Adapting to Social Media: Commerce, Creativity and Competition in UK Television Production

James Bennett, Niki Strange

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Social television represents a significant opportunity for the UK television industry to exploit commercially, creatively and organisationally. 76% of all UK Internet users have a social media profile and the range of platforms they are using is proliferating. This transforms not only how people watch television but also how it is produced, with social media increasingly a routine part of the production process: either as a tool within the creative workflow or as a strategy to reach audiences in new ways and spaces. Whilst the industry is adapting to this new landscape, driving innovation and deriving new revenue streams, it is also a rapidly changing production ecology that is defined by fierce competition and new modes of collaboration. Social television represents both an opportunity and a threat: a necessity to reach and engage audiences in the spaces where they increasingly spend their screen time, yet difficult to exploit effectively in both creative and commercial terms.

Our research suggests current structures within the industry mean there is an ‘opportunity gap’ in companies being able to achieve strong return on investments - creatively or commercially.
Fast moving opportunities to create new forms and experiences of social television, but a reliance on business models that remain tethered to broadcasting or are niche and experimental;
The role of social media metrics being largely unreliable, despite offering finer granular detail: current metrics regularly tell a story that stakeholders want to be told;
The lack of clarity and willingness to approach intellectual property rights flexibly to promote innovation in both social television form and business models;
Successful social television strategies often fuse editorial and marketing functions of social media, but the role of social media is frequently siloed, commercially and organisationally, as ‘simply’ marketing;
A lack of investment in the production sector by broadcasters and platform operators alike. Although platform operators have begun to move into commissioning content, this has predominantly led to in-kind rather substantial new investment in the production sector;
A new power balance in the television industry that many are still struggling to adapt to. Platform operators now wield unparalleled power to shape broadcasters’, content creators’ and marketing companies’ relationships with audiences via control of the underpinning technology, particularly the algorithms that determine what audiences see, where and how they encounter content;
Innovation is a hallmark of UK social television work, but other countries are making significant innovation and investment leaps in social television that may leave the UK behind;
A lack of training in how to produce social television that inhibits the development of cutting edge skills. This cannot be filled alone by the ‘myth’ of the digital native ‘intuitively’ understanding social platforms;
Social television work is now incorporated into a variety of job roles across the industry, only occasionally being seen as a bespoke role. This has led to the growth of ‘slash’ roles such as the ‘Preditor’ (Producer/Editor), which require workers to master a diverse array of skills that fuse communications, pre-production, production and post-production work, spanning copywriting, image production, animation, videography, editing and design;
A dearth of talent to fill senior and bespoke social television roles that require staff to master skills including those above as well as brand and talent management, compliance and ethics, IP and regulatory knowledge;
Social television production spreads work across a range of locations and times that blur professional and personal boundaries, which can lead to errors and increase pressure on staff to work all hours;
A lack of regulation that is being met with compliance and ethics approaches either imported wholesale from broadcasting or developed on an ad hoc basis. Self-regulation, whilst the preference of platform operators, is unlikely to provide the basis for UK industry to address the opportunity gap of social television.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherRoyal Holloway, University of London
Commissioning bodyEuropean Research Council
Number of pages60
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-905846-88-7
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Social media
  • television
  • creative industries
  • creative labour

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