Bold predictions for 2023

January 11, 2023

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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2024 Predictions

A new year is upon us. What are the major trends for the next 12 months, and what can we expect, not only in the Netherlands but also internationally? For those wanting to know what lies ahead in the longer term, it is best to turn to Evan Shapiro, the leading futurist in the American TMT sector. According to Shapiro, the valuations of Big Tech have once again risen to such incredible heights (for example, Apple and Microsoft are now worth over 3 trillion (!)  each), that it's only a matter of time before Big Tech will truly infiltrate and dominate the media world, in pursuit of advertising revenue. This invasion is expected to unfold through sports rights. While it hasn't reached the Netherlands yet, what happens in the US will undoubtedly make its way to us. The most captivating sports rights deal for us this year revolves around Formula 1, and it seems logical that this will be a battle between Ziggo and RTL. Amazon Prime will not join this battle for now.

Prediction 2: After a year of rest, media companies are actively pursuing economies of scale again. The initial talks between Warner Bros Discovery and Paramount have already taken place. It will be a busy year for dealmakers. As mentioned, Big Tech casts its shadow ahead, leading traditional media concerns (which are comparatively negligible in size) to strengthen their defenses. Big Tech might outpace them: the acquisition of a 'cheaply valued' company like Paramount is small matter for the new rulers. Many significant deals are on the horizon this year, surpassing the magnitude of the last major deal - the merger between Warner Bros and Discovery.

Prediction 3: The use of data will play an even larger role in the media world. The measurement of viewership and listenership figures has seen a revamp this year, and we can expect many more changes. The direction it will take is uncertain; currently, media companies benefit from various less objective measurement systems, but in the long run, this will change due to the arrival of Big Tech. In this domain, a real revolution is on the horizon.

Prediction 4: Public broadcasters will retain their value in Europe. Although we can anticipate the new coalition in the Netherlands will reduce the funding for the public broadcasting system, public broadcasters in our neighboring countries (and here as well) will survive. The required changes are enormous; just take a glance at the funding system of the BBC, which is under intense pressure. Nevertheless, the public broadcaster is definitely not heading for the slaughterhouse, contrary to the notion of many that its days are numbered.

The final prediction concerns the world of sports rights. In the past year, Serie A in Italy struggled to sell its rights. My prediction is that, also due to Big Tech's interest, sports rights prices will soar again. Excellent news for sports rights holders!

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Accountability from the Columnist

2023 was again a tumultuous year in both domestic and international audiovisual markets. A lot happened, yet much remained the same. In January, I attempted to predict the major developments. Now, eleven months later, it's time to review and assess: where were my predictions wrong, and where did they hit the mark?

A bold prediction was that streaming would surpass linear television in terms of market share within this year. It's undeniable that the trend has continued, especially due to the significant growth of AVOD. However, the magical 50% threshold has yet to be reached, not least because public and commercial broadcasters (including the constantly-evolving pay-tv operators) fiercely defend their position in the battle for viewers. A prime example is ESPN retaining the Dutch Eredivisie rights. The transition from linear to streaming is thus slower than I anticipated.  

I also foresaw a correction in the production market, expecting streamers to limit their content investments and broadcasters to intervene in their budgets due to the declining advertising market. However, I underestimated the impact: my projection was a 10% correction, but investments decreased much more rapidly over the past eighteen months. As a result, many freelancers in major European countries suddenly find themselves without work, whereas just over a year ago, the market was completely overheated. That’s how swiftly things can change.

Most of the other predictions were reasonably accurate. The projection that AVOD would take off has been proven to be true. Netflix regained its subscriber growth trajectory by fully embracing AVOD. Clearly, the measures taken to limit the illegal sharing of subscriptions played a role, but the availability of a cheaper subscription proved to be decisive. Disney also shifted towards AVOD and achieved success in doing so. Local streaming providers are moving into this same direction, resulting in a sensible mix of SVOD and AVOD. This will accelerate the development of streaming, potentially marking 2024 as the moment streaming surpasses linear TV in terms of market share.

Another prediction was that broadcasters within the streaming domain would concentrate more on their own brands, leading to the demise of joint national platforms. In the UK, ITV launched the new platform ITVX, and competing organizations also increasingly focused on their own brands. Britbox is becoming more of an American platform for British television but hardly plays a significant role in the UK anymore. The impact was even more pronounced in France, with the joint platform Salto being shut down. If NLZIET hadn't clearly positioned itself as a 'cable disruptor' in the Netherlands, it would likely have faced a similar fate.

I also predicted that the consolidation of media companies would be halted. Indeed, major deals didn't occur, and mergers between broadcasters (TF1 and M6 in France and RTL and Talpa in the Netherlands) were prevented by the regulating authorities. These regulators shouldn’t take much pride in this: the reasoning used by the ACM in the Netherlands could also have been written down within six weeks. This made 2023 a media year for many to nót take pride in.

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