Friday, 2 January 2015

2015: The Shape of Things to Come

What to expect in 2015...(following divers consulting of runes, reading of entrails and magazine articles, digesting of press releases, talking to people, scrying, examining what has gone before, learning from history, and so on and so forth).


The inexorable movement towards Ultra HD formats will continue, just not at the pace that the industry would necessarily like. To quote the Borg: 'Resistance is futile', but to quote Spock: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." 4K is certainly teetering on the cusp of being the high-end production format of choice, but won't accelerate normal consumer upgrade cycles until at least Rio 2016, if then. In the meantime, watch out for...

Arguably, this presents a greater uptick to consumer grade pictures than 4K does and, with the likes of the EBU stating that an increase in resolution alone will not have any impact on the market, is starting to pick up increased interest. Disney is one of the companies working in the field, and has developed an interesting post production technique that reveals the greatly enhanced images on 'normal' TV sets. A sleeper technology to an extent, but will probably move rapidly into the mainstream once a big production harnesses it.

High framerate
Same as above really, only the focus here is on sport where 60fps is seen as the bare minimum. The tech heads would like double that, but bandwidth and the sheer Brobdingnagian size of the resulting files will probably mitigate against that...

One of the shriller headlines from the tail end of 2014 banged on about a 30% decline in subscriber growth for Netflix in the US. That's a decline in growth, you'll notice, not a decline in numbers or anything else remarkably untoward. In other words, OTT will continue its Borgian dominance, the only possible brakes being a) the leading companies run out of money to commission ludicrously expensive 20-part series based on obscure fantasy trilogies b) the stock markets of the world continue their insane devaluing of anything where growth is anything less than spectacular (and their insane overvaluing of everything at the other end of the spectrum. Uber worth $41bn? I smell me a bubble) or c) the online advertising balloon finally goes up (see below).

Middle of the road

What goes up, must come down. Drones are increasing dramatically in popularity, especially for filming, and capability. £3000 will now buy you an extremely capable unit with an onboard 4K camera that can only be undermined as a broadcast tool by strong winds. However, the consumer end of the marketplace is making regulators twitchy and this is not just Ofsted and its ilk getting involved over privacy breaches; these are the CAA, the FAA, and all the world’s regulators of all the world’s airspaces who quite reasonably don’t like things flying in close proximity to jetliners. Near misses near airports are becoming fairly regular stories and, once they can prove they can hit the moving target that a rapidly evolving technology presents, the nascent industry is going to get regulated to the hilt in a fairly draconian manner and the temporary scaffolding of bans and restrictions will be replaced by something permanent and likely even more forbidding.

Stereo 3D’s Lazarus-like return from the depths of history to dominate the world’s living rooms did not go quite as planned (ie it managed no such thing) so can Virtual Reality pull off the same trick? The answer has to be a qualified ‘maybe’. The technology in the labs is impressive, but turning that into a mass market proposition, making the technology cheap and robust enough, navigating the legal minefield of compo hungry claimants, getting the costs of filming down (Sky has found that creating 360ยบ sets is unsurprisingly expensive) while learning a whole new lexicon of capture, and at the same time marketing the thing to a wary audience *and* trying to make money out of it…it’s a tall order. Expect much noise and bluster, conferences to start programming VR content etc etc, but not too much in the way of actual delivery.


Time and time again the death of traditional broadcast has been overstated, but as we teeter on the edge of 2015 there is at least the sense that it is starting to have to fight a rearguard action if nothing else. In the US at least linear TV audiences are falling, with the likes of Netflix the main beneficiaries. What is interesting though is that despite all the money spent on original programming, less than 10% of Netflix viewing is spent with that content, the vast majority of it being on content from — yes, you guessed it — broadcasters.

Here’s a quote from Todd Juenger, a media analyst with Bernstein Research, speaking in the New York Times: “The ratings have just disappeared. You have audiences leaving ad-supported television for non-ad-supported television, and I don’t think that they are coming back.”

What can broadcasters do? Take control of their archives back from third parties and maximise the benefits of online technology; use data analytics to provide advertisers with realtime and finely targeted ad markets; start realising the economics of the long-tail; make sure their apps are available on as many platforms as possible; and perhaps even go so far as to invest in some decent programming.

Then when we all start writing about the death of traditional broadcast at the start of 2016 we can talk about how it is less of a death and more of a phoenix-like transformation. Or something  like that

Online advertising
What clothes does the Emperor fancy wearing today? Google’s admission that the majority of online ads are not seen by human beings was either the shock of the online century or simply confirmed all of your suspicions, depending on your point of view. The fact is though that this stat — 56% of ads are never seen — is one of the few reliable ones when it comes to online ads whose sale is more akin to snake oil than slot allocation.

Those that remember vividly the dot com collapse at the start of the century — ancient history now by web standards — may start feeling the odd moment of deja vu as the year unfolds. And certainly those that operate in a media space that is supported online by ad revenue and a $/view payment that can best be described as challenging even when it works are going to start looking at new business models.

The one to watch is Vessel, a short-form video service set up by former Hulu CEO, Jason Kilar, which is launching at a ‘long-tailish’ payment of $2.99 supported by what is referred to as ‘limited’ advertising. Kilar reckons that this will deliver a whole new level of payment to content creators, which could be as great as $50 for every thousand views — nigh on 20x the rate earned from free, ad-supported distribution. All that remains to see is whether viewers will sign up and actually pay for the service, not to mention the rather interesting facet of what demographic they will be.

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