Feature

The Year Ahead for ... Production

Emily Bliss says production houses will need to adapt to a new way of working, influenced by digital and recessionary forces, in 2011.

As last year drew to a close, the world of production finally breathed a collective sigh of relief. In the face of big production budget cuts in 2009 and even deeper uncertainty about the future, I am happy to report that 2010 was actually an improvement on the horrendous year before it. As the months went by, we saw budgets slowly creeping back up to almost - if not quite - pre-recession levels. Whether this is a reflection of a return in confidence in the power of advertising per se or a temporary blip has yet to be revealed. Fingers and toes crossed for the former.

In this age of austerity, words such as "economising" and "streamlining" cropped up time and time again. But we've proved we're nothing if not adaptable as an industry, and so is the directorial talent we represent - something that will stand us in good stead as we move through this decade.

For me, the Cannes Croisette still acts as one of the best barometers for general confidence. Two years ago, the strip was virtually deserted. Last year, it was back to its normal heaving mass of disproportionately attractive human beings, with industry luminaries and clients descending from every corner of the globe. The wait for any kind of refreshment was firmly back to at least two hours and a couple of the usual lavish parties even made a last-minute special appearance.

2010 was also the year that the knock-on effect of the digital and multi-platform "revolution" finally filtered down to production companies. Advertisers quickly retreated to safe and well-tested marketing ground during the recession. Post- recession, the changes in the way an advertiser's audience view content has inevitably - and irrevocably - changed the way it targets them.

For us, this means a single production is no longer confined to a 60- second ad but has blossomed into an online film or webisode, a mobile film, maybe a documentary or a short film for the advertiser's site. Content is the key - creating assets that can be leveraged and maximised across multiple touchpoints. Directors are fast learning how to metamorphose from being commercial into content directors.

As any producer worth their digital salt will tell you, budgets for online projects still aren't what they should be, but they are a lot better than they were this time last year. Consumers are king and are firmly in control of the customer/brand relationship. As such, they've come to expect the same production value, whether they're watching from the comfort of their sofa, on their computer screen or on their iPad. If they don't get it, they just switch off, and that message is now getting through. 2011 will see production companies actively expand the range of digital talent they can access directly.

Harnessing digital is about being experimental, and we've all embraced that like never before over the past year. Take the iPad: not only has it been 2010's must-have accessory, it's also inspired so much excitement and change in the industry. I don't remember a time when so many campaigns have started with the end format and worked backwards.

Clients and agencies will continue to specifically design tablet executions in 2011. We're currently working with AnOther Magazine and I agree with its instinctive and brilliant creative director, Jefferson Hack - images do look wonderful on the iPad. Although there are less than half-a-million UK iPadders (yes, really) at the moment, their disproportionate influence means we'll be hearing a lot more about them in 2011. Particularly now all Apple's competitors are bringing out their own versions of the tablet. And this time next year, we'll most likely be talking about bigger and better technology that we can't even dream of just yet.

Meanwhile, the prospect of production centralisation and bundling is looming large, under the zealous eye of client procurement. Gathering momentum is the move to bring all elements of TV production for major brands together to save money - and not necessarily in the UK. All major brands are looking into "low cost centres". As yet, they've proved they can provide the savings but not access to the right directorial talent to go with it. Until they can, they won't be a serious threat to experienced UK production companies.

Globalisation: it's another dreadful buzzword, but also one that we'll probably be hearing a lot more this year. Ten years ago, a "foreign" script was almost a dirty word in production circles. Now we are all desperately working out ways to get our hands on work from overseas. The budgets are often better (think the US or China) and the creative can be first class (right now, we're talking about Scandinavia or Argentina). I must say, some of the emerging markets can still seem like the Wild West for us conservative Brits. Last year, we were paid in traveller's cheques for a job out of Asia, for a very large brand and well-known agency.

The key question for production companies with an eye on overseas growth is whether to open up directly in these markets or go into partnerships with those already established. Production partnerships can be an amazing way to exchange knowledge and contacts across borders - in the same way that ad agencies draw on their worldwide networks. Like any relationship, it demands co-operation and patience but, if it works, it's a great, efficient way to share knowledge and directorial talent, and a commercially astute way to expand.

Possibly most excitingly for us production people, and taking our lead from cinema, the ad industry is now actively experimenting with 3D. After a couple of impressive forays into 3D advertising recently - including Jonathan Glazer's spot for Sony 3DTV - the year ahead will see more and more brands wanting to explore the new medium. Advertisers will want to play with the format, exploiting new technology that, thanks in particular to Sky's plan for 3D domination, people will increasingly enjoy in their own homes as well as in the multiplex.

If we do continue to embrace change and stay open-minded to the possibilities, 2011 could even mark a return to the good old days, where creativity was fundamental and the great idea, king. As Roger von Oech says: "It's easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date."

Emily Bliss is the managing director of Home Corp.

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