Unscripted

Viewpoint: Our future in the Wild West

David Frank, founder and CEO of Bay Area prodco Indigo Films, discusses the challenges in keeping a content company relevant and active in the ever-evolving digital era.
May 29, 2014

In advance of the upcoming Stream Market and conference, taking place June 2-3 in Santa Monica, and Realscreen West, taking place immediately afterward from June 4-5 and featuring a special session on Digital Dollars and Sense, Indigo Films founder and CEO David Frank offers his take on what it means to be a content provider in the ever-evolving digital age.

Just when I had finally figured out the future of TV and strategically nailed down the details of my company’s 10-year plan, everything changed. And I’m sure it will change again – probably by the time you get to the third paragraph of this article. That’s how fast the world of non-fiction programming is moving. I bought a Roku flash drive a few months ago and was amazed by the over-1000 channels – and no monthly cable fee! I called my provider to cancel my cable, but don’t worry, fellow network colleagues – I didn’t go through with it. They wanted more money to downgrade.

For the last year, I thought Indigo Films would continue to pursue the digital space by pitching to Netflix, YouTube, Yahoo!, Amazon (you’ve heard about their new Fire TV network, right?), AOL, and others. Two months ago I read a brilliant New Yorker article called “Outside the Box” which painted the future for all of us. In a word: broadband!

My immediate reaction was to get my company and our programming online ASAP! I didn’t want to be left behind. I didn’t want my company to go the way of the stagecoach. As business schools around the world still teach, stagecoach companies were big business in the 1800s, but when the horseless carriage was invented, they all went out of business. These long-gone companies had missed one very important fact – they were in the “transportation business” and not the stagecoach business. Obviously these stagecoach companies were not early, or even late, adopters.

I’ve known for years that I’m not in the TV business. I’m a “content provider.” After attending the informative Stream Market and conference last spring, just prior to Realscreen West, I had the sense that the online/digital market was kind of like the Wild West. There, speakers were actually giving out their email contacts and asking us to submit their ideas as quickly as possible. It felt like there was going to be another “land rush” of sorts and I wanted to make sure Indigo Films staked out some prime territory. I had seen the future and envisioned how to expand my company and development beyond the world of television. Or so I thought…

Fast forward to what seems like a week later. Broadband may not be the future after all, or at least not the only player. Two big news items hit the Internet in early April: Facebook bought a company I had never heard of called, Oculus VR. They make an amazing virtual reality headset which many people say is the future of gaming (I have to admit, it does look cool.) Facebook is paying US$2 billion to acquire this company, which was founded less than two years ago! Fast on the heels of this news was an article mentioning that a “content provider” was already pitching ideas to Oculus VR. Now what? Who do I pitch to? Can we cover the cable networks, the broadband companies and the gaming industry?

I had just a few days to think about how to stay in the game when I read that Google was about to announce Android TV – possibly making Chromecast obsolete, while targeting the death of Apple TV and Roku (which would make my $49 device worthless). Now who can I meet with at Android TV? Do they even have a development department? They must, because I found out that a company is already producing apps for it. My head is spinning like a ramped-up sapphire flip card effect… in 3D. Should my company start producing content for virtual games and apps? Do I have to keep watch 24/7 for the latest technology?

Probably not. I’ve got to keep my head straight and remember that I’m in the “content business.” I’ll keep my eye on all the latest technology, while staying grounded in the bigger picture – exciting stories and formats that are entertaining, no matter how they’re delivered.

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