Ten TV trends at the Celtic Media Festival
The broadcasting industry comes together to laugh, moan and do business in Dungarvan
Garret Keogh, co-founder of Telegraph Hill: “Smart brands get that people don’t want a return to the 1950s TV where it’s ‘and here’s a word from our sponsors’.”
The Celtic Media Festival, being held this year in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, is a three-day event for programme-makers and commissioners from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and around the world to come together and do business - or, failing that, coffee.
So what trends are emerging at this year’s festival?
1. Stories with “heart”
Television commissioners want formats with “heart”, with docu-reality style programmes populated with people viewers can actually root for, not hate-watch, Big Brother style. “It’s not trash. Our cast will be treated with dignity and respect,” said Sideline Productions’ Billy McGrath of Bucking the Trend, a proposed family intervention series that won a €10,000 Format Farm development cheque to go towards producing a pilot for both RTÉ and Norway’s NRK. “It’s about changing lives, and solving long-term problems,” he said. Is there a prize? “Being positive and winning love back.”
2. The YouTube factor
TV producers are naturally transfixed by content that has proven insanely popular on YouTube. Waka TV, which produces a lot of stuff for RTÉ2, pitched Trading Faces, a “life swapping” show inspired by the “crazy” phenomenon of the YouTube make-up tutorial. In this format, the cosmetics addict and the strictly low-maintenance woman would swap regimes, with a ceremonial handover of products: “As one woman’s life is freed up, the other’s is bogged down.” Well, exactly. It didn’t win the Format Farm cheque, but it’s an idea that’s bound to show up somewhere soon.
3. Humour + History = Gold
Historian and lecturer Dr Maura Cronin admitted to being “all 1916d out” - a condition from which she surely does not suffer alone. Nor was she alone in feeling cheered by the promo for TG4’s Éiri Amach Abú (Wrecking the Rising), in which Pádraig Pearse is accidentally killed by three time-travellers from 2016 (with a little help from a copy of The Irish Times) on Easter Monday, 1916. “Thank God! What’s been missing is a bit of humour. You look at all these excellent programmes and you think, where is that humour, where is that jaundiced look at ourselves?” The comedy drama airs this weekend.
4. Brands, brands, brands.
Shoreditch-based company Telegraph Hill, co-founded by Dubliner Garret Keogh, is one of a growing number of advertising agencies that makes full television programmes, with clients including the “literally awash with money” Red Bull, “the poster child for brands that understand content”. Brand mentions that are too explicit don’t work, said Keogh, as the savvier advertisers instinctively know. “Smart brands get that people don’t want a return to the 1950s TV where it’s ‘and here’s a word from our sponsors’.”
5. Minority report
The diminishing financial clout of national and regional broadcasters was a recurring theme, with producers having to target global audiences to survive. But for John Geraint, creative director at Cardiff-based Green Bay Media, “indies” hailing from cultures with minority languages have the right mindset for the market.
“We’re used to working in both English and another language, whether we speak it ourselves or not. That’s a huge advantage on the international stage, because the rest of the world is bilingual. We begin from a place where we understand that’s how the world works.”
6. Virtual reality
“Can VR be a broadcasting reality?” was one of the topics up for discussion. With 2016 being a landmark year for the VR headset market, it’s a question that many broadcasters, producers and others in the business of making content are asking. A minor flooding issue in the festival’s hotel venue was sadly not the work of visual effects specialists. But as a seemingly record number of headset-wearers queue up to look silly in photographs, press release writers are going to need a shortcut key for the word “immersive”.
7. Over here!
The app market is flooded, was one awkward conclusion from a session titled ‘Online is the New Broadcast’. Getting noticed on the App Store when there are so many apps being submitted each week is “very hard, even for us,” said RTÉjr controller Sheila de Courcy. RTÉjr’s SwipeTV is both a TV show and an app, but the app would “absolutely not” survive on its own. “I think it’s probably a common misconception that digital content can just be found,” said Rocket Digital’s Louise Brown. “It is very hard to get content into a Facebook feed cold, without any money behind it.”
8. Snapchat fear
Sticking with technology, it’s no good hiding from it, advised Brown, a former digital content producer for Channel 4. “It is obviously deeply embarrassing being the oldest swinger at the party on these platforms,” she confessed. “But don’t be afraid of it.” Using the talent available to hand always helps. “If the girl on the front desk has lots of Snapchat followers and understands Snapchat, then she should show you it.” Soon, you’ll be filming in portrait (not landscape) with the rest of the kids.
9. O, Canada
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has set up a small fund to encourage Irish-Canadian co-productions, but Metropolitan Films (The Tudors, The Borgias, Vikings) has been at this for years. “It’s one of the best kept secrets that most of what we have done have been Irish-Canadian co-productions,” said managing director James Flynn. The “beauty of it” is that productions can shoot in Ireland, do the post-production in Canada and receive two tax breaks, while also qualifying for extra Canadian licence fee funds. They’ll have to lay on extra flights to Toronto.
10. Festival business
The Celtic Media Festival itself is getting bigger, with a record 510 entries for its Torc awards, says festival director Catriona Logan, and real business being done. This year, the event added an international pitching forum, giving independent producers the opportunity to meet with commissioners and other decision-makers from RTÉ, TG4, the BBC and Northern Ireland Screen, as well as the Australian and New Zealand industries.
It may not be quite as warm as it is in Cannes, where the big marketplace MIP is held twice a year, but the festival is one cosy way for producers to button-hole those commissioners whose budgets haven’t been completely cut.