Leading UK broadcasters offer up their thoughts on the outlook for 2014, setting out the key battlegrounds and likely highlights of the year to come.
The big battleground among UK broadcasters in 2014 is going to be in the drama genre. As shows like Broadchurch, Sherlock and Downton Abbey prove, a breakout drama hit can transform the perceptions – and finances – of a channel.
“There are a number of themes for next year, and the first thing is that we have a number of dramas coming,” says BBC director of television Danny Cohen. He cites the upcoming co-pro The Musketeers for BBC1, the return of Sherlock and the first series of Doctor Who starring Peter Capaldi. Over on BBC2, there’s “a number of high quality drama pieces” including The Honourable Woman starring Maggie Gyllenhall and follow ups to the Line of Duty, The Fall and Page Eight.
“The big thing for us in 2014 is scripted,” says Stuart Murphy, director of television Sky, who adds that the broadcaster has 20 new drama titles next year. From a standing start just a few years ago, it’s an impressive tally. The first to land is Sky Atlantic’s Ian Fleming biopic staring Dominic Cooper. Straight after that is Smoke, a ten part drama from Kudos, which Murphy bills as a ‘supersized London’s Burning.’ Then there’s Saving Mr Sloane, Sam Mendes’ Penny Dreadful and Fortitude. Viewers feel that proper broadcasters do scripted, says Murphy, explaining the drama push, adding that he’s aiming for “scale, emotion and humour” in Sky drama.
Channel 4’s chief creative officer Jay Hunt says she’s looking forward to new series from Paul Abbott and Russell T Davies to sit alongside Dennis Kelly’s Utopia and Peter Flannery’s period drama New Worlds. “Babylon which takes a sharp comedic look at London policing will land early next year and we’re thrilled to have Danny Boyle directing it. “
Even Channel 5 is getting in on the drama act, ordering its first original commission for eight years, Evidence, an improvised crime drama starring Fay Ripley, which will land in February. “It’s a way of doing drama that nobody else has done before, and it holds its head up,” says Ben Frow, C5 director of television.
2014 will be crowded with major events that look set to bring the nation together around the television (or tablet, or smartphone…). The year kicks off with the Sochi Winter Olympics (7 – 23 February). Then, this summer, the biggest event of the year plays out in Brazil – the Fifa World Cup (12 June-13 July) – which bodes well for ratings on the BBC and ITV. Almost immediately after comes the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (23 July-4 August). Commonwealth Games don’t traditionally perform well on TV, but Glasgow is expected to win viewers because it is a ‘home’ Games.
Elsewhere, the BBC is marking the 100th anniversary of the First World War with an array of programming across its channels.
The launch of some shows are becoming ‘events’ in their own right, like Netflix’s House of Cards, Sky’s Game of Thrones or the BBC’s Doctor Who. “I constantly think of scale – how we can get bigger and better,” says Sky’s Stuart Murphy. And the only way to get big scale programmes that pull in viewers is to co-produce, he says. “For everyone, there will be a really big issue about how you go bigger.”
Events will be big next year on Channel 4, with Stand up to Cancer returning to sit alongside national sporting moments like the Grand National and the Sochi Paralympics. Says C4’s Jay Hunt: “After Ramadan and Sex Box, we’ll be making some more noise next year with live testing of cannabis and an incredibly moving series on end of life care, My Last Summer.”
2014 will be more competitive than ever for broadcasters as they fight for audiences who have a greater array of content to watch than ever before – on a growing number of platforms. “We are in an age of strong competition,” says Cohen. “We know ITV has been on good form, but we also know that people have been watching Netflix, and spend a lot of time on Facebook. For me, it is all about understanding that we are in a battle for screen time, not just a battle for traditional television time.”
The year ahead, for example, will see the BBC focusing more on the iPlayer, now available on a mobile, an iPad or an internet connected TV, which Cohen has billed as the corporation’s fifth channel.
Channel 4’s Jay Hunt says it’s an ongoing challenge understanding how things like second screen technology are changing the way we all watch TV. “Apps like 4Now are helping us navigate that world better but we need to keep experimenting to really understand how the audience experience is changing. “
But, Cohen acknowedges, the heartland job of broadcasters is about making great content. It’s a point echoed by Channel 5’s Ben Frow. “It’s all about good ideas. I don’t care how they are watching telly. I don’t care if they are watching on an iPad, a iPhone or a computer. It all comes down to the content.”
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