Bullish on Content

Realscreen takes a look inside Red Bull Media House and the role non-fiction plays in its content strategy. (Pictured: Red Bull Stratos)
November 1, 2013

A year to the date after Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from a helium balloon 24 miles above Earth, Red Bull Media House released an anniversary documentary about the record-breaking event.

Mission to the Edge of Space takes a behind-the-scenes look at the landmark space jump,  which aired live on 77 TV outlets in 50 countries as Red Bull Stratos.

The jump broke the world record for skydiving and made Baumgartner the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power. A total of 7.6 million viewers tuned in to watch the feat on Discovery Channel, and it scored a whopping 52 million views on YouTube.

The program also brought added attention to Red Bull Media House, a content producer established by Austrian energy drink brand Red Bull. Firmly entrenched in extreme sports and adventure circles, the Stratos campaign – in the works since 2005 – certainly elevated the profile of the company while serving as an extension of its mandate regarding content.

“I wouldn’t say that the success of the Red Bull Stratos broadcast changed the type of work we do,” says Alexander Koppel, chief commercial officer at Red Bull Media House. “We’ve always looked to challenge ourselves and create new, compelling experiences for audiences using the best technology, techniques and platforms available, and that remains the same.

“But I think it’s fair to say that the event heightened industry awareness about Red Bull Media House and particularly our ability to engage an audience with the content we provide, and naturally we see that as very positive.”

A feature-length doc about the jump aired on the BBC and National Geographic Channel in the U.S. several weeks after the event, extending its reach. But Red Bull Stratos also served as a big, bold reminder for broadcasters about the power of live event programming.

“Certainly a well-produced live event can provide an unmatched sense of immediacy and exclusivity – that ‘first person’ feeling clearly captivated viewers around the world during Felix’s Red Bull Stratos mission,” says Koppel.

Launched in Europe in 2007 and in the U.S. in 2011, the company now employs 600 people, with correspondents in more than 160 countries around the world. It produces sports, lifestyle, nature, history and science content across platforms such as television, digital, print and mobile, and with a host of partners and subsidiaries, such as Vienna-based factual studio Terra Mater.

In 2012, Red Bull Media House distributed more than 850 hours of programming and Koppel says it is on track to produce more than 1,000 hours this year, distributed via its own channels and through its network of outside partnerships.

Since Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz founded Red Bull in 1987 the company has championed extreme sports. Although Red Bull began filming athletes and its events in 1994, the launch of a standalone producer established the company as a media player.

As Red Bull Media House continues to expand into a wider array of genres, its roster has grown to include 600 athletes, musicians and artists, many of whom it is seeking development deals for with docuseries, such as McMorris & McMorris, an MTV Canada reality show about snowboarding brothers Craig and Mark McMorris that Red Bull Media House is coproducing with Toronto-based Buck Productions.

The company has produced more than 10 commercially released feature films over the past two years including McConkey, a documentary about Canadian skier Shane McConkey that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and came out on DVD/Blu-Ray, digital download and VoD platforms on October 8.

Other projects on tap for the fall are the theatrical film Cerro Torre, about the world’s youngest climbing champion, David Lama; On Any Sunday, The Next Chapter, director Dana Brown’s follow-up to his father Bruce Brown’s 1971 motorsport doc On Any Sunday; and Tracing Skylines, a film about six pro skiers produced with Poor Boyz Productions.

“For Red Bull Media House, it’s more often a question of creation than acquisition,” says Koppel of the company’s strategic approach. “Whether we’re developing content ourselves or with a partner, we aren’t passive – our approach is fully hands-on, completely collaborative.”

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