Not to disabuse any romantic notions about the rapid fire, up-to-the-minute monthly magazine business, but it’s early December as I write this item. We’re smack-dab in the middle of planning for March and April, and deeply into our favorite game – manipulating our spoon-bending telepathy to deduce which of the possible ‘Upfront’ articles could remain accurate by the time they land on your desk. (It’s followed often by our second favorite game, the one where we shout expletives out loud when the facts in said articles change between the time we go to press and our mailing date).
Nonetheless, it’s January as you read this, so January it is. And January is traditionally the time for predictions, and, being the traditionalists that we are, how can we argue? While I have absolutely no support here for my prophecy that one of the biggest global non-fiction broadcasters will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Mormons in 1999, there are a few predictions we can make with a much greater degree of certainty.
We’re betting that 1999 will be the year the remaining independent production companies go on a consolidation and alliance binge not unlike the one broadcasters and mega-media corporations have been riding. The way to remain independent, ironically, will be to huddle with like-minded indies and share contacts.
We’re also betting that 1999 will be the year docu-soaps in the British tradition come across the pond in a big way. Networks, baby. (Betcha FOX will be first). And on cable too. No doubt they’ll be Americanized in the process, as Neighbours From Hell has been – more cops and crime overall, less of the health care, healing and teaching stories so popular in the U.K. – but we’re guessing the influx has only begun.
Sadly, we’re also lying in wait for the shakeout of late 1999. The launches have been fast and furious worldwide, and not everyone’s going to come out a winner. While the ideas and ideology behind many of the start-ups, particularly on digital, have to be lauded, there aren’t many more eyes out there to draw in, and still only so many TV-watching hours. The capacity for exponential growth is drying up.
Oh, and maybe some programming execs at C4 and the Beeb might swap places or something.
Mary Ellen Armstrong