The takeover battle has never been so fierce.
The media world is changing at a tremendous pace. Sometimes that sounds like a cliché, but it is undeniably true. World Screen News, an excellent source of information for many media experts, only once listed what happened in our world in 2018. It is too much to mention and of an unimaginable scale. There is no doubt: the media world has never been so fundamentally in flux.
First of all, take the unimaginable growth of streaming video. It has taken a considerable number of years for video-on-demand to break through, but now that technological barriers are increasingly disappearing, growth is unstoppable. Growth rates of 60% and more are measured in some parts of the world. Netflix and Amazon are leading the way, but there are an incredible number of new players who want to claim a share of the market. First of all, these are the existing broadcasters and pay-TV operators, but also all kinds of niche players that focus on a smaller market segment. However, the unprecedented possibilities of streaming video mainly mean that the FANGA companies are marching into our world at great speed.
Under this pressure, the existing players in the media world are switching to an old strategy: to achieve as much economies of scale as possible. The takeover battle has never been so fierce. AT&T acquired Warner, Disney acquired much of Fox's assets, Comcast acquired Sky. These mega transactions, each more than $ 50 billion (!), Are the tip of a big iceberg. It does not seem unlikely that this trend will continue, although the impending Brexit and the fragile world economy could of course throw a spanner in the works. But one big deal already seems to be coming: after the fall of obstacle Les Moonves, CBS and Viacom could indeed merge this year.
Because new and old players strive for the favor of the viewer (rather read in the current era consumer), content providers are rubbing their hands. It is all hands on deck for producers, which is why this part of our industry focuses less on acquisitions: none of the larger players ventured into the tasty snack called Shine Endemol. The focus is entirely on finding and developing the right stories and the right talent to write and produce those stories. Not to mention the acting talent that these productions must credibly present to the viewer.
Finally, cable companies and telcos are increasingly focusing on a mix of distribution, exploitation and content. The huge deals from AT&T and Comcast have already been mentioned, but other companies have also been involved. BT is in a frenetic battle over sports rights with Sky in the UK, Swedish Telia acquired Bonnier Broadcasting and giants like Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica continued to invest in content exploitation and production. Apparently, people in all management offices have come to the conclusion that as a (media) company you can only be successful as a fully integrated party (which controls as many parts of the value chain as possible). John de Mol does this "in miniature" in the Netherlands.
Overlooking this battlefield, the big question is of course what 2019 will bring us. Many strategists overlook this, especially given the uncertain times in the world economy as a result of slow growth, trade wars and Brexit. It is clear to media companies that a standstill means a considerable decline. There are still a number of major acquisitions on the way, streaming video continues to grow rapidly and the first providers in this field are going under. A major shake-out / consolidation awaits us in the coming years, starting in 2019.
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.
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....
Jonatan de Boer will join the 3Rivers team on 1 December 2022. Jonatan has been working in the Dutch media industry for more than 10 years and is a specialist in the field ofsocial media, online video and influencer marketing. He started the Dutch branch of Mediakraft, was managing director of the online branch of Medialane and led the tech startup Bird. Jonathan has specialized in social media analyses, online video productions and influencer marketing campaigns on all major socialmedia platforms. At 3Rivers he will mainly focus on media projects from a social media and online media perspective.
Oege Boonstra, partner 3Rivers: "We are pleased that Jonatan with his broad knowledge and experience in the field of social media will join our team. He has gained meaningful experience early in his career and can serve our clientele with a new service. He can demystify social media like no other and advise customers practically." Jonatan: "3Rivers is a wonderful company with a great reputation in the media, both nationally and internationally. I look forward to working with my new colleagues to achieve even more impact in the ever-changing media landscape."
3Rivers deals with strategic and organizational issues for media companies from an operational perspective. The company's consultants have all long-standing experience in the media world and have carried out projects all over the world with the aim of making media companies function more effectively.