Channels are zombies, not corpses.
TV is dying.
Radio was meant to have died.
Cinema is next. Although some of its defibrillators, Picturehouses and Secret Cinema, might disagree with you.
Yet, whilst it’s very popular to make oversimplified and exaggerated predictions about the death of mass media, these forecasts are woefully inaccurate and biased. Watching Netflix and Charlie Brooker’s Bandersnatch the other night served as a timely reminder of an oft-forgotten rule: that entire channels very rarely die (try thinking of one). And if they do, it’s never sudden (again try thinking of one). What does happen is that parts of them die, and do so slowly over time. But that doesn’t sound very sexy. It’s the equivalent of an 80’s action hero flinching and cowering their way out of frame as they escape an explosion, instead of the usual walking towards camera. Without expression, and with very dirty clothes.
There is still a significant audience for traditional, linear TV of course. Mark Ritson has fought this corner avidly, and needs no help. But going forwards, TV will have to become increasingly non-traditional and non-linear to stand-out, compete, and stay relevant to growing audiences who are native to those channel behaviours. The only way that linear TV broadcasters can maintain their competitive edge in the meantime is to produce marvellous, captivating content time, and time, and time again.
A tall order, and there are few with the skill and scale to master both demands. The BBC (from Attenborough to iPlayer) and Sky (from Game of Thrones to addressable TV and SkyGo) being the standout examples.
Digital radio hasn’t fundamentally changed what radio is. The technology has simply proliferated and eased access to it, and with great effect. The major social media channels – post Cambridge Analytica and with declining user engagement on core platforms – are still trying to work out which parts of their technologies, offerings, and behaviours to evolve or cauterise. Because they are so engrained in our lives now that, while still relatively new, they probably won’t completely die. What’s much more likely is that they will become a Frankenstein’s monster version of themselves in years to come. And we will hardly have noticed. Exhibit G:
Bandersnatch – from the hauntingly prophetic Black Mirror series, allows the viewer to choose the protagonist’s fate by choosing one of two paths at key moments in the story – is about as wonky and nontraditional as you can get. Honda’s The Other Side (W+K), and Al Jazeera’s Pirate Fishing brilliantly toyed with a similar concept several years before it.
The reward? I for one was totally engrossed, even switching my iPhone OFF to ensure I didn’t miss any clues or detail. No doubt some boffin over at Netflix will have worked-out some scarily complex (possibly useless) ‘Return on Engagement’ metric for their content. And having gone back into the story several times to explore different narrative paths and uncover four alternate endings, I’ve made that algorithm beg for mercy.
All of this resurfaces an old lesson about innovation; that it is a two-way street. Yes, the onus is on producers, brands, and advertisers to think more innovatively about how they tell and sell. We agencies and brands hear a lot about that.
But let’s not forget that it is also on the owners of these channels; more of them need to create the conditions of opportunity instead of environments of restrictions. Because they are vital to forging innovative relationships and their shared end product: material, effective invention that engages en masse. Bandersnatch shows that being committed to innovation has – and always will be – about investing meaningful resources and time to do brave things with the right people.
Channels that live by these principles will never die.