I wrote recently here that Google is likely to become one of our biggest paymasters in the future of the TV production industry, but this still sounds like crystal ball-gazing, or science fiction. Right now, most predictions for TV watching in the future, other than the licence funded BBC, are based on viewers paying a little – or a lot – for what they want to watch. And it looks like they want better than they’re getting just now.
When television viewers can choose what they want to view and when, they have less tolerance for low-budget, vapid TV wallpaper. Adam Curtis, maker of The Power Of Nightmares and Century of the Self, recently told C21 Media that the BBC iPlayer is one of the things changing the state of play for documentary production, because people can watch docs again and again, which means they can be “as complicated as you want.” This discerning viewing goes far beyond BBC iPlayer – any digital TV box with a recording facility gives viewers the same power of involvement and will be the kiss of death to patronising telly.
David Cuff is Virgin Media’s Commercial Director, and I recently heard him tell a room full of interactive TV producers that, “there is a flight towards quality. People are watching better quality programmes, for which they are prepared to pay”. But this isn’t just about affluent viewers getting the good stuff. We can still do the traditional thing and pay through our shopping bills by watching adverts, they’ll just be better targeted to each of us. Advertisers don’t really have a problem with smaller audiences if they can get a better focus on just the people they really want to reach.
Word of mouth is a term that is fundamental to the hiring culture of the production industry, which only succeeds in elevating the importance of one’s reputation. You may come highly recommended, but without having the reputation to match, your recommendations are practically worthless.
“Congratulations to the winners and runners-up of the first Freelancer of the Year Awards, but will they get more contracts now as a result of their well-deserved awards?… If the winners’ peers and employers have voted for them, they must have something good. Frankly, as far as getting that next production job goes, it’s not just how good you are at your work that really matters, but how good other people think you are… There is a small group of freelance programme-makers whom all the companies compete for all of the time. They are the must-have hires that commissioning editors insist on, and indies work hard at building up a close relationship with them. These freelancers need never be unemployed if they don’t want to be, they are the height of fashion.”
Congratulations to the winners and runners-up of the first Freelancer of the Year Awards, but will they get more contracts now as a result of their well-deserved awards? I think so, and here is why. Only five days after the awards ceremony Sandy, Wayne and Ash will have had more potential employers than before looking at their CVs. If the winners’ peers and employers have voted for them, they must have something good. Frankly, as far as getting that next production job goes, it’s not just how good you are at your work that really matters, but how good other people think you are.
Multimedia platforms have been around for a substantial time now, yet finding freelancers with the skills needed to produce and deliver this content, can be hard. Skillset are clearly responding to this, so is it ultimatum time for those freelancers who are resistant to change?
There has been a massive shift in the training available for freelancers this season. From now on, Skillset’s Television Freelance Fund, which subsidises up to 60% of the costs of training courses for TV freelancers, will be put into courses which add to your skills in entrepreneurialism, multiplatform production or new-media management.
If you want financial support with traditional linear television production training, then you will need to wait at least until this recession is well and truly over. And maybe much longer. Broadcasters and independent producers make a voluntary contribution to the Television Training Fund which pays for freelancers’ courses, but they have been paying less in lately having been hit by a witches brew of business recession.
How will social media affect the way that we make and watch programmes in the future? This week Moray caresses his crystal ball to find out.
“Social media” is the hackneyed phrase of our time, attached to any venture which could involve a minimum of two people and a computer. The phrase seems as likely to refer to the rejig of a coffee-shop’s opening hours as to a new version of Facebook. It’s the kiss of death to any executive proposal if “social media” isn’t incorporated somewhere in the first line. It’s a compelling bandwagon, and I’m as liable as anyone to be geed-up by the Socialnomics viral that took marketing execs by storm last month.
But just because the ‘social media’ phrase is as indistinct as New labour’s ‘Third Way’, doesn’t mean that social media isn’t going to affect the way you work too. You might think that telly is a social medium already, but here’s my latest crystal ball reading on what Social Media will mean for television production. In short, we’re all going to be at it soon.
Freelancer Jonathan Sidwell is new to the industry and has been very successful as an Assistant Director both in 1st & 2nd position. He has accrued significant credits in commercial & music promotions, live Television and films. Jonathan recently worked on a Feature film for BigFoot Entertainment as a 2nd Assistant Director, and he shares his experiences.
The shoot was for a feature film named “DeepGold”. It’s set in the Philippines and I spent 4-5 months on location in Cebu. The film itself is an action/adventure where a military pilot is accused of stealing a plane filled with gold. His girlfriend attempts to clear his name in a race to find the missing gold. She later comes to realise she is not alone on her mission, and her competitors motives may not be as selfless as hers.
Could delivering online content be the way to find treasure at the end of the rainbow? We’re all aware of its potential, but how it can be exploited?
It’s a quarter of a century since Channel 4 opened the floodgates to the growth of the independent production sector. Many indies are now bigger and richer than anyone thought possible, and arguably they are the core of the television industry.
In contrast, some of the broadcasters are beginning to resemble shop windows for the formats of any production company with the cash flow to put them there.
But there was an exciting time in the mid-1980’s when it seemed that anyone with a commissionable programme idea could put together a production company and get it made. It might not have made them rich, but they were part of a thrilling cultural movement.
In 2009 television advertising revenue fell by 17% which has panicked broadcasters into questioning their future. After spending 3 days at the RTS Cambridge Convention this week Moray reports on how Google claim that they can save the day.
“I’ve just spent three days at the RTS Cambridge Convention, the gathering every two years of some two hundred people who own or run the UK’s TV industry… Sessions led by the likes of Mark Thompson, Peter Bazalgette, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, Andy Duncan and Dawn Airey, worried over the future of the BBC and the commercial broadcasters. But the big question lurking over every session was, ‘where will the money come from?’… Then, like a deity summoned from Olympus, Eric Schmidt appeared on a live satellite-link to answer questions from the delegates and give the word of Google. If Larry Page and Sergey Brin thought up Google, the most successful start-up in history, Eric Schmidt is the Chief Executive they brought in to run and grow it. And Google is aiming to be the god of all television.
I’ve just spent three days at the RTS Cambridge Convention, the gathering every two years of some two hundred people who own or run the UK’s TV industry. The mood certainly wasn’t self-congratulatory, if anything, the tone was typical of that set by Phil Redmond, creator of Brookside and Grange Hill, when quoting screenwriter, William Goldman, ‘nobody knows nothing’.
Freelancer Anthony Holland has over 10 years experience working in factual production. In the last 5 years, Anthony has been producing/ directing documentaries and more recently he was working as a location producer/ director for Animal Planet’s reality series ‘Animal Cops’ in Cape Town, South Africa. Read and comment on Anthony’s experience.
Introduction to the shoot
An observational documentary series following the animal cruelty inspectors of the SPCA (equivalent to the RSPCA in the UK).
What were the surroundings like compared to UK?
A world of two extremes – the affluent live alongside South Africa’s poorest citizens. Cape Town has some of the most luxurious houses in the world, and yet only a stone’s throw away a million people live in wooden shacks often with no electricity and running water.
This week, I look at the future of television content and offer some optimism for how production companies and programme makes can pave their way to a sustainable future.
We know that these are turbulent, insecure times. The commercial broadcasters are watching their traditional sources of income dwindle, the BBC is fighting to keep the licence fee revenue to itself, Ofcom is offering Channel Four a choice of shotgun weddings to Five or to BBC Worldwide, and all the terrestrials are likely to screen more repeats through 2009 at the cost of new commissions. Where’s the good news?
As long as you are a programme-maker or a production company executive, and you probably are if you’re reading this in the first place, then this is an exciting time of opportunity and change for you personally. Whatever massive shifts the mass broadcasting media are undergoing, viewers will always want professionally made, editorially intelligent programmes and content to watch. That means there will always be work for you to do. But it probably won’t be for traditional one-way broadcast television programmes in the long run, and you could find that getting paid is a more complex business than before.
“I was Rob Benfield’s researcher in the 1980s when he was a producer/director on a regional ITV current affairs doc series called Facing South (and immigration minister Phil Woolas was a co-researcher!). Rob remembers that the series was run by journalists at the time and that he was brought in to make the series more visually interesting when the prevailing “mission to explain” ethos made programmes duller to watch. Complaints about the dumbing-down of docs began 25 years ago. No doubt, I did my bit to help the process too…”
A month ago I asked whether documentary production is really in demise, or are we just grumbling? The holiday season has proved harder to crack than I’d thought, and I’m still waiting for the indies and commissioners I’ve contacted to get back to me on the subject.
Never say never, but I’ve had some interesting offline feedback from, Michael Waldman, a veteran of BBC’s Forty Minutes doc strand, and maker of The House, Daisy Daisy, Stephen Fry In America and many more. And I can offer the academic’s viewpoint from, Rob Benfield, who runs the TV production degree course at the University of Westminster.