Yahoo’s Anna Robertson on the return of ‘Viewfinder’

Tech giant Yahoo is making a concerted push to attract younger documentary talent and audiences with a relaunched version of its documentary strand 'Viewfinder.' (Pictured: Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government's War on Gays)
July 10, 2015

Yahoo is making a concerted push to attract younger documentary talent – and audiences – with a relaunched version of Viewfinder.

The documentary series was carried online for a few years but was pulled. It returned on June 22 in revamped form with a 30-minute documentary about gay rights in the United States.

Viewable via Yahoo Screen and Tumblr, the series is primarily aimed at millennials and will feature a mix of investigative, lifestyle, health, sports and personal documentaries by both seasoned and student filmmakers.

Viewfinder will release one Yahoo Studios-produced doc per month in addition to monthly docs produced through partnerships with journalism and film schools (including Duke, Columbia, University of California, Berkeley and Stanford) and non-profit news organization Retro Report.

The docs will vary in length and style to include both personal and investigative projects. Upcoming films will touch on topics such as women’s rights in India and the story of a transgender teen living in Brooklyn.

The launch doc, Uniquely Nasty: The U.S. Government’s War on Gays (pictured), was produced and narrated by Yahoo’s chief investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff and focuses on a period when gays and lesbians were banned from working for the government as part of a secret program that kept files on the sex lives of U.S. citizens.

The second film follows Yahoo global news anchor Katie Couric to Monroeville, Alabama where she explores the controversy surrounding the publication of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee’s lost novel Go Set A Watchman.

Future Viewfinder contributors include Yahoo’s news and finance anchor Bianna Golodryga, national sports columnist Dan Wetzel, former MTV correspondent Gideon Yago and former NBA player Baron Davis.

While Yahoo does not usually take unsolicited pitches, head of video Anna Robertson is more open with Viewfinder and hopes the strand will become a forum to showcase emerging voices in the documentary world alongside seasoned filmmakers and journalists.

“We’re freed from the time constraints of traditional television platforms, so our pieces can be as long or as short as the content deserves,” she told realscreen. “The storytelling structure is often different with an online audience. Given that we don’t know where or when our viewers are watching the content, we have to hook the viewer within the first 30 seconds of the story, sometimes setting up the premise before we begin a story arc.

“We’re focused on finding compelling stories that people must share with their friends and family, often socially,” she added.

Depending on the film, docs will be packaged with contextual documents, audio or media that further explains the story. The docs might be broken into chapters, GIFs or clips.

In the past year, the California tech giant has streamlined content into three areas: Yahoo Originals, Yahoo Digital Magazines and Yahoo Live with an increasing emphasis on “premium” content through a partnership with concert promoter Live Nation and unscripted series featuring model Naomi Campbell and actor Michelle Rodriguez.

Viewfinder falls under the company’s Digital Magazines channels, which cover lifestyle, news, finance, sports and entertainment, and is targeting millennials around the world who are interested in current events and issues.

The global nature of Yahoo’s audience plays a big role in the development process. For the live electronic music competition series Ultimate DJ – exec produced by Simon Cowell and due to premiere next spring – producers are expecting different competitors to appeal to viewers in different countries, a factor that will likely impact the nature of the competition in comparison to territory-specific adaptions of talent shows such as American Idol.

“The format of the show has to be much more carefully thought out than a competition show on live TV because our viewers can be watching from anywhere at anytime,” says Robertson. “In the case of Ultimate DJ, we are focusing on our international reach and how in the first 30 seconds we can capture users from around the world.”

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