Showcasing regional content, focusing on the user experience and fostering innovation: those are the main topics that Europe’s media industry debated during the Pictured Futures conference, held on the eve of the coming into force of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Pictured Futures provided a venue to put into perspective all of the strengths that make Europe one of the world’s main media production centres as well as to take stock of the creative, technological and legislative challenges in terms of ‘coopetition’ that the industry’s actors are facing and the multitude of issues—transnational, private-public, regulatory, financial—that digital shall crystallize even more in the coming years.
Showing the web giants a united front
The value of Europe’s data market could reach CDN$167 billion (i.e., 106 billion EUR) by 2020. “It is vital that we engage as early as today in the discussion on the societal impact of massive data and how they could benefit the cultural industry,” noted at the outset Indrek Saar, Estonia’s Minister of Culture.
Must digital platforms be forced by regulation to give more visibility to European content or should we instead focus on developing ‘superplatforms’ for consumers on the Old Continent? Multi-jurisdictional funding no longer needs to prove its worth, but what can be said about content accessibility within the European Union (EU) as a whole?
Questions such as these reflect the dilemmas faced by European decision makers, producers and broadcasters at a time when the web giants are continuing to spread their tentacles across all linguistic markets, thereby taking advantage of the tensions between the private and public sectors as well as the blind spots in local regulations to increase their influence.
And that is attributable to a handful of fundamental characteristics: ability to attract the best talent, cultural and multilingual fluidity, levelling of formats, democratic pricing, intuitive interfaces, decentralized network computing, increased connection stability, and ongoing optimization.
Rethinking interfaces and user experiences to attract audiences
Many stakeholders insisted on the fact that creating original content was no longer enough. Demonstrating creativity is now an obligation that extends to both formats and platforms.
PwC’s Global entertainment & media outlook 2017-2021 report analyzes consumption patterns in 54 countries and reveals that content growth, as with the growth of distribution channels, shall suffer if the user experience does not contribute to developing or furthering new consumption habits among audiences. It’s an absolute necessity according to Amber Price, Senior Manager with PwC Finland.
To quote the report: “Profound changes that are currently underway shall transform how entertainment and media companies compete and generate value, seeing as the quality of the experience they provide consumers becomes their main strategic differentiation and revenue growth factor.”
Ben Johnson, of the Gruvi movie marketing consulting firm, agrees:
“Movies suffer from a user experience problem and the industry needs to consider it very seriously and factor it in as quickly as possible. The potential for a digital single market, despite the industry’s initial reluctance to embrace its first version, is very interesting in this respect. It forces a discussion between movie operators and distributors in different countries to pool their efforts and their data more specifically, which can only prove to be beneficial in terms of content accessibility throughout Europe.”
Protection and innovation: the central data issue
The importance of producing and analyzing audiovisual content consumption data has been demonstrated many times over. However, it could be compromised by the passing within the EU of stricter citizen data protection regulations.
Some observers have noted that the limited access to these data could slow down the iteration process of current distribution platforms that depend on granular and recurring statistics to better interpret user behaviours and eventually optimize how they relate to their preferred contents.
Alessandro Mantelero, associate professor at the Polytechnic University of Turin, reminds that the previous model, which dates back to the 1970s, was based on the idea that a direct relation existed between personal data and the fundamental right to privacy.
The new General Data Protection Regulation*, which is enforceable in all EU countries from May 25, strengthens the idea that protecting citizens has priority over deploying new data monetization business models.
This distinction is fundamentally cultural and differentiates the EU, for example, from the United States where the population gives greater importance to limiting the fair use of data by the government rather than the private sector.
Data are the media
Jennifer Bernal, Google’s Policy Manager, insisted on the openness of a platform such as YouTube, on which a quarter of all content viewed comes from Europe.
“Data help us structure the content by developing hyper niche recommendation engines [through Google Brain],” she reminded everyone.
Vizceral, the open source intuitive traffic system developed by Netflix
Contrary to YouTube, which touts itself as a data corporation, for Netflix International, Janneke Sloetjes claims the title of a full-fledged media platform.
“We are registered as a media company whose business model is based on data. However, to reach non-members, we resort to third-party services like traditional media do.”
Guillaume Klossa, Director of Public Affairs of the European Broadcasting Union, (EBU), upholds that this distinction is obsolete. “Today, everyone is a data company.”
EBU, who is asking both Netflix and Amazon to triple their annual investments in European content, i.e., 17 billion EUR, took advantage of the venue to commit to promoting a more transparent and secure use of their audiences’ data using algorithms that reflect the values of universality, diversity and accountability of the public channels.
“To do so, it is important that the entire ecosystem commit to the same principles,” he pointed out.
Europe, the birthplace of the next digital unicorn?
According to Domenico La Porta, director of the R/O Institute, Europe does not [yet] have a critical centre in which technology, audiovisual and business form an ecosystem capable of triggering innovations with worldwide impacts like Silicon Valley does.
For his part, Kay Meseberg, head of VR/360 for ARTE, considers that Europe must intensify its participation in current and future innovations, namely through transnational structures entirely dedicated to supporting ‘tech champions’ that exhibit high global potential. That is what would help to propel the next Clash of Clans (a Finnish production that received public start-up funds and was resold six years later for more than $8 billion).
“Maybe by creating a sort of European DARPA, i.e., the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for the media and entertainment industry,” suggests Meseberg.
Peter Arvai, cofounder of the PREZI platform, in turn sounded the charge and straightforwardly summarized the crucial issue for media innovation in Europe:
“As a continent, Europe is missing the boat whereas there is currently a blatant lack of tech firms capable of playing a dominant role on the world stage. We are facing huge challenges and, if we do not succeed in developing a Big Tech culture and identifying regional idea leaders that start-ups potentially able to rival the giants can leverage, we are condemned to essentially remain a consumption market for these American and Asian superplatforms. The future of our culture as well as the European economy is otherwise in jeopardy.”
Estonia, AKA the ‘Silicon Valley of the North’, boasts Europe’s highest start-up rate per capita and maybe best embodies this convergence of interests and opportunities in which Europe’s next media unicorns shall thrive.
*A variant of the GDPR, the GDPR-K, deals specifically with youth content and raises other types of issues whereas the definition itself of ‘child’ varies on the basis to age from one European state to another.