Wolk’s Week in Review: MIPTV shows us TV’s future, Possible and NAB show us TV’s present

Wolk's Week In Review

1. MIPTV Shows Us TV’s Future

TVREV had the honor this week of hosting the Global FAST and AVOD Summit at MIPTV in Cannes. (Rough gig, I know.) 

It is a very global event, meaning I was one of the few Americans there. 

Yet if there was one key thing I took away after a week of conversations and presentations, it was that European TV, and the struggles and challenges it faces as it moves to a mostly streaming environment, is a crystal ball of sorts into what the future of American TV will look like as streaming becomes the dominant delivery mechanism.

Allow me to explain.

European TV has no affiliate fee equivalent, nothing that even remotely mirrors the multibillion-dollar carriage and retrans jackpots that made American pay TV such an incredibly lucrative business throughout the 90s, 00s and 10s.

Neither does streaming.

And yet both will survive and likely even thrive.

Why it matters

The tens, possibly even hundreds of billions of dollars in carriage and retrans fees that flowed through the industry turned what had been a very successful business model into a wildly successful one. Like Silicon Valley Unicorn wildly successful, only for hundreds of different entities, across a period of three decades.

Why the various media companies thought that abandoning that model would be a good idea is a whole other movie (some reflections on that here) but it’s too late to put that horse back into its proverbial barn, so here we are.

Now back to the Europeans.

They’ve been making their own affiliate fee-rein television industries work for decades and they’re doing okay.

Better than okay in many instances.

The shift to streaming is hitting them in a number of ways. None of which involves having to figure out how to survive without billions in affiliate fees.

(Sort of how they pay a lot more for gas and so drive smaller cars. Only different.)

Right now their biggest issue is how to make that shift to streaming with libraries that are often owned by American studios and/or local production companies. Who may also be standing up their own FAST operations and thus not willing to license that content to someone else for streaming.

So where to get content from is a constant struggle. 

They’re also adapting to technology that allows content owners to change the way people’s mouths move on dubbed videos, so it looks like the actors are actually speaking French. Or Slovak. Or Bulgarian. Your pick.

And they’re trying to find a balance between American network fare and locally produced programming (and library versions of locally produced programming.)

All while figuring out how to measure the ads and what to charge for them.

Not an easy task.

And yet these are all issues that American TV companies are struggling with in the streaming era.

From studios and networks that may or may not want to license shows they have rights to (versus standing them up themselves) to figuring out how to make local content (not to mention local advertising) viable on streaming, to how to measure it, and how much to charge for it all.

Then there’s the AI that’s making it possible for shows to go the other way—from Europe and Asia to the US without all those subtitles huge numbers of Americans could be bothered to read. 

But mostly there’s the question of how do you make enough money from advertising, or from advertising plus subscriptions at a time when TV is no longer the only game in town, or even the living room.

The Europeans have been dealing with these conundrums for the past three decades and have found ways to make it all work, employing innovative programming strategies, better content offerings, smarter marketing.

In other words, they just tried harder.

What you need to do about it

If you are an American programmer, bitching about how much better things used to be is not an actual strategy.

Better to buck up and realize that after years of living in the lap of affiliate fee luxury, it’s time to go out and get a real job.

Yes, it will be tough, and mistakes will be made, and sometimes things won’t work and companies will go under.

But there will be more times that things do work out.

Times where smart people get rewarded and the people who still expect the world to be handed to them don’t.

And before I sound even more like a Successories poster, let me end on the notion that you have all those Europeans to model yourself on, people who went before you, people who figured this all out first. So you can take what they did, build on it and make it better.

Or, at the very least, try.

2. Possible and NAB Show Us TV’s Present

To continue the industry event theme, our next story is about two shows that are happening next week: NAB and Possible.

While they are ostensibly aimed at different audiences, there is an awful lot of overlap. (If I could split myself in two, I’d be at both.)

But each illustrates the opportunities and challenges facing the industry these days. Starting with challenge number one—getting the people on the advertising side of the industry to find common cause with those on the distribution side. And vice versa.

It’s happening here and there, but not nearly to the degree that is needed.

Why it matters

Possible, which is put on by the folks who brought you DMEXCO, is a marketing show. (DMEXCO = Digital Marketing Expo and Conference.)  It is, ostensibly, as the name implies, about all the things that are possible now that digital advertising gives us insight into what those pesky viewers are up to. Last year’s show, its first, was notable for the presence of Elon Musk, who was interviewed by Linda Yaccarino.

Or maybe it was the other way around, since she got the CEO job shortly thereafter.

It’s got a lot of brand marketing folks and a bunch of celebrities (Pitbull, Janelle Monae).

NAB, meanwhile, stands for the National Association of Broadcasters. “Broadcasters” of course not being an especially 2024 term.

The show floor is an odd mix of companies making camera dollies, TV manufacturers and tech firms focused on the TV industry, both from a tech and from an advertising perspective.

There are celebrities at NAB too—Jennifer Hudson and Mena Suvari, for instance.

Brand marketers, people with “CMO” in their titles are all at Possible (they never came to NAB) and actual broadcasters (Sinclair, AMG) are all at NAB. 

But beyond that, it’s sort of a crap shoot as to who wound up here. Ad tech companies that sit closer to brands in the ecosystem are probably in Miami. Those that sit closer to the publishers are likely in Las Vegas. But there’s a whole lot of gray area, a whole lot of overlap.

Possible is new and in Miami and there’s a bit of Goop and glitter to the peripheral programming: yoga on the beach isn’t happening at NAB, where the vibe in Las Vegas is more about getting things done.

But that’s all pretty surface and does nothing to disguise the fact that the hard conversations aren’t being had.

Conversations about measurement and what sorts of metrics brands really want and which ones they really need and what they’re willing to pay for in terms of targeting and how clearly do they see the opportunities in branded content and in reaching local audiences and why do they look at TV as yet another media outlet and not The media outlet and why this is all moving so slowly and what does the future look like and why is the president of Mr. Beast at NAB while the “Global Media Channels & Adtech Leader” from IBM is at Possible?

Yeah, those conversations.

If I’m banging on about this more than usual, it’s because another year has gone by and we’re no closer to getting everything sorted out than we were at this time last year.

There have been baby steps for sure, but all those big issues around measurement and transparency and over frequency and data privacy and attribution and identity graphs and sports rights… they’re all still nowhere.

And here we are, partying like it’s 1999 in two different time zones and still not talking to each other.

What you need to do about it

When I think about why this is at where it’s at, I keep coming back to the notion that everyone seems to think that someone else is going to figure it out. “The Market” being a particularly popular nominee for the role of Figurer Outer In Chief.

Only that’s not going to happen. 

Because if The Market figures it out, its decision will be to move on to something else, something that’s a whole lot easier. Something like digital, where we can look at pretty four color full bleed charts and pretend to know everything there is to know.

So we—all of you reading this column—need to roll up your sleeves and commit to moving things forward. To stop waiting for someone else to do it. To stop thinking that it’s a zero sum game with just one winner and if you can only play the game right, that winner will be you.

That’s not how things work unfortunately.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news is that the future is pretty damn sunny and bright and lots of people are excited about it. 

We just need to clean up the house some before the party can get started for real.

Just keep it in one city this time.

Alan Wolk will be speaking at the NAB Show on Tuesday at 3:00 pm, moderating a panel called The Future of FAST: Lessons Learned and What’s Next. Come check it out.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.