I really enjoyed last week’s Realscreen Summit.
- It felt like the end of one era and the beginning of …????
- Definitely of… Uncertainty!!
- That’s what made Realscreen so interesting: A lot of disruption.
- Which is always a good thing for senior consultants.
Here are my Takeaways:
1. Congrats to the Organizers!
The Toronto-based B2B publisher & marketer Brunico launched Realscreen in 1999:
- I was among the nearly 500 delegates.
- The focus was on content-driven docs and factual series.
- ‘Immersive’ was the buzz-word.
Attendance in 2015 was up more than 500% versus 1999, and nearly doubled since 2010.
- The Realscreen franchise has been extended to Los Angeles and London.
- The Brunico team expertly rode the rise and rise of Reality TV.
- Meanwhile, other genre-specific conferences, like History, faltered.
Source: Realscreen Summit
2. The Snow-mageddon That Fizzled
- RS’15 will be remembered for the blizzard-of-the-century that wasn’t.
- Storm-zilla proved to be a wimp in New York and the Mid-Atlantics.
- But it grounded almost the entire A+E Networks delegation by management decree.
- And hundreds of others were relieved that they didn’t blow their registration fee and miss their well-rehearsed pitches.
Our sector has massive scale, and therefore opportunity.
In our ‘Formula for a Hit‘ panel, A+E Networks’ Don Robert shared an amazing picture of the programming pipeline:
- “In 2014, there were over 13,000 hours of new entertainment programming in primetime across broadcast and cable.”
- “This is up a staggering 77% in just 5 years.”
- “And this doesn’t even include sports and news.”
- “The rise in non-fiction hours is also up – jumping 16% in the past year and going from 77% to 79% of all new entertainment hours.”
4. A Kinder, Gentler Realscreen
- There used to be a sharp-elbowed, competitive edge at Realscreen.
- I put it down to the combo of cramped quarters and an emerging, ‘wildcat’ marketplace.
- This year, like last, the conference lounge was spacious: There were no more ‘chair wars’ over meeting spaces.
- And the market is organized: Sellers are better educated in how to pitch; buyers are properly set up to present their needs and to take pitches.
- Network buyers have been humbled by a tough year.
- Ratings for most unscripted channels have fallen, and some are in steep decline.
- The hits don’t tumble out of the development process as in recent decades.
- Many programming execs are more open and vulnerable.
- Fear is a constant companion in a mature market.
- When network distribution, viewing and revenues are flat or shrinking, headcount is under the microscope.
- So is individual performance.
- Its time to polish up Plan B and Plan C: keep the doors open.
- And that contributed to the collegial and uncertain mood in the rooms.
- Editorial exhaustion has set in.
- A friend says: “There wasn’t a piece of tape that was the talk of DC. Not this year!”
- There’s a sense that viewers have wised up to producers.
- The audience can see what’s coming next, so why stick around?
- ‘Scripted Unscripted’ became formulaic and predictable.
- I heard: ‘We’ve seen every pitch! Every type of character. Every situation!’
- Our friends at Hoff Productions reported that channels are looking for ‘new twists on formats’ rather than blow-em-away characters.
8. Pendulum Swinging Back?
- There were lots of conversations about a return to content-driven rather than character-based series.
- But no one pointed to a trailblazer, the way Ice Road Truckers once caught the shift to the Occu-soap genre.
- A senior executive argues that another pendulum is swinging: “Networks were fed up with being hustled and sizzled by the agents at Realscreen. The channels sent their ‘screeners’ to Washington rather than the deciders. They’re slowing down the process and taking more control from agents.”
9. The Model is Under Threat
- The 30-year boom in unscripted television has been driven mainly by Cable / Satellite economics. (See 3 above.)
- After years of talk, it has hit home that the good old days won’t go on forever.
- While total video viewing is up, SVOD (Netflix + others) and youthful ‘cord-nevers’ are draining viewers, revenues and optimism from the high cost model.
- We’ll analyze the threats to the model in the coming weeks.
- While much of the Western business world remains male and white, US Cable + Satellite has been deeply committed since the ‘Eighties to creating opportunities for women and minorities.
- You can see it on the floor at Realscreen and in the program bio’s, where by my count around 40% of the speakers were women.
- This year I noticed many more African American women than in the past, an increase driven partly by experience gained from servicing Black Female targeted channels like OWN and WeTV.
- Which brings us back to the emerging model: The shift towards distribution platforms coming out of Silicon Valley doesn’t bode well for women and minorities.
- For example, a few years ago, I reported on the YouTube Game-changers Conference: Of 150 invitees, only 5 were women!
- Watch out for more coverage of the important issues raised at Realscreen.