I walked away from the PactUS panel I moderated last week in Santa Monica, titled “Bridging the Gap: How do Linear TV & Digital Content Producers find the Money in each Other’s Worlds?,” amazed by both the similarities and some fascinating differences in the approaches taken by important content companies successfully navigating the platforms.
Let me start by touching on the common ground among key buyers and sellers represented on our panel by MTV, Lionsgate TV, global entertainment media brand AwesomenessTV and multiplatform company Jukin Media.
The one essential ingredient uniting all of them is their primary focus on simply getting the best content in front of the right audiences, in the right form, and letting viewers know it is there. Their paths take divergent paths from there.
Lionsgate’s head of alternative content Jennifer O’Connell, in detailing how her studio sells both scripted and unscripted shows to OTT streaming services, compared the process to the early days of cable. While remarking that the templates for the deals vary as the buyers and the sellers figure out “the rules of the game,” the flexibility also provides Lionsgate with the ability to hold onto rights in some circumstances and look for separate platforms, including linear television, in various parts of the world.
Michael Klein, MTV’s new head of content, describes his target audience as a 21-year-old who is fresh with the experience of life as an adult – whether it be in love, career, lifestyle choices, whatever. In reaching that viewer, not only is Michael looking for linear TV shows that are compelling but also specially tailored digital content (not outtakes) for each major social network platform, each with its own distinct characteristics and audience profile… sort of MTV’s version of TV Everywhere.
Taking his experience overseeing Conde Nast Entertainment to MTV, Klein emphasizes the hyper-analyzed millennial audience is not homogenous; various segments have very different tastes and ways of viewing, and producers need to take all of that into account when they approach him to pitch a project.
On the digital side of the coin, AwesomenessTV president Brett Bouttier embraces a range of forms spanning short, five-minute grabs, TV-length episodes and full-length feature movies. The massive platform’s enormous reach gives them incredible cross-platform marketing ability.
Brett tells the story of their movie Expelled. They made it for less than $1 million with an Awesomeness channel star. Due to the huge marketing reach of its YouTube stars and social influencers, as well as Awesomeness’, well, awesome reach with millions of views, it immediately soared to No. 1 on iTunes competing against such heavily marketed films as Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer and Guardians of the Galaxy And what did Awesomeness spend to get the word out? Nothing!
Awesomeness also has an ability to work with brands like Royal Caribbean, which wanted to make cruises attractive to teens. So the MCN developed Royal Crush, an episodic teen romance story set on a cruise liner that has done extremely well.
Jukin, too, is increasingly working with marketers of brands that want to capitalize on the authenticity of popular Internet clips made by what Josh Entman, Jukin Media’s co-founder and chief development officer, calls “accidental creators.” This has created opportunities for the likes of traditional TV production companies such as FremantleMedia and Lionsgate to provide Jukin with raw material that can be quickly and efficiently monetized.
Jukin first finds, acquires and licenses digital clips (think of the recent “Chewbacca Mom” viral video) that can instantly explode from nothing to 20 million views overnight, then immediately blasts them out to its many news magazine, morning and late night show and other TV clients before ultimately offering them internationally in compilation series like Spin on Me.
Josh and Michael believe digital natives are an essential asset to development and production of content if it is to appeal over the widest range of platforms. Awesomeness’ in-house producers can conceive, shoot and edit a great piece for $10,000 and, if it fails to ignite interest, not to worry – embrace failure and move onto the next. At Lionsgate, they can produce a Comic Con HQ SVOD channel! for example, with production people who live in that world.
As the panel revealed, there’s money to be made across the content spectrum. To find it, producers and platforms must be flexible about the form the content takes, budgets, marketing, licensing of rights and expanding international customer bases with flexible deals.
Oh, and not to sound redundant, having fabulous content in the first place.
David Lyle is President of PactUS, a fast-growing association formed in 2015 dedicated to helping U.S.-based non-fiction and scripted independent production companies improve their businesses, and formerly served as CEO of National Geographic Channels, Fox LOOK, Fox Reality Channel and FremantleMedia North America.