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A bold yet completely plausible prediction from Andy Singer, a multi-platform content executive.

Hang in there TV friends. We're gonna be ok (at least I hope so).

Like many of you, I have recently opened industry articles that read more like obituaries. In the past week, extended family members, in well-intentioned but cringey attempts to empathize, have sent along Tik Tok videos of production peeps describing their dire financial states due to the significant slow down in production. (Maybe I should have been a lawyer like my late mom had hoped.) Recently, “S&P Global has officially downgraded Paramount Global debt to junk status at BB+, from BBB-, or one level below investment grade.” 

I have no idea what that means, but it sounds pretty bad.

No doubt, these are tough times as the TV biz once again sheds its skin on its way to figuring out where and how it can safely emerge anew. 

Over the past two years, my focus has been on CTV and FAST. I spent a year helping make the sausage at Samsung's successful FAST platform, TVPlus. Currently, I consult for FAST channels and work with FAST/CTV platforms in a variety of ways. If you don’t yet know, FAST (free advertising supported streaming television) is the shiny new object media companies are all ogling. It's where library-content past and present have found new life. Importantly, it’s also where advertisers are starting to push a good amount of their chips into.

It’s also become a dim but strengthening beacon in this depressing media maelstrom, and it will lead to another evolution in TV entertainment.

There’s loads of discussion about CTV/FAST in conferences, LinkedIn posts, and articles. Since I pay a ton of attention to this space, I notice a lot of the chatter is often about ad-tech, user-data, algorithms, and delivery. Licensing movies and shows is, of course, important, but for many of these platforms, it's just part of a transaction and not necessarily a strategy. That's because library content is relatively cheap, plentiful, and comparatively an easy lift for many of these companies (especially traditional device manufacturers).

For those of us who have made our livings buying, selling, and producing series, this reliance on pure library content just seems odd. It cannot last forever. Given the volume, the fact it's everywhere, the question that should be:

What happens when these content libraries begin to run dry? 

That may sound crazy, but consider:

  • Not all library content is in HD (let alone 4k)
  • Not all library content is ready for primetime or likely to retain audiences
  • FAST binge channels and VOD operate 24/7
  • Linear channels & streamers have spent the past decade commissioning “one and done” six-episode series

Take A+E Networks. I am guessing they likely own around 150 episodes of Ice Road Truckers that are currently running on binge (single IP) channels 24/7 across multiple FAST services. It’s not going to take all that long to go through the entire eleven seasons. This isn’t a challenge unique to A+E either. Where does AMC go after they window every episode of The Walking Dead on their FAST channel or license it to Netflix? This is a real issue that is sneaking up on cash-strapped big media. It’s also where there might be significant opportunity for producers.

The quest for quality will create new demand for volume series.

With the emergence of connected TV platforms and streamers relying on licensing volume IP (see Suits), it’s obvious that owning a robust, quality library has long-term value. From Fremantle to Disney to BBC to Paramount, it's pretty clear their coffers have returned their initial investments. If you believe (as I do) that Madison Avenue is going to figure out a Nielsen-like measurement currency, the pressure for newer, quality, volume-based series is going to set off a spending spree. While current economics make this a difficult proposition, I am convinced someone will figure out a model that works or some savvy investors will take a long-term position in content.

We've seen this movie before.

Times were great for cable networks and producers in the aughts. Cable was a booming business and its growth seemed unstoppable. As Americans added channels to their cable lineups, distributors and networks businesses grew exponentially in a short period of time as they, along with their shareholders, enjoyed the incredible revenue that both monthly subscriptions and advertising produced. These channels which once exhibited affordable, readily available licensed content (sounds familiar, right?) discovered new subscribers and advertisers desired buzzier and more contemporary content offerings. 

I experienced this firsthand. My first job as a network executive was with HGTV in 2005. I was hired because the channel had hit a ratings slump the prior year due to a lack of original hours. Plus, with the proliferation of new programs, they needed creative oversight to handle the workload while also giving these new and returning series fresh, creative direction. 

HGTV was not unique in their desire to ramp up production. Discovery Networks, Viacom, and the rest of the big media companies all pushed fresh TV products out as fast as possible. From Chopped to House Hunters to Modern Marvels to What Not To Wear to Mythbusters, orders of 13, 26, and even 65 episodes of unscripted series were not unusual. Times were good for the entire ecosystem and all of this happened despite the fact that some industry professionals predicted no one would watch cable. 

Today, series like these not only makeup the foundation of FAST platforms, they are also significant players across streaming. According to a recent report by Gavin Bridge (aka The FASTMaster) and published by the Amagi Corporation, “CTV ad spending is poised to surge, escalating from $24.60 billion in 2023 to a projected $42.44 billion in 2027"—just as it did from radio to broadcast and broadcast to cable. My theory is simple: as advertisers continue to push money into CTV, the demand for higher CPMs will increase. That downward pressure to grow revenue will be driven by a) how ads get to users (i.e. ad tech) and b) better content to attract and retain users. 

These platforms will be compelled to commission originals just as cable had to in the nineties and early-mid 2000s. Volume will be key once more as the media giants and smaller studios will look to refill their repositories (this time with a new model to offset production costs). This likely starts with the dual-stream SVOD players that can afford it, and they may look to FAST as a windowing strategy to offset their expenses. However, FAST is fertile ground for brands to sponsor entertainment properties that, if produced properly, will be consumed as entertainment and can be marketed by ad agencies and to users. Plus, CTV ad products allow for all kinds of monetizable opportunities that help increase revenue, including shoppable TV (Walmart and Prime Video and Amazon MGM Studios could really win here).

This, by the way, is already happening at VIZIO and at the Roku Channel. Kudos to these platforms for having the foresight and the commitment to doing things differently and looking at the future.

If my theory holds true, creators will see a boon to their production businesses. Users will consume new content, advertisers will better target their key constituencies and pay for it, and we will see an industry find new growth in a sector that is hungry for it.

The content ecosystem will get healthier.

There will continue to be consolidation across the industry as new distribution platforms and technology emerge. But as the dust settles, opportunities will emerge for producers, the sun will shine again, the seas will calm (for a bit), and content will once again be king.

At least I hope so.

About Andy Singer:  Andy Singer provides strategic planning and tactical solutions for a diverse range of content creators, studios, and media platforms including OTT, VOD, and social. He often serves as as a "fractional GM," and he has advised multiple FAST Channel operators on content strategy, acquisitions, programming/curation strategy, brand positioning, marketing and distribution/growth tactics for platforms including Pluto, Samsung TVPlus, Roku, LG, and Vizio. 

In his extensive career, Singer has produced hundreds of episodes across numerous series for broadcast and cable networks. He has also advised production companies including Glass Entertainment Group and Alkemy X on series in production, development projects, and on-air talent development. 

Mr. Singer has held several top leadership roles in cable TV including Vice President of HGTV, General Manger of DIY Network, and the Travel Channel. Mr. Singer is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

Andy Singer