Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Small Picture

Anarchy is an interesting equilibrium. I had a friend once, in high school, who claimed to be an anarchist. So, I pointed out that I would be totally justified in beating him up and he would have no recourse. In revenge he joined the local council and stuck a Morrisons supermarket right on one of the most beautiful seafronts in the world in our home town. He won. I left and still weep when I go back and look at what he wrought.

Now, we've lived through financial anarchy. There's little doubt that the UK and US governments have been utterly foolish in the way they have allowed instruments based on derivatives to develop, totally unregulated in any real sense.

In the US the balance of payment means that the US has a debt it can never, ever pay back - the US is bankrupt, but has yet to realise it, especially with revenues from its content industry diminishing daily. I most countries the revenues from entertainment are footnotes, in the US, it is one of the major exports now that manufacturing has moved elsewhere.

In the UK we have followed the lead of our populace and used the credit card - in this instance to to buy schools and hospitals using a scheme called PFI. Essentially this says that you have to add a profit margin to public projects so that the Government doesn't have them on their books. God knows what the same books look like now. Indeed, the rule book has been used as fuel to make up for the coal we no longer have.

There's little doubt that Brown was decisive about this crisis, but he was foolish in letting it happen, especially considering his ultra protestant background.

And as we turn to the small screen the effects are mixed.

In the US, a receding market with lower ad bucks is being denied. The US truly believes that every dollar spent on TV today will be spent on online TV tomorrow. The US media market has not yet been hit, but is about to take a strike like it has never imagined. At the same time, its global sales will go into freefall. The local market will be precipitous. The US content and TV markets are in a very, very bad place and online may be the only salvation, but it will be a dime for a dollar model.

In the UK, since TV is largely guaranteed by a hefty personal tax on every household, the picture is more sanguine, as it remains in countries where the state runs television (or, as in the case of Italy, where the government runs the government and the TV stations...).

But for internet TV, the prospect is good, as long as operators can prove that they deliver an effective audience willing to buy. In hard times reverting to a niche is not a bad play.

And internet TV has, really, always been about these niche audiences. The 'globalisation' world where size and reach are all that count is over and maybe now the effectiveness of TV advertising will come to the fore.

Niche TV channels can deliver very valuable audiences. It's an argument I've been making for a decade. And for a decade I've been wrong - certainly in the face of a hard, practical, booming markets where size counts above all else. Now, perhaps it's time to count the pennies and for companies to measure individual clients, not the sea of audiences that traditional TV offers and possibly fails to deliver.


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