Posted on: 2/15/2023

What does the changing TV industry mean for talent?


It is evident that a razor-sharp commercial mindset must now permeate all levels and functions of a media and entertainment organization, including the creative and production teams.

An excellent article by CNBC was posted this week. The piece collated the predictions of the future of the TV industry by a collection of media luminaries who, frankly, have forgotten more about the industry than most of us will ever know.

What most struck me about the piece was the almost complete lack of consensus. On questions ranging from the future of linear TV, the cable-bundle, general entertainment networks, and likely winners and losers in the streaming wars, the answers brought to mind screenwriter William Goldman’s notorious dictum about Hollywood that “nobody knows anything”. Even given the inherent agendas of the various contributors, this lack of clarity about the future is clearly not down to their lack of wisdom or experience – a more well qualified panel could hardly have been assembled. But arguably it reflects the fact that dramatic shifts in technology mean that media industry leaders are now having to navigate the uncharted waters of a truly “complex” landscape. And such systems are intrinsically difficult to model. As Dorothy said, “we’re not in Kansas anymore!”.

What are the implications for talent in such an environment? How do executive teams bring order to apparent chaos and, therefore, what leadership skills and experiences should we looking for beyond the purely functional? Never letting a good opportunity to go by to add to the pantheon of industry acronyms I suggest the following 4Cs:

1. Convergence

The lines between the worlds of media, sports, and entertainment are increasingly blurred. Sports is becoming an ever more important driver of the valuation of media companies – witness the level of stock market focus on the future of ESPN and IPL cricket for Disney and the upcoming NBA rights negotiation for Warner Bros. Discovery. The narrative for the $5billion+ valuation for the prospective sale of the Manchester United soccer club is dominated by media metrics – global audience, daily active users, fan engagement, brand awareness – as opposed to the team’s recent on-field sporting performance.

Identifying and developing the executive talent who have the necessary blend of skills and experience to transcend these different worlds will be a critical success factor.

2. Culture

It’s clear that the next few years will bring a steady stream of media-related spin-offs, consolidation, and re-structuring activity, and the industry has a pretty patchy track record in this regard. The infamous failure of the AOL Time Warner merger, and the AT&T Warner Media do-over, was arguably one of culture as much as strategy. Bringing companies together typically involves building a new common language and a felt sense of “how things work around here” from a starting point of differing business models, investment horizons, deal structures, customer groups, org charts, company locations, etc etc.

This a significant leadership challenge, and it requires detailed and thoughtful questioning to dig into the substance of how an executive has really taken it on.

3. Consumer

Much of the language in the CNBC article is centered around industry structure and content licensing terms. Understanding this is key. However, significantly fewer comments are focused on the customer and what they might want in this emerging media landscape. Or, even better, identifying and giving them what they want before they even know they want it – which has been Apple’s historic genius.

Where are the executives who can blend the ability to strategically navigate the long-term media industry environment, whilst also appreciating the customer obsession and attention to detail that is the daily reality of a direct to customer business? How do media and sports organizations attract talent from such industries? And, more importantly, set them up for success when they arrive by surrounding them with the team, resources, and corporate support that they will need to avoid being rejected by the parent body, as can often happen when an “outsider” is brought in.

4. Cash

Move over content – cash is now king. Interest rates are up, the days of easy money are over, and EBITDA and cash flow are back in fashion.  All the major media and technology companies have recently announced layoffs of between 5% and 10% of their workforce and have been rewarded by a pop in their stock price. So, this is a trend that is here to stay.

In such a context it is evident that a razor-sharp commercial mindset must now permeate all levels and functions of a media and entertainment organization, including the creative and production teams. And commercial leaders themselves must be able to demonstrate that they still have the drive, cutting edge thinking, and connectivity to be able to still personally drive business growth as opposed to simply pulling the levers of the existing corporate machine.

To conclude, the good news is that the market continues to expand – people are spending more time and more money on media in all its forms than ever before, and there’s no sign of that changing. But the media industry itself is becoming an exemplar of what consultants term a VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. And the critical factor in maximizing an organization’s chances of success in such an environment is having the partnerships and processes in place to find and develop the next generation leadership stars of the future.


Jonathan Davies