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2017 Media Roundtable

In May 2017, The Barton Partnership hosted a roundtable dinner for senior stakeholders within strategy in the Media industry.  The attendees included Heads of Strategy from companies such as Amazon, Netflix, Sky, BBC, Channel 4 and Disney. With the media industry consistently evolving, the attendees discussed a number of topics currently facing their companies and the wider industry. Below is a summary of the evening's discussion. 

Regulation

Nick Barton kicked off conversation about Ofcom data sets, asking if such information was useful or were Ofcom in fact an annoyance to the industry.

Everyone agreed that the job that Ofcom do is incredibly important and that the majority were actually thankful for their presence and input. It was noted that any publicly promoted data regarding content, viewings etc. needed to be accepted, but appreciated in context with their own data.


Strategy & Talent

There were a number of viewpoints shared on both the role of strategy in these evolving organisations, as well as the toolkit required for people to succeed. It was generally accepted that, while there are occasions when someone with a strategy consulting toolkit is required, often employers are now looking for people that have added additional experiences outside of strategy consulting to their profile.


A strong technology background is now viewed as valuable to an organisation as actors and producers are – both being regarded as “trackstars” in their own right. With regards to the function itself, although it was agreed that strategy consultants have always been smart, motivated and adaptable, there has been a shift in how the functions fit within a business. Some organisations are not operating with dedicated strategy functions anymore but rather pairing that skill set with additional skills. Those that do have specific strategy functions are also hoping to see talent with greater commerciality and sector expertise.


Content

It is no surprise that this topic was a key theme throughout the evening, given the list of attendees. With the emergence of new providers such as Amazon and Netflix, customer expectations are now higher than ever. Budgets for content are increasing to millions of pounds per hour to produce shows and there is a real “war for talent” in the market at the moment.

“Is there too much content?” – this was quickly answered. Remember the UK’s demographics and how this has a huge part in retaining the broad mix of content that we in the UK get to choose from. We have a large ageing population that may not be interested in switching to a platform such as Netflix or Amazon Video. It is also important to remember that different content is applied to different platforms – what someone watches on their phone is different to that on tablet, TV and Cinema.

We asked if the US is leading the way in the Media sector and it was immediately clear that this was certainly not the case. Individuals spoke about the variation of content across Europe adding great diversity to our sector in the UK, whilst the US is of course a big player, it still only represents one country.

Some of the discussion focussed on certain programmes or hosts moving between different channels. It was suggested that, for certain flagship shows, one party maintaining the people and another maintaining the idea would still allow both sides to enjoy success. It was noted however that at the lower end of the content market margins are being squeezed which is increasing pressure.


Technology

Technology played another major part in the discussion covering the methods in which customers consume content, as well as the analytics and measurement tools used by businesses to judge success. It became evident that businesses have had to adapt to the advances in mobile technology, including the way in which content is filmed to fit different devices and how much mobile data an application consumes.

Chris Whiteley and Sanjeevan Bala pointed out how sophisticated analytics tools have to be in order to suggest content to users based on their previous selections. With so much content, they need to be able to ensure an even spread of viewership.

In addition, an important question was raised on how technology is being used to measure success, particularly where content can no longer be judged purely on viewings due to such factors as SVOD. It was suggested that, although businesses are employing a number of different techniques, there is always a sense of playing catch-up with recent changes. The importance of being proactive and innovating as quickly as possible is a constant challenge that everyone is having to face.


Creativity

An interesting point was that, whilst we were referring to talent as top candidates in the market, the attendees all considered talent to be related to creativity around content. Which independent production companies and individuals are the most talented? Where is the talent coming from now and how can we invest in new talent almost at a “grassroots” level to ensure we are being proactive?


Advertising

The role of advertising and the challenges faced were discussed at length. Platforms such as Google and Facebook were deemed
to present a huge challenge, but one that needs to be worked with, as opposed to being ignored.

Questions were raised about whether the amount of advertising was putting customers off content regardless of its quality. The point was made that there are channels and platforms with no advertising, but they don’t own 100% of the market. Advertising makes up just one pillar of revenue income and although the balance might be shifting slightly, it is certainly not the only source. Although governance and an awareness of some companies’ efforts in this space is needed, refinement as opposed to massive wholesale change was agreed as the best solution.


Conclusion

We were anticipating listing a number of key challenges in this section. Whilst there is, without doubt, a level of uncertainty, it was encouraging to sense a general feeling of positivity about the current environment within the sector.

Mairi Brewis noted how fantastic it is that the UK are able to view such a broad range of content due to the collaboration and
positive competition between the companies that were being represented around the table.

The challenges being faced can only be seen as purely developmental for the sector and consumer, it’s a matter of facing these
challenges head on in order to make the most of the sectors potential.

Being pioneers in both content creation and technology certainly seemed to be the best methods for success and this is being
addressed by the companies in a variety of different ways.


Thoughts from attendees

“I really enjoyed meeting you, and the assembled guests - many of whom I either knew or knew by reputation. It was a really
interesting evening.” 

Mairi Brewis, BBC

“One other thing that wasn’t touched on but I think is relevant for talent – media is still not generally a diverse workforce,
despite being an industry that should be highly connected to a broad range of consumers, and is in the middle of massive
disruption. In my next hires I’d anticipate a key challenge being trying to find more candidates who have the base skillset
necessary, but also bring a different background or outlook to the status quo.” 

Olivia Armour, Discovery Communications


“Our industry is facing a tremendous change with technology disrupting existing business models allowing new entrants to
change the market rules and challenging the established positions in the media value chain.

As a consequence we’re all reacting to these changes but no one still knows what the final output (the new rules of the game)
will be. This uncertainty is the common guidance on all our activities today, I believe. We continue doing some business as usual,
planning growth, but at the same time trying to change ourselves to the new market situation. But we’re still in the middle of
the bridge.

I think this situation will continue for the next few years or maybe will remain as a constant in our business as technology will
continue to change and challenge our businesses and positions in the market.”

Alessandro Tucci, 21st Century Fox


“Many thanks - a few further reflections on some of the wider issues we didn’t have time to pick up on.
1) Operating Model - core competencies and capabilities
2) Revenue Diversification - is it all about building IP through rights ownership and windowing strategies or is the revenue mix
fundamentally changing?
3) Vertical vs horizontal integration of media organisations and the resulting benefits and challenges” 

Sanjeevan Bala, Channel 4


“For me what I enjoyed most was the discussion around where audio/visual content is really going. Good to see such a
variety of stakeholders within this industry discuss openly what their views are. Enjoyed the fact some of those views were quite
opposing giving us the possibility to see both sides. Big difference in views – largely depending on where people’s
respective companies stand – innovator or incumbent in my view.”

Wim Ponnet, Endemol Shine


“Thanks Nick – a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I certainly took away the fact that we are all facing very similar challenges and
it was great to hear from a broad range of perspectives.”

Nick Herm, Sky