2024: The Future Of Television - An Introduction

To mark the release of 2024: The Future Of Television, a specially commissioned book assembling a collection of views from brilliant thinkers from both TV and social media, we are publishing Darren Child's introduction. In commissioning these thought leadership essays, Darren hopes we can gain insight into different potential futures facing broadcasting over the next ten years.

The full book is available to download now from HERE and will also be available on iTunes and Amazon.

This book assembles a collection of views from brilliant thinkers from both TV and social media. They don't all agree, and you may not agree with them, but they make us aware of the challenges ahead.

Ten years ago, media journalism said that television was as good as dead, that we were going the way of the record industry, fatally wounded by the digitalisation of content and the rollout of broadband networks.

But a decade is a long time in television and every single metric that crosses my desk now shows that digitalisation of content has made it even easier for people to consume more good television. Instead of new media cannibalising the TV business, broadcasters have found they can use technology to great commercial advantage. Yes, people do watch a lot of content online and that will increase over time, but a great deal of that is about watching their favourite broadcast shows in a convenient format, at a convenient time and location. The facts show that, in addition to their new online TV diet and binging on box sets, people are watching even more linear scheduled television.

Not only has the TV industry met the digitalization challenge, it has also raised our creative game: I would argue that, as viewers, we are spoiled for choice and quality at a level never before known.

The TV ecology is becoming more dynamic and democratic than ever before: as broadcasters we can propagate programmes online and On Demand, and if we can catch the viewers attention, they will be discussed and recommended by thousands of people on social networks in real time, becoming instantly accessible by new viewers.

Long-form video content is still very much in television's hands, and even though Video On Demand (VOD) viewing will certainly increase, there are more reasons than ever to be optimistic about the future of broadcast, as these essays show.

That's not to say we can afford complacency. The landscape has changed massively since our first futures book was published, and it will change massively again in the next ten years. This book assembles a collection of views from eleven brilliant thinkers from both TV and social media. They don't all agree, and you may not agree with them, but they do make us aware of the challenges ahead. Ubiquitous broadband networks, as they roll out around the planet, imply ubiquitous content, liberated from the TV set in the corner of your living room. The generation after ours will have grown up with access to content wherever, whenever, and on whatever device they want and it's that generation which particularly interests me. Tomorrow's television needs tomorrow people. For a wake-up call, dip into Dave Evans's essay. As Chief Futurist for Cisco, his mind conjures strange and startling visions like television coating every wall of your home.

There are a number of common themes that emerge from other contributors. Will a multiplicity of new online channels threaten broadcast TV's dominance? Justin Gaynor, formerly of ChannelFlip argues that anyone can start a channel, and that there is a huge untapped demand for more specialised video content which the broadcasters are unable to satisfy. He's right, but I'm not worried.

As writer and producer Tony Jordan points out in his essay, the urge to be entertained is a primal human need. People love good storytelling, wherever and however they find it. Most TV channels have found that it is success in the drama genre which enables them to really start to pop, and that's where broadcast TV will continue to have the edge. I would argue that series stacking the PVR has contributed to the recent increase to drama viewership, because no longer do you need to commit to be in front of a TV at the same time each week to enjoy an unfolding series.

Television is a team sport like no other: I counted 119 separate contributors credited on a recent episode of Doctor Who, and that's before you even get to the team responsible for promotion and transmission. So while a talented individual at home with a Mac can compose and produce a wonderful piece of music to be enjoyed by thousands or millions around the globe, it's much more difficult for lone traders to compete in high-end television production. While there's some fantastic and imaginative user-generated video content online, it tends to be shorter in form, and more lo-fi in production values than most broadcast programming. Let's face it, no one is going to make the next episode of Downton Abbey in their bedroom.

Those great television teams are built around a keystone that's rare and precious: writing and performing talent. Only a special few have the ability to connect with audiences and tell great stories, and they deserve to be highly rewarded for it. There's an old Hollywood adage that if you put money into the words and money into the people that speak the words, then the rest will take care of itself. Talent agent Jon Thoday offers us a robust analysis of where some broadcasters are going wrong, and calls for more investment in new talent.

Online can be a great place to spot innovation. Take TV magician Dynamo. He gained a following by making his own videos of his magic tricks and posting them on YouTube, as he tells us in his piece in this book. Indeed, the new factor is that today television is only one component of a star's career, the springboard that has given someone like Jamie Oliver the opportunity to build a portfolio of businesses, from DVDs to merchandising and restaurants. But there can be a point where a talented individual will benefit from having the weight of an industry behind them to break through globally and to their full potential. I'm proud that UKTV has had a part to play in Dynamo's success, by giving him his own series, Magician Impossible, on Watch.

The other factor in Dynamo's success was the awesome rise of social media over the last decade. The buzz it creates helps outsiders break into previously closed worlds like television. But television is learning to harness the potential of social media, as Twitter's UK MD, Bruce Daisley, points out. More tweets equal more ratings, he says. Indeed broadcasters are borrowing from online technologies in all sorts of ways to enhance their business. Dawn Airey moved to Yahoo partly because she was fascinated by its ability to know and understand the individual user in so much more detail than any TV channel currently can. She argues that television's future requires a symbiosis with data-driven analytic companies like Yahoo and Google. For me, the next question is what you will use that data for. Google probably has the best data on the planet, but as far as I know, it hasn't yet made a great television show. For that you need compelling storytellers, phenomenal visual artists, visionary producers and brilliant performers. Data is a powerful tool for monetising content, but that human skill of connecting won't ever be replaced by an algorithm. Broadcast already has plenty of its own analytics, with overnights (supported by platform-driven data) being enough to give us a steer as to what people like or dislike. Perhaps Yahoo and Google can serve a targeted advertising market better than TV does at the moment, but even that is beginning to change and is an area of great interest for broadcasters already trialing targeted advertising, with ITV, Channel 4 and Sky currently working on solutions. As blinkbox's Adrian Letts points out, it's becoming harder to spot the borderlines between media and commerce.

I am also strongly swayed by independent producer Liz Warner's argument that television's future is bound up with its ability to attract talented recruits. A key part of my job is making sure UKTV has the best people who will choose us over a job with some trendy digital start-up company. Television's future is no greater than its ability to continue to attract bright young talent to lead its evolution. The industry can't continue managing its business and its people in the same way it has for the last fifty years, or the next wave of talent will have no interest in working for us at all.

That means creating the right culture. Young people today have no time for bureaucratic environments and they're impatient to get somewhere fast. The old way, when television was the only game in town, was to make your new recruits serve a lengthy apprenticeship, bringing them in on the ground floor to work their way up. You certainly didn't pay them much as they started to build a career, assuming they were thick-skinned and determined enough to survive. Those methods won't get you the good people today, because there are too many competing opportunities. They want flexible working, rather than rigid nine-to-five; they want portable technology so they can work from different locations; they want a fast-track, to be given responsibility and accountability much earlier in their careers than used to be the case twenty years ago; and most importantly, they want to share their passion and belief for the purpose of your organisation. So top of the list for broadcasters is the need to put in place excellent managers and leaders willing to take responsibility for developing people's careers and making TV's future an exciting one.

In the great scheme of things, UKTV is David versus the Goliath of the big public service broadcasters, and I want us to have the same energy as an internet start-up. We have to be nimble and highly innovative, not just in our content but in every single aspect of how the business is run, in every single process, in every single decision. That gives us a real competitive advantage over some of the more established broadcasters. During my time working in America, I saw how once they started to put money into content and innovation, cable and satellite channels were able to take significant market share away from the incumbents, and one of the reasons UKTV has been successful over its 21 year history is that it has constantly innovated, and has not been scared to add new services and new channels, to pioneer the aggressive rebranding of successful channels at a time when most broadcasters would have just sat back and carried on as they always had. This ability to repeatedly reinvent ourselves is what will keep us on the front foot in future.

Ten years ago, digital models were seen as a threat to revenue but there is now a successful commercial model behind every way of distributing content, bar pirating. Who cares where people watch? Whether it's advertiser-funded VOD, transactional VOD, subscription viewing, on phones, on tablets, on any platform whatsoever, so long as we can get people's attention with great content, we have found a way to get commercial benefit.

To me, an essential point is that future technology and future content are two different debates.

Technology is the enabler for people to find the content they want (and tell others about it, via social media) but technology can't by itself create good content. People will still demand high standards in what they watch and if anything, consumers are demanding to be challenged more editorially, and that's where the broadcast industry will continue to have the edge.

People will always demand high standards in what they watch. If anything, consumers are more discerning and sophisticated than ever. Television's ultimate strength is that it understands how to produce great content that touches people, and wherever there is great content, it will always find a market. That is our future.

Darren Childs is chief executive of UKTV.


2024: The Future Of Television features essays from Dawn Airey, Bruce Daisley, Dave Evans, Dynamo, Justin Gayner, Tony Jordan, Adrian Letts, Jon Thoday and Liz Warner and is available to download now, for free, from HERE and will also be available from Amazon and iTunes.