ITV boss Carolyn McCall has raised concerns that the British cost of living crisis could start hampering broadcaster revenues at a time when they are emerging from the pandemic, while BBC Director General Tim Davie warned against “complacency” over changing audience habits.
ITV’s main source of income is advertising but this income is “heavily tied to the economy,” according to McCall, who said a “gloomy” period could impact the network’s revenues.
She was speaking at the Deloitte and Enders Media and Telecoms Conference a day after ITV unveiled strong Q1 results and several weeks after it posted record ad revenues for full year 2021.
The UK is currently in the midst of a major cost of living crisis, with energy and gas bills soaring and serious concerns being raised by businesses over the knock-on effect this will have on the economy.
Although raising the cost-of-living concerns, she countered that “people have realized the value of TV advertising [post lockdown] and how you can get an emotional message across.”
And while ITV’s share price has been declining, she said this “in no way reflects our performance” following the strong set of recent results, pointing to external issues such as the war in Ukraine.
All argued passionately for the strength of PSB in the future and in the face of multiple threats.
Mahon, whose broadcaster is to be sold by the UK government, said the UK is “way above other countries in its provision of PSB,” pointing to “dreadful” public service offerings in nations like the U.S. with NPR, or Russia, which has been widely condemned for its state-controlled broadcasting sector.
“We should be very proud of what we’ve got here and very careful of doing things that may seem unintentional but are definitely not unforeseeable,” she added, appearing to refer pointedly to the Channel 4 sale.
Pitts also argued the streamers are not immune from the cost-of-living crisis and cited the difficulties being experienced by the likes of Netflix in the UK.
He pointed out that episodes of Channel 5 shows such as Susan Calman’s offerings are being watched more than streamer hits like Bridgerton. “We need some perspective over what’s going on in the market,” said Pitts.
Questioned on where the sector will be in five years, BBC boss Davie warned against “complacency” when it comes to changing viewer habits, which could have “serious consequences.”
“My organization is very focused on broadcasting but we need to take our content to the places where people want to watch,” he explained. “Look at the number of people watching TV on mobile phones. We are going to have to work out how PSB delivers in all environments. Any complacency is going to end in serious consequences and the licence fee debate is central to that.”
For McCall, the upcoming five years will see more UK and European consolidation, coming in the week that Fremantle acquired Normal People producer and drama powerhouse Element Pictures, while Kyriacou said there will be a “continuation of the trends that have accelerated during Covid.”
Kyriacou also talked up soon-to-launch streamer Paramount+, which now has a June 22 UK launch date.
“We can use the knowledge we’ve gained being Brit-focused on Channel 5 and look to the world,” she added. “I want to see British content succeeding on the global stage via Paramount+.”