Future of TV Briefing: How the future of TV shaped up in 2023

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This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks back at the top topics and trends that overtook the TV, streaming and digital video industries in 2023.

  • Year in review

Year in review

2023 kept the weird years streak alive.

A once-in-a-generation Hollywood work stoppage. A resurrection of the bundle. An upfront downswing into a buyer’s market. And that’s not to mention the rise of short-form video revenue-sharing programs and, who could forget, generative AI.

Few members of the TV, streaming and video industries may miss 2023, but it’s unlikely to be a year any will soon forget. Here’s what I’ll remember most.

The year Hollywood ground to a halt

The months-long dual strikes of the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild will go down as the industry’s biggest story of 2023. And for good reason. Not only was the 148-day writers’ strike the second-longest in Hollywood history — not that the 118-day actors’ strike was a blip by any means — but the ripple effects of the work stoppages are still roiling the industry, having coincided if not corresponded with the traditional TV and streaming businesses’ era of austerity.

Between networks’ and streamers’ ballooning content costs and the increased costs they now face as a result of the actors’ and writers’ new agreements, film and TV studios have reined in their spending. That has put the market for new shows on ice a bit, even as preexisting series return to production. And it all raises the question of how programming lineups — and by extension viewership and subscriber numbers — will be affected next year.

The year the bundle came back

Speaking of subscriber numbers, the pandemic-induced streaming subscription surge is long gone. To be clear, the major streamers have all returned to growing their subscriber counts, but their strategy for continuing those increases seems to center around bundling their services.

Disney has already done this with the Disney+-Hulu-ESPN+ bundle. But Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount and even Netflix have followed suit. And Apple appears poised to get in on the action. 

This rebundling has coincided with seemingly every major streaming company increasing its subscription prices. Those price increases are a way to offset their costs in hopes of eventually achieving profitability, but they have the cumulative effect of inducing subscription fatigue — especially amid inflation — so of course the bundle would be back. Somehow, at end of 2023, the traditional pay-TV bundle is almost looking like a bargain.

The year the ad market went south

The austerity trend was not isolated to the content side this year. After a couple bonkers years of traditional TV networks securing sizable increases in upfront commitments from advertisers, the futures market fell to earth this year, with spending amounts landing largely flat-to-down compared to the previous year. 

And the situation hasn’t exactly improved since summer. Aside from live sports — and particularly NFL and college football — the TV and streaming ad market has been pretty soft. TV’s scatter market in the fourth quarter has been a buyer’s market to an almost anomalous extent, as has been the TV and streaming ad market overall. And with budget volatility among advertisers’ not abating — more on that in the Jan. 3 edition of this briefing — this trend seems set to continue into 2024.

The year short-form video platforms shared money

Of all the years for short-form video platforms to share ad revenue with creators, 2023 was not an ideal one. Nonetheless, YouTube Shorts introduced its revenue-sharing program this year. As did Snapchat. And TikTok expanded its monetization options by adding a revenue-sharing program specifically for videos at least one minute in length as well as high-end version of its existing revenue-sharing program — TikTok Pulse Premiere — for publishers like BuzzFeed, Condé Nast and NBCUniversal. 

It’s unclear how lucrative any of these revenue-sharing programs are for creators or publishers — aside from individual examples like Alyssa McKay — but they seem to least represent a solid shift away from the controversial creator funds, with TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram shutting down their respective programs in 2023. 

Although the short-form video creator funds did not survive 2023, TikTok’s presence in the U.S. did, the threat to which I almost forgot about, which shows what a year it’s been.

The year generative AI reared its head

The threat I have not forgotten about is AI. 

It was a major point of contention during the writers’ and actors’ strikes, with both sides seeking and receiving concessions from studios to limit their use of generative AI tools for purposes like writing scripts and replacing live actors. And it was a focal point among advertisers and content creators for seeing how tools like ChatGPT, Runway, Midjourney and Photoshop’s Generative Fill could be applied to their workflows. 

How copyright law applies to generative AI, however, put something of a cap on its adoption for official use — though as far as caps go, when it comes to generative AI, the toothpaste is out of the tube.

What we’ve heard

“It’s the first year where you have multiple players at scale. Hulu’s been at scale for a while. That’s probably the only one that has been at scale.”

Agency executive on how the 2024 premium streaming ad market is shaping up

What we’ve covered

YouTube postpones co-viewing measurement plan:

  • The platform has pushed back its timeline to the fourth quarter of 2024.
  • Agency executives have pushed back against YouTube’s self-reported co-viewing measurement plan.

Read more about YouTube’s co-viewing measurement here.

A Q&A with YouTube’s Mary Ellen Coe on the video platform’s big year:

  • YouTube’s chief business officer discussed the Shorts revenue-sharing roll-out and NFL Sunday Ticket launch.
  • Coe also fielded questions about the moves ad buyers would like to see YouTube make.

Read more about YouTube here.

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