PICTURE donning a virtual reality headset to watch the football from a player’s perspective, catching the evening news bulletin with stories tailored to you and having more choice in content than ever.
This is the future of Australian television and it’ll be here by 2020, as the industry enters its biggest era of change.
The fact that a Hollywood megastar like Rachel Griffiths would lend her talent and expertise to a low budget YouTube comedy shows how much the landscape has evolved. In between major film and TV roles, the acclaimed actor co-produced and starred in Little Acorns — a hilarious web series about workers at a suburban childcare centre.
Rachel Griffiths and co-stars of new internet series Little Acorns, Fanny Hanusin, Maria Theodorakis, Belinda McClory and Katerina Kotsonis.
While the online space offers enormous opportunities to tap into a global audience hungry for video content, Griffiths said there are challenges that come with it.
“We wanted Little Acorns to be on a network,” Griffiths admitted. “We went to all the usual players. It was like, oh well, if no one wants to give us money we’ll just find another way. But make no bones about it — no one makes money from this format.”
The cost of making a TV drama runs anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million per episode, so broadcasters are less inclined to take risks.
“These days, you have to prove your product and your voice, and the web series thing is a platform through which to prove what you’ve got,” Griffiths said.
One player embracing change is Fox Sports, where digital is seen as a way of enhancing the viewing experience. The subscription TV giant has a research lab where a dedicated team explores broadcast innovation, chief executive Patrick Delany said.
“We’re releasing an app next week called Fox Vision and the first event we’ll use it for is Bathurst, and there will be a map in all of the papers next Thursday that you can point your phone at that to make it 3D so you can explore the terrain,” Delany said.
“At the same time, you can go inside the car with a 360-degree camera and look around, as it hurdles around the track. These are really cool technologies that we can use to enhance the live sports experience. I only see that growing.”
With new gadgets, content boom, alternative platforms and personalised experiences, Australian TV will look vastly different by 2020.
Here’s a snapshot of what’s coming.
Developments in virtual and augmented reality will see the TV experience shift significantly, Delany said. “We’re getting into that space already,” he said. “You can put a pair of glasses on and (be) at the ground, in the stand, and be immersive. We’re exploring how we can improve that and apply it to our service.”
When it comes to sports, the big screen will remain the primary source but secondary, personal devices will allow “add ons”, he said.
“Whether it’s things like a variety of camera views — inside the cars for the V8s or alternative angles from drones — or player stats and charts relevant to what you’re seeing on screen, that’s how I see it going.”
Regardless of how TV changes, Adrian Swift, Nine’s programming and production boss, believes content will always be king.
“We’re still paying money to create great content and we’ll continue to do that,” Swift said. “Our job and strategic focus is to keep ourselves as a destination as things change around us. We play to our strengths and that’s news, sport, big events, stripped reality shows and fun, light, clever Australian drama that the whole family can sit down to watch.”
What this means is TV networks will develop their own content niche, Mason said.
“The big play for broadcasters is local — they understand what Aussie viewers want and it’s shows that reflect them.”
Consuming content online, whether live or via catch-up, is a trend that Swift expects to continue in the coming years. There will come a time when Nine is a button on a remote as well as a mobile app, an add-on to set top boxes and game consoles, and a website.
It’s a trend the company is already seeing — 9 Now has a unique total audience of 1.4 million, Collins said.
“What we’re seeing is more engagement — more minutes consumed. A prime example is the drama Love Child. The last series did one million long-form streams and 28 million minutes of content was consumed.”
Live news could soon contain stories that are tailored to a viewer’s preferences, based on past trends. The idea of customised content is something American outfit CBS News Digital is exploring, its senior vice president and general manager Christy Tanner said.
“We have developed different interfaces that offer some degree of personalisation and the ability to tailor their own news cast,” Tanner said. “It’s a real balancing act for us though. We believe in the power of journalists to curate for the audience so we want to deliver a balance of personalisation and editorially led curation.”
Otherwise a fully personalised nightly news bulletin runs of the risk of just being stories about the Kardashian family.
TV sets themselves are changing, with trends pointing towards devices that are integrated in the room. Some manufacturers are offering ‘in-wall’ sets that aren’t visible when not turned on, as well as screens built into mirrors.
And the latest products are being billed as works of art. Regardless of where it’s seen, Swift said TV will be “a different version of the same thing”.
Shannon Molloy, National TV Writer, News Corp Australia – October 2, 2016