Broadcasters need execs who can detect metaverse BS

Arnell: Broadcasters need execs who can detect metaverse BS

Caution advised as ITV and others enter ‘Web3’, the metaverse and the NFT market.


UK television executives have sniffed a possible new Gold Rush in the world of Web3, the so-called metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Common sense implies that any broadcaster should approach this new frontier with caution and make damn sure that expert advice is on hand.

But I’m not sure that in the UK they yet have the people and systems in place to enter the area with confidence. I will explain why shortly.

Despite this, a few industry voices are urging a veritable stampede into NFTs and the like.

Writing in Broadcast recently, media commentator Kate Bulkley made the bold statement that: “now is the moment to hop aboard the NFT express”.

Bulkley informs readers that: “As some of the biggest players in music, gaming, advertising, fashion, and art lead the move into NFTs, media companies are starting to investigate how NFTs can create direct relationships with fans.”

Undercutting the title of her piece, the commentator then introduces a note of justified horse sense, stating immediately after that: “exactly what the business model looks like, and how profitable they will be for the foreseeable future, remains somewhat sketchy.”

I personally, don’t know whether NFTs etc are really on the level, but I am fairly sure that the subject is fraught with enough danger of pecuniary loss not to be advising a breakneck rush to ‘hop aboard.’

Presumably ITV have got more au fait with developments since they partnered with Avakin Life and TikTok on a virtual version of The Voice, launched in 2021, and an I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! project in multiplayer game Fortnite. In the broadcaster’s own words, it is: “continuing to explore opportunities for further activations within the metaverse across all ITV properties… and considering licensing opportunities”.

Maybe ITV have stepped up since the days they blew wads of cash on Friends Reunited and other, similar, doomed white elephants.

But then ITVHub (soon to be ITVX) looms into view, where technical glitches on I’m a Celebrity…, Love Island and other shows have become a byword for the streaming service’s generally perceived mediocrity.

And we cannot forget the BBC, who you may remember flushed almost £100m down the pan in 2013 with the Digital Media Initiative (DMI) and a further half a mill in the ensuing unfair dismissal case won by scapegoat BBC chief technology officer John Linwood.

Channel 4 isn’t off the hook either, as their recent technology-related problems with captioning from provider Red Bee resulted in on-air criticism from the Last Leg team.

An issue that Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries could really have gone to town on in her C4 privatisation campaign if she had so chosen.

Channel 5, which also used Red Bee, experienced similar problems, but to their credit at least had the nous to attempt an in-house stop gap solution.

Best for UK broadcasters then to steer clear of NFTs and the ‘Fintech’ strain of bunco artistry until the necessary expertise is well in place and other technology-based goofs have been sorted out.

But never underestimate the combination of greed, ignorance and blind faith that often motivates certain senior television executives.

Who are notoriously susceptible to ‘the latest thing’, especially if wrapped up in impenetrable buzzwords they claim to understand and incessantly bandy around.

Readers will likely have met a smattering of these specimens, always the ones with the latest techno/marketing babble ready to hand in order to blindside colleagues more accustomed to the English language than the doublespeak of their hi-tech ‘Brave New World.’

Bullshit merchants, to put it crudely.

A case in point is former Carlton director of corporate affairs David Cameron, before his career in politics as a Brexit referendum-losing prime minister. Cameron was noted for his talismanic and repetitive use of the word ‘Fintech’ before a Parliamentary Treasury Committee examining the collapse of Greensill Capital.

Incidentally one Jonathan Lewis, another ITV executive (director of digital channels in the 2000s) also ended up working for Greensill and had already generated a measure of controversy regarding his previous Futurebuilders ‘social investment fund’ and the routing of taxpayer’s money into the children’s Catz Club charity.

By their deeds you shall know them” as the Bible says (Matthew 7:16).


Stephen Arnell began his career at the BBC, moving to ITV where he launched and managed digital channels. He continues to consult for streamers and broadcasters on editorial strategy. He currently writes for The Spectator, The Independent, and The Guardian on film, TV and cultural issues. He is also a writer/producer (including Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime for Sky Arts) and novelist.

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