From the introduction of pay walls to the rise of on-demand television, Media Mandate looks at the media stories to watch out for in 2010:
1) Pay walls – the end of the free model?
After months of speculation and debate, 2010 could be the year when people will finally have to pay to read Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers online. The outspoken owner of The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times led the charge against the “free model” last year, announcing that he would put all of News Corps’s news content behind a pay wall in 2010 in an attempt to claw back some of the revenue lost through an unprecedented fall in advertising.
Whether people will pay for online news largely depends on which reader survey you believe, but the general consensus among media observers is that they won’t. Yes, pay-for-access web subscriptions seem to be working for specialist publications with wealthy readers like The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, but why would anyone bother to pay to read breaking news on a newspaper website when they can get the information on the BBC website free of charge?
2) Internet piracy
If (and it’s a big if) the Government’s Digital Communications Bill is passed before the General Election this year, persistent illegal downloaders could find themselves facing the prospect of having their internet connections cut off. Ministers have opted for a two-stage attack: in the first instance, those caught would be sent warning letters from their internet providers, telling them that they could face legal action if they continue to download films and music illegally. If that doesn’t work, they could face a range of “technical measures” including “temporary internet suspension”.
Sounds good in practice, but there are two caveats worth noting. First, the Bill is unlikely to pass through Parliament before the country goes to the polls, which raises the question as to whether an incoming Conservative government would adopt such a draconian approach towards online piracy. Second, disconnecting alleged offenders will be futile given that it is relatively easy for determined file-sharers to mask their identities or their activities to avoid detection.
3) 2010 – the future of the BBC
2009 wasn’t a good year for the BBC. From the “Sachsgate” affair to revelations about the six-figure salaries of the corporation’s top executives, hardly a day went past when Britain’s public service broadcaster wasn’t in the media spotlight. In the six months leading up to the next election, the flaws and virtues of the BBC will be debated far and wide. Expect strong talk from Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt who has made no secret of his plans to cut the BBC down to size. In what Labour ministers have described as a deliberate attempt to pander to Rupert Murdoch, he has committed the party to curbing the BBC’s digital activities, reining in BBC Worldwide, the corporation’s commercial arm, cutting executive pay and blocking inflationary increases to the licence fee. There is even speculation that a Conservative government would abolish the licence fee altogether on the advice of Greg Dyke, a former director-general of the BBC.
4) The rise of on-demand TV
Until now only Virgin Media customers have been able to access television-on-demand services such as the BBC iPlayer and ITV’s player through their television sets, leaving the rest of us to watch old episodes of EastEnders or the X Factor on our home computers. That is expected to change in 2010 with Project Canvas, a joint venture led by the BBC to bring the internet to television sets. Dubbed as Freeview II, Canvas is essentially a Freeview set top box with an internet connection and, if it gets the all clear from the BBC Trust, it could be available by next Christmas.
5) ITV – Can the man who worked at a DIY retailer finally fix ITV?
All eyes will be on Archie Norman in 2010, the former Tory MP and Asda chief executive who replaced Michael Grade as ITV’s new chairman in the New Year. Top of his in-tray will be taking over the search for a new chief executive, after which he will focus his attention on a five-year plan to take Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster beyond digital switchover in 2012 and into a brave new world of growing on-demand television and increasing audience fragmentation.
So will he rise to the challenge? Some say he lacks experience as he has never worked in the media, but others believe that his success in restoring the fortunes of Asda makes him the perfect man for the job. In addition, his strong contacts with the Conservative party are likely to pay dividends when it comes to lobbying politicians for regulatory change to help ITV compete with the likes of the BBC and Google.