MIPDoc ’16: Spurlock calls for smarter, digital unscripted

In a Saturday (April 2) keynote, Warrior Poets founder Morgan Spurlock (pictured) outlined the importance of filling the holes in the marketplace with smarter unscripted content while previewing three series for Maker Studios geared towards millennial women.
April 3, 2016

In a Saturday (April 2) keynote at MIPDoc in Cannes, Warrior Poets founder and CEO Morgan Spurlock (pictured) outlined the importance of filling the holes in the marketplace by developing smart unscripted content for the digital space.

With more people watching non-fiction entertainment than ever before – due largely in part to the assortment of platforms at their disposal – the Super Size Me director stressed that every production strategy today must contain a digital strategy.

“We should all be focusing our production efforts on how do we start to transition into a digital marketplace in a way that is accessible, easy and makes the most economical sense to all of us,” he explained. “Your digital strategy should already be a natural extension of your current pipeline.”

Today, Warrior Poets’ business is sectioned into thirds, with 30% dedicated to film, 30% to television and the remaining 40% devoted to digital, with the forthcoming year projected to rise above 50% for the latter.

The digital focus has been a part of Spurlock’s DNA for nearly 16 years, he said, noting that MTV’s I Bet You Will in 2002 – the first series Spurlock created – began as an Internet webcast.

Warrior Poets has since gone on to develop such original digital series as Hulu’s A Day in the Life; Yahoo!’s Failure Club and Losing It with John Stamos; and AOL’s Connected, all of which have since travelled to linear television.

Following Spurlock's presentation, he was interview by Diego Buñuel, dead of documentaries for Canal Plus

Following Spurlock’s presentation, he was interviewed by Diego Buñuel, head of documentaries for Canal Plus

The New York-based studio is now working with Disney-owned multi-channel network Maker Studios to develop seven original series for premium web channel Smartish that will then be sold back to television.

As part of the keynote presentation, Spurlock premiered three new female-focused series geared towards 16- to 24-year-olds – a demographic consuming “almost 70% of their content digitally” – including Present/Tense, a series exploring issues facing women in the millennial generation; Sexish, a body-positive series on sex education; and What We Teach Girls, a series empowering girls to break down gender stereotypes.

“Most people believe in chasing success in the marketplace – what I believe in chasing is neglect. You should chase the holes in the marketplace and there is a hole that surrounds millennial women in a large way,” Spurlock stated. “These are strong, neglected women.”

Millennial women, the Academy Award-nominated director said, are the “most educated generation of the history of this entire planet” with more than 65% of young females attending post-secondary institutions. Young women also represent US$840 billion in annual purchasing power and use multiple screens simultaneously, he added, but most importantly, they share content constantly.

“This is a huge one because, especially in a world where we’re fighting against marketing, these are your evangelists,” Spurlock explained. “These are the people you want sharing, talking and getting everything you made out in the universe.”

While the goal for the majority of prodcos is to monetize off of the digital content they produce, Spurlock stressed that studios must alter their mindsets to instead focus on how to not lose money. “So long as you are cash flow positive in creating content for people to see that can make a difference, you are winning.”

Spurlock later turned his attention to branding, which he argued producers should take more advantage of.

It’s a path Warrior Poets and Spurlock have previously taken, having partnered with GE on the Focus Forward film series and with LucasFilm to create original digital content for the latest Star Wars installment. Additionally, the newly announced What We Teach Girls will reveal a branding partnership in the near future.

On top of turning to such profitable opportunities as television and additional one-off opportunities, Spurlock said, producers can bring their projects to conglomerates that will flex their marketing muscles to promote the series. Inversely, television series and films can be packaged into digital series for further monetization opportunities.

“Brands are realizing that 30-second commercials don’t work anymore,” Spurlock said. “It’s all about the story, and so long as you can tell a good story, brands are now willing to go on that ride.”

Photos by Manori Ravindran

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.