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Media Moments 2023: Broadcast

In this extract from Media Moments 2023, author, journalist and broadcaster Charlotte Henry takes a look at the key events and trends in broadcast media. TL;DR: Streaming services have cemented their dominant position in broadcasting, but sport still supports linear.

Amidst growing financial pressure and Hollywood strikes, media and entertainment have had a turbulent year, but streaming services still lead the broadcasting landscape, apart from in a couple of crucial areas.

Streaming continues to dominate the broadcasting landscape, apart from in a couple of key areas. However, things are not entirely straightforward for the service providers. Take Netflix, for instance. In its July 2023 results, the streamer announced it had added 6 million subscribers in the preceding quarter, above market expectations. Its stock price fell by 8% the following day as revenue was down below what Wall Street had expected. 

This encapsulated two key trends. Firstly, Wall Street now cares about streamers actually making some money (Netflix still has billions of dollars-worth of debt on its books). It’s not simply about having loads of subscribers and great shows anymore. Secondly, in a highly competitive market, streaming services are determined to find as many new (paying) subscribers as possible. In Netflix’s case, it has been particularly keen to clamp down on password sharing, using additional fees and continuing to push its cheaper, ad-supported tier.

The fruits of this are starting to be seen. In Q3 2023 Netflix added 8.76 million subscribers, bringing its total to 247.15 million. Significantly, in a letter to investors, the company said that the number of subscribers to its ad-support planned was up “70% quarter-over-quarter”.

Price Rises Test Customer Loyalty

Across the board, streamers are raising their prices, testing exactly how much a consumer is willing to spend each month or year. We may be reaching the limit. Indeed, in its Media Nations 2023 report, Ofcom found that 66% of UK households used a SVoD service in the first three months of 2023. That was down from 68% for the same period in 2022.

Disney celebrated its centenary in 2023, but things are not smooth sailing for its digital operation either. Disney+, of course, remains wildly popular, with plenty of high-profile content. However, there is growing concern about how much further the returning Bob Iger can push the Marvel and Star Wars franchises. Furthermore, there are growing questions about the future of ESPN. A hunt is on for strategic minority partners in the iconic US sports broadcasting brand. Both these issues have been rumbling over the last year and will come to a head in the months to come. (Watch out for what happens when the NBA does its next TV rights deal in 2024.)

Talking of sport, Netflix has finally dipped its toe, very gingerly, into broadcasting live sporting events. On November 14th it presented the world with a pro-am golf tournament named… The Netflix Cup. It featured golfers and Formula 1 drivers from its shows “Full Swing” and “Drive to Survive” competing against each other. It was a smart use of IP, but hardly a breakthrough success.

Live Sport Saves Linear

It is sport that is really keeping linear television relevant, especially in the UK. Sky still leads as it is the main Premier League football rights holder, but it also benefited from a thrilling Ashes cricket series over the summer. ITV was helped by a good England run at the Rugby World Cup too. 

However, the BBC came out on top when it came to live sport, as millions tuned in to watch the Lionesses lose the Women’s World Cup final to Spain. While pure streaming services can, of course, broadcast sport, technical delivery (nobody wants a delay,) and getting the audience remain challenges that the likes of the BBC and ITV simply do not face.

The same is true in news, the second area in which linear continues to beat streamers. Again, the BBC dominated when it came to coverage of King Charles III”s coronation, with BBC One seeing a peak of 13.4 million viewers. Bingeable series are drawing consumers into streaming services, but major live events will always pull in the numbers.

Broadcast media was massively disrupted by the strikes in Hollywood, although it hit the US far more than it did the UK. Key late-night shows were unable to broadcast, with the shooting of new drama series and blockbuster movies delayed too. We will see the ongoing ripple effects of this for months to come, as release dates had to be pulled back. The details of the agreement may be settled for the next few years, but issues such as transparency from streaming services and the growing use of AI are going nowhere anytime soon.

Media Makers Meet – Mx3 is proud to be the media partner for Media Moments 2023, the report written by Media Voices which analyses and tears down the major media events of the past year. The report is free to download and is available here.