Top UK Media Trends for 2023 and How Brands Should React

What should we expect to see in the UK media going into 2023?

When I sat down to write my 2022 media predictions 12 months ago, I was expecting a period of “normalization.” After two years of pandemic-driven disruption and subsequent correction to media consumption patterns, I expected a new rhythm to take hold as the global economy began its path to recovery.

Fast forward 12 months and the war in Ukraine, widespread industrial action and the looming prospect of a global recession have dampened these humble expectations.

The UK media industry is firmly in the path of economic headwinds, tasked with providing accurate, insightful coverage as it tries to manage the impact of the recession on its own commercial performance. On top of this, publishers need to tread carefully and avoid any hyperbole and sensationalism in their coverage, which runs the risk of spooking financial markets and making things worse.

In this ever-shifting context, let’s look at what media trends we can expect to happen in the UK in 2023.

The “nonlinear” battleground truly engages traditional broadcasters

As 2023 progresses, UK broadcasters will need to constantly consider how they can better attract audiences that traditionally deviate toward major streaming platforms. ITV, for example, has just launched a major above-the-line marketing campaign to promote the revamped ITVX player, which replaces the ITV Hub.

Netflix’s business performance is symbolic of how media consumption patterns fluctuated wildly during the pandemic. COVID lockdowns acted as catalysts for a two-year period of near constant share price growth for the streaming platform. Then in April 2022, Netflix announced its first-ever drop in global subscribers, which spooked Wall Street and saw the streaming giant’s share price head south.

In August, Disney+ hit 221M global subscribers. In doing so, it surpassed Netflix’s global subscriber base, pushing Netflix to an unfamiliar second place. However, since Netflix introduced advertising tiers to show the market that it can derive new revenue streams and isn’t wholly dependent on organic subscriber growth, there has been a slight rebound.

At the same time, the UK’s Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has confirmed that Channel 4 is in discussions with the government on unlocking new revenue streams, including a proposal to make Channel 4’s streaming-service All4 (soon to be rebranded as Channel 4) available to global audiences. This will unlock new advertising opportunities and tap into emergent international audiences for the broadcaster.

As the cost-of-living crisis shows no signs of abating, traditional “free-to-air” broadcasters optimizing their nonlinear offerings could start to erode the UK market share of streaming giants. Indeed, a report from KPMG in June 2022 found that 64% of UK consumers plan to cut back on their spending on media subscriptions as a direct result of the cost-of-living crisis.

The BBC is leading the conversation on the future of UK media

2022 was a challenging year for the BBC’s news output. From losing major on-air talent to the likes of Global Radio, to the announcement of enforced cuts to BBC Local Radio and BBC World Service, the BBC appears caught in an uphill battle to secure its future. Even the celebration of its 100th birthday in October provided scant respite and proved a catalyst for conversations around its long-term model.

In spite of these challenges, it was encouraging to see the BBC Director General Tim Davie use a speech at The Royal Television Society to outline his vision for a future UK media market into the 2030s.

Speaking in December, Davie outlined the BBC’s opportunity as it moves into the digital age. He pointed out that there has never been a digitally led public service media company created anywhere in the world. Therefore, the UK has a major opportunity to accelerate the digitization of the BBC and place the organization at the heart of a digital-first strategy for the UK media industry.

Davie was also particularly keen to caution against a slow drift towards a binary, partisan US model of television news coverage and that as one of the globe’s most recognizable brands, the BBC is uniquely placed to restore trust in public service broadcasting.
His speech suggests that whatever the challenges the BBC faces, Davie will need little encouragement to be an outspoken advocate of the UK media industry, the power of news, and the critical role the BBC still plays in UK public life.

Bad news doesn’t sell — UK advertising market flatlines

It is becoming increasingly clear that bad news doesn’t sell. The Advertising Association and WARC have already revised their July 2022 projection for the UK advertising market, with media owner advertising revenue only expected to increase by 3.9% in 2023, compared to the earlier projection of 9.2% year-on-year growth made just six months ago.

Although the BBC is facing existential challenges, commercial media models themselves are unprotected from macro-economic headwinds. There is plenty of evidence that three years of what has, at times, felt like a relentlessly negative news cycle is having a clear negative impact on the commercial performance of some organizations.

A major factor in this appears to be apathy. National newspapers rely most on advertising for their ongoing viability, but the 2022 Reuters Digital News Institute Report showed that only 17% of today’s consumers buy a national newspaper daily, down from 52% in 2012. In the UK, 38% of consumers say that they actively “take periods away from the news” as it impacts their mental well-being, up from 29% in 2017.

Commercial media outlets must strike a balance of providing objective reporting that is their ultimate purpose, while providing enough light relief and escapism so that they don’t turn audiences off entirely. Reach report results in July 2022, which showed falling circulations and advertising revenues, indicate the size of the challenge and they are highly unlikely to be alone in these struggles in 2023.

The “TikTokization” of news continues

Traditional media outlets have already been using social media platforms to distribute content and unlock new audiences, but going into 2023 the use of TikTok and Instagram for storytelling is set to reach unprecedented levels.

A recent report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism shows that almost half of news publishers in 40 major media markets are utilizing TikTok to distribute content. Earlier in the year, Sky News claimed it added 230,000 followers to its TikTok channel in the two days following the death of The Queen, as it employed new techniques to bring this story to life for younger generations.

As we go through 2023, expect to see the biggest news moments of the year act as catalysts for increasingly innovative distributions strategies as publishers increasingly adopt a social-first mindset when targeting new and younger audiences.

The Online Safety Bill finally makes it through Parliament

Finally, 2023 will see the long-anticipated Online Safety Bill make it through Parliament, after it returned to the House of Commons in December. This is especially pertinent considering the rise of news on TikTok and other social media platforms. The bill has been highly controversial and surrounded by claim and counterclaims about what exactly it will allow for and what it will regulate.

In its current form, the expectation is that OFCOM will expand its broadcast remit and become the gatekeeper of what is deemed “free speech” and what is seen as harmful content. A recent amendment that planned for big tech firms to remove harmful content was seen by some as a watering down of the legislation.

The bill is expected to become law before next summer, and once in place it will be interesting to observe how publishers, brands and high-profile individuals refine their content distribution strategies in response.

So, what’s next?

Moving into 2023, it appears that the current differing fortunes of the so-called “Big Tech” streaming giants and traditional broadcasters are going to be reported ever more closely. Increasingly, the health of the UK media industry reflects the wider economic climate, and many expect choppy waters ahead for at least the first half of 2023.

So, for now, the period of “normalization” will need to wait. If you would like to discuss your media strategy going into 2023, please get in touch and the team at WE would be happy to have an exploratory chat around your challenges!


February 01, 2023

Ryan Sketchley
Editorial Strategist