ATF ’18: Propagate’s Howard T. Owens on digital giants and working globally

SINGAPORE – For Howard T. Owens, founder and co-CEO of Propagate Content, one of the pluses of working with digital platforms is the opportunity it provides for unscripted producers to think like auteurs ...
December 5, 2018

SINGAPORE – For Howard T. Owens, founder and co-CEO of Propagate Content, one of the pluses of working with digital platforms is the opportunity it provides for unscripted producers to think like auteurs and create talent-led content.

Taking part in a keynote conversation at the Asia TV Forum & Market, the Propagate exec encouraged unscripted creatives to open themselves up to working alongside global streaming giants and to place artistic ambition and creative freedom at the center of their business models.

Working with the global streaming giants, Owens said, allows storytellers the authority to dig into their stories and take their time with plot lines, while also providing space for delivery of a first cut when it’s ready.

“It’s a real benefit to the storytellers, and it’s why they’re our first port of call – those are the places we’re going to sell [to] first,” Owens told a packed auditorium at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. “We’re selling [to digital players] and we’re not owning it, but the creative experience is one that has been awesome.

“We believe the future is bright for taking unscripted documentary storytelling, merging it with scripted assets and creating different stories with ambitious narratives and point of view,” he continued. “That’s something that the global streamers provide – they’re encouraging you to tell stories in different ways and to be fresh.”

But for all of the positives that come with the cash injection and relative freedom that streamers have provided to content producers, there remains a desire from the creative community to have access to some of the data that could help hone the final product.

Streamers will loop production partners and potential ones in at two separate stages of the game when it comes to data analytics. The first, Owens explained, is during the acquisition stage to determine the cost of a program; the service will utilize data to dictate what they’re willing to invest per episode per series.

The second point of disclosure is in the marketing of a program. Data is utilized there to discover a potential audience, the varying paths to reach that audience, and how audiences are engaging with the content, which in turn provides insight into the programming and various themes.

“We wish we were getting more access to data,” said Owens.

The push toward global content partnerships

The Los Angeles-based indie secured a significant financial investment from boutique merchant banking firm The Raine Group earlier this year. With the backing, Propagate has aimed to expand its worldwide production, distribution and digital businesses through the launch of targeted acquisitions and new ventures, including the launch of a branded content studio division and podcast network.

“We’ve developed several podcasts to series. One of the reasons why we really like podcasts in this global streaming world is that podcasts can be accessed everywhere – they’re connective and their audiences are loyal,” the Propagate executive said, noting that numbers for podcast audiences are an even 50/50 split between America and the rest of the world.

In October, the Planet of the Apps prodco acquired fellow indie producer/distributor Electus, along with a majority interest in talent management and production firm Artists First, from IAC. Propagate also recently entered into a development and producing partnership with Authentic Talent & Literary Management with a focus on scripted and unscripted content for broadcast, premium cable and streaming outlets.

“One of the reasons why we invested in these companies is if you look at what’s happening in Hollywood with the streamers, there are major investments in talent,” Owens explained.

“Now that these global distributors are creating IP, buying IP and owning it globally, a way that we see that we can insert ourselves into the system and be a value-add to those global players is through those people who are in front of and behind the camera, the people influential to getting audiences to tune in, and those that are elevated storytellers in specific genres.”

Also as a result of the cash injection, Propagate has made headway in its goal to push beyond the borders of the U.S. Part of the pull for being in the global marketplace and embedded into the local markets, Owens said, is to provide Propagate and potential local partners with upside by offering ownership, leverage, and “all the things that producers need in order to do more than just get by in that production universe.

“We’re trying to learn something new every day, we’re looking for partners that are curious who want to change and grow with the marketplace, and it’s also just that attention to detail in the storytelling process,” said Owens.

For example, coming off of Amazon’s non-fiction/horror hybrid Lore, the entertainment company is attempting to capitalize on the horror market throughout Asia and, in particular, in India.

By working with the best horror writers and directors in the world, including The Walking Dead producer Gale Anne Hurd, Propagate is looking to bring a premium quality to the genre in collaboration with Indian storytellers willing to partner up.

Another move in fortifying the company’s strategic aims came when former All3Media America CEO Greg Lipstone joined the company earlier this fall as president, with Lipstone working in sync with Owens and co-founder Ben Silverman to explore new business ventures.

Those ventures include the recently inked production, development and distribution pact with European media company Antenna Group. Two projects are currently in development: a localized adaptation of Propagate’s game show format Slip ‘N Slide for ANT1 TV in Greece and Cyprus, and hidden camera prank series My Best Friend’s Fear co-produced with Makedonia TV in Greece. The prodco has also recently inked a development and production deal with Daniela Busoli‘s Brazil-based production and distribution company, Formata Produções.

The Asia TV Forum continues in Singapore until December 7.

(Photo courtesy ATF)

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.