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4 December 2023

Predictions 2024 – 3 of 7 Insights

Predictions for content in 2024

Mark Owen looks at what 2024 holds for content.

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Mark Owen

Partner

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Author

Mark Owen

Partner

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The content-related industries cover a very broad sweep, both of types of content and of types of audience experience, whether live, on demand, short form or lengthy, collective or individual. All continue to be affected by the consequences of the pandemic - though those are reducing, and by the adoption of new technologies. Perhaps surprisingly, the challenging state of the wider economy has not had as much impact on headline revenues as feared, despite the discretionary nature of consumer spending on content. So what can be expected in 2024?

The courts will play a part in resolving ownership issues around generative AI output – in the UK, EU and US, at least

The growth of - and the hype around - generative artificial intelligence looks set to be a central topic of both concern and interest for content industries in 2024. In a big election year, concerns about AI-generated deepfakes - or "synthetic media" as content created by AI is sometimes more favourably known - will be at the fore. Meanwhile the debate over whether AI poses an existential threat to the revenues of copyright owners will rage on, even though the strikes by Hollywood writers and actors over issues including the use of AI in film and TV production have been resolved. The English and US courts will be ruling on the legality of using copyright content to train large language models in the litigation Getty Images has initiated against Stability AI, and the decisions will be closely watched not only for guiding decisions on general principles, but on the legality of detailed aspects of how the process works.

Depending on the outcome of this and other disputes, there could well be a wave of further cases which may clarify details and bring about a new consensus on what is legal and what is not, before there is any substantive legislation. In the UK at least, there is little or no prospect of any legislative intervention in 2024 on the topic, with the UK government having decided in early 2023 not to proceed with changes to the copyright exception for text and data mining. 

The UK-hosted AI Summit did little to clarify the UK's plans to be a champion both of AI innovation and protecting the creative industries. On the other hand, AI presents opportunities for truly new approaches to content, and a growing creative skill base of prompt engineers. See here for more AI predictions.

A big year in politics could result in changes for content and the media down the line

One reason why substantial policy changes affecting content rules and markets are unlikely in 2024, is elections. Each of the UK, US and the EU will be holding elections and there is little time for new policies to be made into law. However, the various parties will be setting out their manifestos for the voters, so 2024 will be an important opportunity to lobby for particularly eye-catching content and media policies. As the Online Safety Act (discussed below) is newly on the UK statute book and with cross-party support, there will be fewer political promises to 'do something about' social media. Few other content related topics tend to be vote winners and so may feature less in campaigning, but under the surface it may well be a year which marks a turning point, with knock-on impacts on policy. For example, might a new EU Parliament be more focused on greater harmonisation, even perhaps of copyright law and the long discussed single copyright title?

One topic which will be debated during the UK election is the news media and the BBC. The way the BBC (and some other UK broadcast services) is funded by means of a compulsory licence fee paid by TV owners has been a political football for years. This debate looks set to continue, with pressure not only from those philosophically opposed to the model but also from the rapidly changing ways viewers consume content. Does a system based on TV ownership still make sense? That the BBC was rocked by a number of high-profile ethical issues during 2023 makes proposals for changing the BBC's funding and governance models a fairly safe bet to feature in the election campaign. A Mid Term Review of the Charter under which the BBC operates is also due to be completed in 2024, which will address issues such as editorial standards and the BBC's competition and market impact. If substantial changes are proposed to the operation of the BBC, this may impact the growing number of streaming providers in the UK market. 

These big questions about the BBC are not addressed in the UK's Media Bill, which is therefore less controversial politically and so likely to become law in 2024. This will provide some protections for the position of UK public service broadcasters, including the BBC, in the changing media landscape that technology has enabled and amid the rise of on demand services. Safeguards to be introduced include around fairly technical issues such as the control of electronic programme guides and ensuring free to air radio is available on smart speakers.

The Online Safety Act will not be fully operational in 2024 but it's time to engage

There will inevitably be concern over the news media, including social media, and how it reports political issues in such a crucial year. This picks up concerns around AI and the creation of deepfakes, but also the role platforms have in moderating the content their users encounter, which is the subject of the UK's new Online Safety Act. 

The OSA came into law in October 2023 but will not come fully into force until at least 2025 when the many supporting pieces guidance are expected to be finalised. In fact, the regulatory body for the OSA Ofcom suggests a three-year timeline to full compliance. However, 2024 will be an important year because some of the content related duties under the Act are likely to come into force and most of the consultation exercises around those due in 2025 are likely to take place. It is therefore a key year for affected businesses to engage with these exercises and continue to modify their systems and practices for compliance. Our overview edition on all aspects of the OSA can be found here.

Live events are back but some COVID consumer consumption habits will die hard

Could 2024 finally be the year when the effect of the pandemic ceases to affect the content industries? It has accelerated the evolution in audience consumption habits in numerous ways but, in particular, to consumption on demand in preference to on schedule, and this will surely continue.  

An exception is live audience events. The audiences for live music and other entertainment in the UK were their largest ever in 2022 and the numbers look likely to have been even higher in 2023, but how much further can they be increased? In part the growth was driven by consumers wanting to be out and at events again, but also by the morphing of the biggest stars into brands, with acts such as Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Harry Styles able to sell out multi-night residences in some of the world's biggest stadia.

The larger shows have become highly choreographed and scripted theatrical events, matching the revenues of some of the longest running stage shows. Technology has a growing part to play. With Swift's Eras tour forecast to gross over $4 billion worldwide, the limiting factor that the artist can only be in one place at a time is being 'solved', whether through the sell-out film of the show or virtual reality versions of the stars performing (ABBA's Voyage show). Even cinema, often written off, was starting to enjoy a revival, though whether audiences' enthusiasm for ever longer films will last and how well the industry withstands the delays in new Hollywood content caused by the labour disputes, remains to be seen.

A notable feature of this evolution has been that audiences have been prepared to pay increasingly high ticket and subscription prices to experience certain content, despite wider economic concerns. Proposals for new laws to somehow limit prices of tickets and online services are perhaps more likely to be called for in an election year, even though the chances of such proposals becoming law may be slim. Some consumer protection measures in related areas are already included in the UK's Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which may reach the statute book in 2024. 

Consumer preferences - back to the future

Beyond law and regulation, a change which may be welcome in 2024 is for new stories. In a period of constant disruption and change, recent years have been characterised by a desire for nostalgia, a romanticising of the mundane and remakes of the old. As the hangover from COVID recedes, will these fade too? The challenge for creators of all kinds is to understand what the audience wants now.

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