Einde van de Wereld. Dat sommige kijkers kritiek hebben op Dionne als presentatrice, is volgens mij vooral gebaseerd op kritiek die op Twitter verschijnt en wellicht binnen het kleine mediawereldje. In ieder geval niet op feiten, want haar kijkcijfers zijn juist top. Haar stem zou irritant zijn en ze zou niet al te slimme vragen stellen. Volgens mij valt dit hartstikke mee. Ze is juist slim, want ze zegt ja tegen de juiste programmavoorstellen en staat gelukkig niet in een panel bij een slecht bekeken kinderquiz als Freeks Saturday Night Safari.

Martijn Krabbé is succesvol met Race Across the World en Kopen zonder Kijken, maar zijn programma Better Than Ever doet het heel slecht. Waar ligt dat aan?

Dat het format Better than Ever niet meer scoort komt door verschillende factoren.

1. Het programma is van dag en tijdstip veranderd. Het stond op zaterdag 21.30 uur, nu op donderdag 20.30 uur. Wat maakt dat uit, zou je denken? Nou best veel. Op donderdag zit je als kijker nog in de werkflow, op zaterdag is het meer tijd voor ontspanning. Het programma past dan ook veel beter op de zaterdag.

2. Het Voice-schandaal. Bij de opnames van de eerste serie was dat nog niet losgebroken. Toen dat op 15 januari 2022 wél gebeurde, zakten de kijkcijfers van Better than Ever al meteen in. Maar nu bij de tweede serie hebben we al een jaar lang alle schandaal-verhalen gehoord en associëren mensen The Voice met iets lelijks, iets naars en dus hebben de kijkers er geen zin meer in.

3. Er doen alleen maar ex-talentenjacht kandidaten mee en het lijkt alsof alle kandidaten getraumatiseerd zijn door het meedoen aan een talentenjacht. Een talentenjacht maakt meer kapot dan je lief is, dat gevoel. En dus wringt het programma en roept het vragen op bij de kijker. Hoezo presenteert nota bene de presentator van The Voice Martijn Krabbé dit en hoezo Waylon, die jarenlang coach is geweest bij The Voice? Hoezo zijn er überhaupt nog talentenjachten op tv als het kennelijk zoveel narigheid veroorzaakt?


Burn rate and quicksand

Around the turn of the millennium, there was a frenzy of investment in companies that were known as "new media". Some of these companies are the tech giants we know today: Amazon, Facebook, Google... resounding successes that created enormous shareholder value. But there were also many companies that didn’t make it and went bankrupt. What was remarkable at that time was that large risks were being rewarded with additional investments. It was during this period that the concept of burn rate emerged: the amount of money a company loses per unit of time (a day, a month, or a year). You might think it couldn't get any crazier, but that is how it was at the time.

The recent streaming boom in the media world seemed to be following a similar pattern. Driven by the new Holy Grail, subscriber growth, streamers have been investing aggressively in content. Billions of dollars were available for creators, seemingly without a limit. Due to the success of Netflix, traditional media companies began to believe that investing in direct-to-consumer activities was a wise investment. With the exception of a few good examples (early entrants like RTL Netherlands with Videoland), this has slowly turned into a disaster. After all, companies everywhere are bleeding money, especially those who arrived late to the game.

Since traditional media companies do not like burn rates, there will be heavy cost-cutting this year. Warner Discovery was the first to announce a cost-cutting package of $3.5 billion (!), and Disney now is following suit and is even going further. CEO Bob Iger, who has returned to the company, has announced a whopping $5.5 billion in budget cuts, with 7,000 jobs being eliminated. These are tough measures, that are being appreciated by the shareholders of these companies.

However, there is a world where losses are still an accepted phenomenon. The sports world has its own rules, especially with regards to soccer. In the American system, club owners of the major American sports (baseball, basketball) are somewhat restrained by fair play rules. Apparently in soccer, other laws apply, where club losses are compensated for by owners who legally and often illegally supplement the club's coffers. Soccer club owners seem to have no problem with the burn rate of their plaything.

At the top of the list is sports streamer DAZN. Launched about 6 years ago by Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik as “the Netflix of Sports”, the company recently published results that broke all records. On a revenue of $1.6 billion, it suffered a loss of $2.9 billion in 2021. Given that sports rights are only an expensive loan, as they always belong to someone else, one can imagine that DAZN is built on quicksand. The planned IPO was canceled, but CEO Segev insists that he is sitting on a goldmine. "The Netflix story, the Amazon story — I think DAZN is going there as well." However, an adventure built on the quicksand of a magnificent burn rate will most likely not succeed.