Soccer leads women’s sports into bidding wars, AI driven by the market, an Olympics in front of crowds and opportunities for the neurodiverse – all trends to spot in the new year, predicts Adrian Pennington.

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in August attracted record viewing figures pretty much everywhere, underlining a breakthrough year for women’s sport.

SquidGame_Unit_103_1076 (1)

Squid Game 

Spain defeated England 1-0 in the final in Sydney, with a record 12 million viewers watching in the UK on BBC One (higher than the men’s Wimbledon final last July which peaked at 11.3 million).

In Spain, 5.6 million watched the final, and it peaked at 7.4 million viewers, with data published by Barlovento Comunicacion saying that 56.2% of the Spanish television audience were male.

The tournament contributed to an increase in women’s sport viewing figures this year, according to data from the Women’s Sport Trust (WST). International women’s sporting events were watched by viewers for nine hours 58 minutes on average, the WST found. including Golf’s Solheim Cup, England women’s cricket team and the Netball World Cup.

Led by football, women’s elite sports are expected to break through the billion-dollar revenue mark for the first time in 2024, according to Deloitte.

“There is still more to be done in translating international success into [regular] viewing,” the WST said. Which is why broadcast rights for women’s sports are reaching all-time highs.

The new deal for the National Women’s Soccer League is a case in point. The NWSL secured US$60m per season for 118 live matches from CBS Sports, ESPN, Amazon and Scripps Sports - forty times the $1.5m previously paid for women’s soccer.

This will be a template for a bidding war beginning January 2024 for a fresh round of rights to the WSL.

The current deal for £8 million per season was signed in 2021 and shared between Sky and the BBC. The number of WSL games televised will likely increase and could lead to Sky and TNT Sports (formerly BT Sport) sharing live rights, as they do for the Premier League.

TNT Sports meanwhile is doubling down on women’s sports coverage. It has licenced rights from DAZN to co-broadcast UEFA Women’s Champions League games, including the final, announced a new deal to broadcast 20 games from Women’s Premiership Rugby each season and continues to cover cycling’s women’s World Tour (via Eurosport) and the Tour de France Femmes.

Ahead of Olympic year the International Olympic Committee also wants to get ahead of the curve. “Historically, televised sports have predominantly focused on male athletes, and the teams working behind the scenes have often been dominated by men as well. While some progress has been made in getting women into producer-type roles, there remains a glaring underrepresentation of women in technical positions, particularly as camera operators.”

It’s a challenge that Olympic broadcast unit OBS is OBS is determined to address with a training initiative aimed at increasing the number of women in venue production teams.

Neurodiversity breaks concrete ceiling

The film and TV industry’s treatment of disability was slammed this year by His Dark Materials screenwriter Jack Thorne. In the MacTaggart Lecture at Edinburgh TV Festival he accused the industry of “utterly and totally” failing disabled people and called for new quotas to improve representation.

“The TV world is stacked against the telling of disabled stories with disabled talent,” he said.

His Dark Materials (BBC)

His Dark Materials (BBC) writer calls for better representation for people with disabilities

Line of Duty star Tommy Jessop and his film-maker brother shone a light on just how hard it is to break into Hollywood when they pitched producers with a Down’s syndrome superhero movie. Their efforts were recorded in a BBC documentary. Voices like his and Thorne’s are changing the inclusion debate.

“I am starting to see that cultural shift slowly begin to open up more opportunities to deaf actors…I am seeing more doors being opened,” said Troy Kotsur, the Oscar winning star of Coda (2022) at a recent Variety conference on the topic.

UK indie Making Space Media, struck a production deal with Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine for unscripted content centred on “the largest and most overlooked a misrepresented community on the planet.” Making Space co-founder, the Bafta nominated wheelchair enabled presenter Sophie Morgan also formed disabled-led talent management agency C Talent.

Over and above on-screen and BTS roles, businesses see benefits in widening their employment net. By 2027, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies will actively recruit neurodiverse talent with conditions like autism, ADHD and dyslexia to improve business performance, according to a report by analysts Gartner.

“Neurodiversity and cognitive diversity are superpowers for organisations,” said Gartner’s Leigh McMullen. “When you have cognitively diverse people, they see problems in different ways. They see opportunities in different ways.”

Female editors clean sweep Oscar

The Best Editing Oscar race could be dominated by female talent. The shortlist is likely to include three-time Academy Award winner Thelma Schoonmaker who’s latest and 22nd film with Martin Scorsese, Killers of the Flower Moon, confronts the mythology of How The West Was Won. The 83-year old will be no sentimental pick. She deserves to be rewarded but will face stiff competition from Jennifer Lame who propelled the ticking time bomb tension of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer from scenes heavily with dialogue and light on action.


Killers of the Flower Moon: Best Editing Oscar for Thelma Schoonmaker?

Maestro, another biopic, of conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein starring and directed by Bradley Cooper, has scenes cut to Bernstein’s music by editor Michelle Tesoro while period epic, Napoleon, was cut by Ridley Scott’s regular editor (and Oscar winner for Platoon) Claire Simpson (she is also editing Gladiator 2) with Sam Restivo.

A full hand of five female nominees could be completed by Hilda Rasula who worked with Cord Jefferson to make idiosyncratic and well received indie drama American Fiction. Spamming this possibility are strong contenders like Nick Houy who cut billion-dollar box office hit Barbie and Greek editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis for Yargos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, described as a twisted ‘Frankenstein’ gender-bender.

Either way, after decades of going under the radar, female editors are very much top of the game in this category.

In AI, the market now rules the science

One year on from the release by OpenAI of ChatGPT and it’s clear that AI was the big story of 2023 and will be the big story next year and then some. ChatGPT itself has done many things including raising mainstream awareness of AI itself, but arguably its biggest impact has been in creating a market, essentially from scratch, for Generative AI tools.

“Before ChatGPT there was no AI market,” observed Alberto Romero. “No startup was founded to build AI tools or built on top of AI tools. AI was purely a R&D discipline. Now, it’s the opposite: AI is an industry first and then a science.”

OpenAI is now going further and it launching a platform for creating and discovering custom versions of ChatGPT.

The company says it will offer “custom versions” of ChatGPT that you can create for a specific purpose.” These ‘GPTs’ can be made with no coding experience, and can be as simple or complex as you like.

It is an ambitious vision for expanding OpenAI’s business by selling its technology directly to consumers. On the flipside, users will get paid for making chatbots sold on the company’s marketplace.

As Gerrit De Vynck of the Washington Post pointed out, “Paying users for the best chatbots evokes the way YouTube built its multibillion-dollar empire by sharing ad and subscription revenue to incentivize people to make videos on its site. Open AI envisions people spending more time directly in its own app, building their own tools and using those made by others.”

It is also an indication that OpenAI intends to compete with Big Tech companies, rather than serve as a provider of back-end technology for them. The wrinkle there is that Microsoft has a multibillion-dollar deal for access to OpenAI’s tech and the OpenAI store neatly circumvents Apple’s app store.

More than 2 million developers are using OpenAI’s tools to build their own AI products and businesses, and more than 92 percent of Fortune 500 companies are using OpenAI, the company said. About 100 million people used ChatGPT every week.

More than one commentator observed that the public presentation, in a giant venue in San Francisco, fronted by (once ousted then returned) OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, had more than a little of the Steve Jobs’ fanaticism about it.

“If you give people better tools they can change the world,” Altman said, explaining how people without technical backgrounds could make their own niche AI assistants. He continued:

“We will all have superpowers on demand.”

Said Romero, “ChatGPT wasn’t a technical achievement but a jump in usability, accessibility, and user experience. It proved, like no other tool in history that AI was no longer a feature embedded in larger software products, but an entire industry. In turn, this started a gold rush like we haven’t seen since smartphone apps or the dot-com bubble. Until now, science was in charge, now the rules of the market govern the advancement of AI.”

A battleground for 2024 is where the market comes up against the regulators, with the key legislation in GDPR and AI Act going through the EU and a likely benchmark for protecting or curtailing the risks of AI misuse worldwide.

Read more: Regulating AI: Can new legislation impose order before it’s too late?

Excitement Ahead of Olympics 2024

After the last Summer Games was played in solitary confinement thanks to the pandemic, we should be excited for atmosphere of an Olympics on European soil. The French authorities though will be on red alert for security scares in the capital.

Paris’ most iconic locations and landmarks will serve as the stage for the XXXIII Olympiad, with OBS, the host broadcaster, planning to produce more hours than ever - some 11,000 –- including more athlete-centric coverage, behind-the-scenes material, pre-and post-competition.

Olympics climbing camera

Olympics 2024: More more state-of-the-art athlete-centric coverage to come

Source: © 2018 Olympic Broadcasting Services / Owen Hammond

OBS will also deploy cinematic lenses for the first time, with shallower depths of field to help convey the athletes’ emotions. It will increase its use of data including the number of multi-camera replay systems as well as dynamic graphics such as live biometrics data and augmented reality overlays.

Cloud-based tools enabling live signal distribution and remote production will enable OBS to achieve “more with less”, it says. Cloud will offer broadcasters “smarter, more agile, and highly efficient solutions” while reducing physical space and power demands at the venues and the International Broadcast Centre. As a result, Paris 2024 stands to benefit from substantial cost and carbon savings, the IOC claim.

With Australia deciding the host of the Commonwealth Games too expensive and with Winter Olympics increasingly devoid of actual winter conditions (will the Italians need to pump artificial snow into the Alps when it hosts the next Games in 2026?), we should all hold them to account.

Hollywood Green Lights Gaming IP

The success in 2023 of The Last of Us and feature animation The Super Mario Bros. Movie not to mention the reality show Squid Game on Netflix has convinced Hollywood that games can finally be adapted in a way that speaks to both fans of the original and lean back newbie viewers alike.

“Hollywood is looking to games for new IP that they can expand and monetise, and game companies are eyeing TV and film collaborations to help make their IP work harder and offset soaring game development costs,” notes Deloitte TMT.

It’s not just about capitalising on IP though; it’s about creating a new form of entertainment that captivates audiences across multiple platforms. High-performing gaming IPs are expanding across media formats, reaching broader audiences and increasing their overall franchise value.

“Gaming platforms are giving users the tools to create their own games, which could lead to a boom in quality content, but could be a threat to their own business longer term,” noted Jana Arbanas, vice chair of Deloitte, in a statement. “And fans of top franchises will see their favourite characters and stories in both games and movies. It’s a crucial time as the industry finds new and profitable ways to keep audiences engaged.”

The eagerly awaited Squid Game 2 could also be released by this time next year having started a ten month shoot in July 2023. A third outing is already in the works. Green light. Let the games begin.

Read more: Lifeline for UK VFX Facilities in Promised Tax Break