Lots of losers and a few winners

March 1, 2020
The result is a dynamic market and that picture is almost the same all over the world.

At the time of writing this column I should have been on the train from Zermatt to Geneva to catch a plane to Amsterdam. Up and down to address the International Top Media Convention, which 3Rivers has been organizing together with Broadcast Magazine for years.

We would be talking about the great time we have in the audiovisual media. The dynamics have never been greater: the impetus that direct-to-consumer activities give to our industry is unparalleled. After all, at least $ 20 billion extra is spent worldwide on content production, especially scripted programming. Market leader Netflix and a long list of other SVOD operators are investing large sums in brand new productions of a high level. Broadcasters are also showing signs of defending their position by investing more in local programming. Where in the past roughly 1/3 of the program budget was spent on international series, much more is now invested in local programming. Not only local drama, but also entertainment and factual shows are in great demand. The result is a dynamic market and that picture is almost the same all over the world.

At the IMTC we would talk about this fantastic development. Netflix manager Lina Brouneus would talk about the development that Netflix is ​​going through. Where does the company come from in its content strategy and, above all, where is it going in the coming years. Markus Schaeffer, CEO of All3 Media in Germany and Christophe Thoral, CEO of Lagardère, would be present to share their vision on the Dutch TV production market. After all, their companies own IDTV and Skyhigh TV respectively and have invested years ago in the Netherlands. At the same time, they would also discuss specific developments in their own countries: the steps that the French government is taking to force international players to invest maximally in the French market (yes, the exception Francaise from the film world is also entering TV production. ) and the fundamental change in the German scripted market, which was always so conventionally and purely aimed at Germany and now also reaches an international audience with productions like Dark and Deutschland 1983.

The highlight of the evening would be Marco Bassetti, who will lead the largest TV production company in the world this year. After all, Banijay (crammed with ex-Endemol managers) will take over Endemol Shine if the European Commission approves. This creates the largest TV production company in the world with a turnover of almost 3 billion euros. Discussion leader Rick Nieman would interview him extensively about how he will implement the integration of these companies.

Would. Because we all know it by now, Corona is ending the event. The studio in the Hallen will remain empty tonight. Just like so many other studios will be vacant in the coming months. Emptiness reigns: all developments that we would discuss tonight are on hold. 2020 seems to be a written off year for all TV production companies, the tide can turn that quickly.

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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.