At a time of hyper-broadcasting, connected TV and cloud computing, how can programme creators and producers manage the changes in both economic and narrative terms? Broadcasters tend towards a delinearised approach and producers work on narrative distribution at several levels… The revenge of content?
Head of Children and Youth programming
Head of in-house Production & New Media
Cookie Jar Group
Vice president original series
Disney Channels EMEA, The Walt Disney Company
Christian Davin Productions
In his introduction Christian Davin explained that "with the development of very high speed internet connections, connected TV and cloud computing, IPTV is revolutionising the ways people interact with the television". Today when you think of television, you must think of multiple screens, all of which are connected. He said that "within 3 to 5 years, all homes will be connected to internet via the television, which will lead to an economic sea-change for programme creators and producers". He gave the example of the US-based broadcasting platform Netflix which "not only acquires whole programme catalogues, but is also positioning itself upstream on new shows with exclusive broadcasting rights for a given period". In the first quarter of 2011, the Netflix on-line service overtook Comcast, the leading cable company, for the first time, with 23.6 million subscribers (source ZDNet), representing a quarter of internet traffic in the US. In 2011 and 2012 Netflix is planning to set up in two European countries; the UK and France seem to be the favourites.
The first speaker was Jean-Michel Ciszewski, an animated programmes producer from Canada, where Netflix started with delivering DVDs by mail, before turning to the net. Despite the fears raised by the arrival of internet distribution platforms, he said that "television channels remain the main people we deal with. We work on broadcasting methods such as pay TV, VOD over internet, with TV channels. We have also started operating digital deals for the past year. Netflix is one of our biggest clients, with contracts in the US, Canada and Latin America. It is an exponential market. As an example, there are 23 million subscribers in the US and Canada has registered 800 000… in just six months! And the platform has a conversion rate, from free to pay, of 60 %.
For Cookie Jar Group it is not a replacement, but clearly a complementary offer. You mustn’t forget that subscribers are already very present, through their subscriptions to cable and satellite. Only 3 % of people questioned said that they would abandon other, historic, broadcasting channels".
Finally, to complete his vision of a possible new entrant in Europe, Jean-Michel Ciszewski said that 65 % of Netflix subscribers watch their programmes on a television set, as opposed to 23 % on a computer and 9 % on a tablet.
For Julien Borde, "broadcasters have long had a delinearised approach and the term terrestrial broadcaster doesn’t mean much". Eleanor Coleman added that "children’s audiences are very faithful to TF1’s TV slots. The channel has a catch-up IPTV offer, called TF1, which has enabled our TFou brand to emerge. It’s a wonderful place to get loyalty… to television". Christian Davin noted that this loyalty only concerned the 4 – 10 year olds; after that computers, smartphones and other mobile terminals risked eroding this loyalty.
Although the representative of TF1 was looking to original shows made in France to support audiences on the traditional media, Julien Borde, who is the director of the youth programming at France Télévisions, remained cautious, saying that "launching a new brand, a new series, in this ecosystem is very risky today. It must not be a jungle. On the contrary, we must normalise the action framework of all players. We must raise the question of quotas, and also the question of new media. Otherwise we risk finding ourselves like back in 1985 with a levelling down of series". He went on to say that there is a turnaround in the model, and that now brand merchandising products were not first seen on television".
As the representative of The Walt Disney Company, Orion Ross Orion Ross was doubly experienced, firstly on the American side, where digital distribution platforms are well established, and on the European side as VP of Disney Channels EMEA, in charge of original series. He sees these platforms as "a massive opportunity. I am, in my job, a producer of original European series, even if Disney was, in effect, the first to sell series over iTunes. But above and beyond any possible conflict of interests, I think that all this is a synonym for the incredible growth in the number of people who will be able to create quality content. We need to know how to evolve. Already, producers who are coming to see us with their projects have thought about how to distribute the narrative dimension through several channels. We must move now. Television remains the reference platform, but it’s not the only platform any more".
For Samuel Kaminka "the emergence of digital distribution platforms is, in effect, a real creative opportunity. But we must keep in mind that renewal in this creativity comes from independent structures. We must pay them continuous attention". He willingly admitted that the job of a producer has changed, saying that "we have moved into an idea of creating brands, sometimes even having the feeling of being no more than a rights manager for something. We are also having to deal with a very destructured market now, a hyperbroadcasting market". He added that the producer/broadcaster duo in Europe is essential so as not to be drawn towards the "free model", meaning content aggregators who redistribute absolutely nothing. Not that Netflix does that, he specified.
Echoing these words, Julien Borde mentioned the setting up of a system which was both broadcasting and narrowcasting.
Faced with remarks of some speakers against the Hollywood majors, represented on the panel by Orion Ross, he assured, vehemently, that he was "European above. I look for support from independent producers and creators, and don’t have an army of scriptwriters!"
The creation of quality seems to be the point of convergence for all. For Samuel Kaminka, "content is King, particularly in a world inundated by images on multiple screens. What’s going to catch the eye is the value of the content". Julien Borde spoke to producers in the room saying "when we use the word brand, please don’t present us with a project where you have already designed the socks with the picture of your character on! It’s the artistic dimension which takes precedence!"
With the arrival of newcomers like Netflix, we are experiencing the purchasing of fresh programmes at a high price, and this risks stifling competition, and therefore the TV stations. "And the fear is one of seeing the disappearance of the idea of exclusivity", said Samuel Kaminka. Jean-Michel Ciszewski admitted having signed exclusive broadcasting rights for 1½ or even 2 years with the platform for an original series, available both in Canada and the US.
Faced with this, Julien Borde, as an executive in a general audience public broadcaster, reaffirmed his attachment to the notion of exclusivity. Eve Baron, former director of programmes for Canal J, then for youth programming at France 3, and now a producer at Mondo TV France, who was in the audience, supported the idea of "exclusivity by territory in a constructive dialogue between broadcasters and producers".
Asked by Christian Davin to give the point of view of the CNC, director of the audiovisual department, could not have been more clear: "in France, all those who use content for broadcasting must participate in financing it. Furthermore, if the situation means that historic broadcasters suffer, the CNC must prove capable of finding and managing palliative solutions". Samuel Kaminka went further, adding, "we are fortunate to be in a very structured sector, a really positive point that we must not neglect, compared to other producers elsewhere in Europe". He also wanted to calm the debate: "we are not at war, but we must talk with broadcasters to provide television audiences with attractive alternatives". Mathieu Béjot, on behalf of TVFI, said that it was extremely difficult to forge commercial links with representatives of these digital platforms".
In conclusion, Christian Davin gave a reminder of what he thought were the most salient points: