I can see clearly now the economic pain has gone

A brighter economic outlook will help resolve many of the issues that have cast a shadow over the UK’s media giants

This could be the Year of Resolution in the media. I’m not talking mere New Year resolutions, but resolution – issues decided, daft ideas buried, clarity restored.

Normally trying to predict the future is a mug’s game best left to Old Moore’s Almanac. But this time a number of powerful economic trends are running and it is possible to come up with the momentous prediction that 2010 is going to be a better year for the communications business than 2009.

You can feel a wintry sort of optimism in the air. The economy is out of recession and most economists believe that unemployment will peak in the early autumn, having failed to breach the psychologically important 3 million mark.

The slowing rising economic tide will carry the media with it, as it always does.

Two big tent poles will give a comforting shape to at least the first half of the year. We will probably have to get used to the idea of a Conservative government. The polls may be all over the place, but the fundamentals don’t change. Winning a fourth term for a Prime Minister who will be blamed – largely unfairly – for the recession is a monumental challenge.

So someone has to take shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt aside and explain that ripping up the BBC’s Royal Charter, abolishing the BBC Trust and persevering with local television stations on the Canadian model are “courageous” ideas at best.

But at least by May we should know where we stand. A few weeks further on and we will also know whether England have won the World Cup – or not. Probably not. But the team is good enough and plausible enough to go far enough to give a significant boost to television advertising revenues and beer sales.

The issue of whether Simon Cowell can continue to dominate the Christmas charts has also finally been resolved. He will never win again now the public has the taste for blood, though it is equally clear that The X Factor is unlikely to be beaten ever again in the ratings by Strictly Come Dancing.

Rather more significantly, 2010 will be the year when we get a resolution – one way or another – on whether readers can be persuaded to pay for online newspaper content.

Rupert Murdoch has nailed his colours to the mast and there is no going back.

The regional press has launched, very belatedly, a rash of experiments up and down the country, trying out different charging models. Modest success has already come from Sir Ray Tindle’s tiny local newspaper group. Surprising numbers in the “high hundreds” have been prepared to pay full price online subscriptions for titles such as the Tavistock Times.

The industry is also waking up to the potential of iPhone apps with The Mirror and The Guardian leading the way.

We should know before the year is out whether charging for online content has legs or whether the search has to concentrate on finding new alternative sources of revenue.

It’s worth remembering, however, that according to newspaper consultant Jim Chisholm, in the worst recession in living memory, average profit levels for the regional press in the UK are still a very respectable 11%, with the nationals making 8%.

We might also get a resolution of the great video-on-demand versus linear TV debate. Politicians who write Digital Economy bills love VoD.

But the audience loves good old-fashioned linear TV and are watching more of it not less.

At the moment, only 1% of viewing is true VoD and Enders analysis estimates this will only rise to between 5% and 10% by 2020.

So, maybe one New Year’s resolution is in order. Every time you are tempted to say channels, such as traditional television, are dead, it really would be much better to engage brain first.

Even the augurs for commercial radio – often first in and first out of recession – look good on the back of two strong final months of 2009.

We can also be certain that there will be a resolution of the leadership issues at the top of the British television industry.

Within six months, ITV chairman Archie Norman will have to choose a chief executive. Don’t rule out acting incumbent John Cresswell. People mutter he’s not a number one, not a leader. He might not have been able to be one under the shadow of Michael Grade.

Grade was always the big picture man and someone must have been attending to the details as ITV pulled itself up by its bootstraps.

At Channel 4, Lord Burns will appoint a new chief executive and the channel can put behind it the “give-us-a-subsidy” misery years. You can be certain Lord Burns will be looking for performance not subsidies.

For those in the agency world, you had better watch out. Fees for standard work have been pushed down to unrealistic levels and further reorganisation and consolidation are the order of the day.

There’s definitely plenty of resolution there for 2010, although there is no guarantee that Old Moore’s Almanac might not be more reliable.



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