The guys at KitPlus asked me if I could write about what I think is going to happen in 2018 – a feel, or mood, piece of what we might see this year. I’m not sure why they asked me but perhaps it’s because I’ve been around the industry a long time. Anyway, to look forward I think sometimes it’s best to look back as history has a habit of repeating itself.
I started out in this industry in the late 1980s when a company called BSkyB was setting out to compete (in 1990) with the major broadcasters. In the UK, that was BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. The tape format, Betacam (remember that?), was just coming into its prime. Now, 30 years later, Sky is being challenged by Amazon, Netflix, Disney and Apple which, together, are spending more money on content over the next five years than the whole of Hollywood’s traditional studios. In a neat twist, if Disney manages to buy Fox, which is bidding for control of Sky, it could all go full circle. These companies are now forcing the market to deliver in 4K so, once again, we are looking at a changing of the guard.
Similarly, 15 years ago, 90 percent of TV was watched on conventional TV and live. That figure has not totally reversed but, today, BBC and ITV are relatively small players. Even taking sport out of the picture, more TV is now watched on satellite and other mediums. In my view, this type of change naturally leads to further changes down the line.
Take, for instance, equipment sales. In the late 1980s and 1990s the main equipment suppliers were Teletape, Metro and Marcom. At the start of the 2000s the main suppliers were companies such as DPL/Gearhouse, Visual impact and McMillan. None of the former and only two of the latter exist anymore in UK equipment sales. The market has again moved on with web-based delivery, and low cost delivery, formats allowing companies like CVP and Jigsaw to flourish outside the industry’s main metropolitan area, though both companies are opening central London demo centres. Given that Teletape was in Golden Square, and Marcom was in Great Marlborough Street, this is another full circle turn.
The name of the game? Consolidation.
It’s worth looking at hire companies, too. Every 10 years there seems to be a change in how production companies like the delivery of their equipment. Originally, Panavision was almost untouchable. Then VFG and others challenged them. Now Panavision is a shadow of its former self, VFG is no more and Take 2 is part of Procam. With Focus 24 taking on Filmscape, and more to come this year, consolidation seems to be the name of the game.
So what does this all mean to you and me on Broadcast Street? It means that companies cannot rest on their laurels. Businesses – and individuals – need regularly to re-invent themselves to keep up with changes, whether that is how programmes are commissioned, how kit is sold or how kit is hired. If you stand still someone will take over the space you think is yours.
My predictions for 2018 are therefore:
- More consolidation in the UK hire market. There are too many companies chasing work, and too many companies up for sale, so I predict at least two, perhaps three, company purchases and possibly a large failure.
- UK content production will peak in 2018 and start to slow in 2019 unless Brexit is successfully negotiated soon. I can’t see US production companies continuing to plough money into the UK film industry within a larger economy that is shrouded with a high level of uncertainty.
- UK equipment sales to follow the same model as UK post, where a few strong players dominate the market. The Tesco Effect, when big businesses quietly take over smaller businesses, will apply because smaller companies will struggle to compete with the big companies’ ability to deliver at much lower costs.
- Generally, we could see uncertainty coming into the UK market. We’ve already seen ITV‘s shares drop from the yearly high and WPP published its worst figures for 20 years. Why does this matter? Because the UK broadcast industry is directly linked to the performance of the UK economy, and it goes into recession faster than traditional economies do. That’s why broadcast has had bad years every 10 years or so. Another bad year is due.
Sorry but, yes, I have a rather gloomy view of the prospects for the economy as a whole in 2018. However, the great thing about adverse times is that the really good companies survive. It’s the poor companies that head for the hills. Which type of company are you?