When content is King, why are we in crisis?

Tue 30 Apr 2024 | News | 0 comments

Kimberly Godbolt, Joint MD of Talented People, gives her opinion on what’s happened to the content-making market since late 2022.

It’s been about 18 months since we sensed a downturn in the TV market at Talented People.

About 12 months since we started having to make difficult decisions about our own overheads.

6 months since we started to pivot into new areas.

And every day since then, we’ve been using our voice on socials and on panels, delivering our services to the highest possible standard with a smaller team, pitching pitching pitching for new business. Communicating with everyone when no one else seemed to be.

And the single question that keeps coming up is, why? Why has this crash in the content market happened?

It’s a very obvious question, with no straightforward answer. However, in an attempt to give you some rhyme or reason for it all, as well as make your life slightly simpler when the next friend/family member/random asks why you’ve not worked in a year, here are some of the factors that we know have led to the current crisis that the TV production world has found itself in:

  • The post Covid production boom knocked everything out of kilter and gave us a false sense of security. Remember when you couldn’t find a Production Manager for love nor money? When you had 16 voicemails asking for your availability? When you named your rate and weren’t negotiated down? That was your heyday, my friend. And those times weren’t realistic or sustainable unfortunately. Commissioners over-ordered, production companies couldn’t believe their luck, everyone made loads but everyone burnt out. Now there is content on the proverbial shelves (24Hrs in A&E being an example of that – C4 hasn’t aired several of the eps shot last year, and just announced they haven’t recommissioned it), and this means that they’re not in a rush to order more. It’s also why this period feels even more cruel as the difference between mega busy and complete tumbleweed is exaggerated.

In our opinion, this crash would have happened earlier if Covid hadn’t hit, so in a weird way the pandemic prevented the inevitable…

  • Change in viewing habits and expectations. Whilst event style once a week drops may be coming back to an extent (Gladiators, Slow Horses/Ted Lasso etc on Apple TV+), we are mainly binge watching massive, shiny, mega expensive series, sometimes in a single weekend. Pro rata that £10 per month subscription down and it’s cost you about 30p. Anything less than ‘wow’ that you rave to your friends about as a must-watch is a bit ‘meh’ (even though it’s still probably pretty great compared to content a few years ago). And once you’ve completed it, you’re looking for the next, and the next. “There’s nothing decent!” I mean, there are literally hundreds of titles in different genres for you to watch for that subscription fee, and it’s never enough. Streamers have seemingly shot themselves in the foot by being so awesome, raising our expectations and charging relatively little for it.

  • Linked to this, the industry is basically moving from Media to Tech. People aren’t just putting the telly on to watch whatever’s going out ‘now’ – except maybe retirees happy to watch stairlift ads in the daytime, or soap fans. You’re streaming, at a time that suits you, the series that you pick out through recommends and menus. Plus there’s that little device in your hand for 90% of the day that serves you up any amount of content you want, based on what you like to watch, and taking away a fair amount of your downtime at home when you’d previously be popping the telly on. All this means that the idea of ‘live schedules’ and the jobs that kind of model needs is reducing.
  • Debt. Perhaps the traditional content buying and selling model is flawed, because get this. The UK’s most watched show this year so far (13.5m), ITV drama series ‘Mr Bates and the Post Office’,  which captured the whole country’s attention, and even pushed through new legislation for the wronged postal workers in the story, lost £1m. *Shakes head in disbelief.* They lost a million pounds making it, yet all of us watched, loved and talked about it. And it can’t be distributed successfully as people in, say, Lithuania are unlikely to want to watch 4 hours on the British post office. Fair enough. But does this mean we won’t make socially conscious and UK centric content anymore? Only the huge formats that can be sold far and wide?

Still on debt, Apple, Amazon Prime and Disney+ are just playing in the content world as a hobby. OK, possibly unfair, but what I mean is that their main business is selling you tech, shopping that arrives same day and magical holidays, not content. They’re not expecting to make money, it’s a marketing / profile piece of their puzzle. They can afford to not make money on their TV content, unlike Netflix, whose sole business is streaming, and by the way, has never yet broken even (nor has Disney+ mind). Netflix now has 269m+ subscribers, but are in net debt of $7.1b as of December ‘23. Mind blowing really.

  • Economy & advertising wobbles. Not the collywobbles, although it’s given us all that. The ad market has collapsed, with one reason being people aren’t watching traditional ads on TV anymore. Add that to the lack of confidence in the economy in general and the fact that there is content sitting on shelves (although I would think it’s running low) means no content boss can gamble on any more spend than absolutely necessary.
  • Everything costs more, including money. We’ve all noticed it, shopping, petrol, going out. So of course, actually making content, the production costs, are more expensive than ever too. Small companies can’t afford to finance productions either, so if the broadcaster/streamer doesn’t stump up the money in the first place, they need to borrow from the bank to make it (something as a freelancer I had never thought about). And it’s become unaffordable to do so, with interest so high. One COO said to us recently that she talks about the ‘cost of money’ every day, several times a day at the moment.
  • New ways of working – film producing style, indies now need to find creative ways to raise or top up money needed to make something big and shiny. Or anything really. So that’s co-productions, self-financing, ad funded programming, other new and clever deals – which is all commercially exciting but takes so much longer.

That makes for a rather depressing read, I know. And I’m sure I’ve missed out some other contributing factors. But the fact remains that people want more content than ever, just not in ways we’ve traditionally delivered, and the new ecosystem of producing what people want is currently under construction.

Grab a spade and a hard hat and help build it! That’s what we’re doing 🙂


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