Foresight is 2020: Fremantle’s Angela Neillis talks risks, ‘stand-out ideas’

Ahead of the 2020 Realscreen Summit, held Jan. 27 to 30 in New Orleans, Realscreen reached out to a selection a production companies to discuss the year ahead in unscripted – ...
January 22, 2020

Ahead of the 2020 Realscreen Summit, held Jan. 27 to 30 in New Orleans, Realscreen reached out to a selection a production companies to discuss the year ahead in unscripted – including the top trends and challenges, and how producers can stay afloat in the ever-shifting global production landscape.

In this next edition of the ‘Foresight is 2020′ interview series, Angela Neillis (pictured), senior vice president of non-scripted content for international at Fremantle, shares her insights on what the unscripted and non-fiction content community can expect in 2020. Neillis discusses taking a risk on “exceptional projects,” telling distinctive stories in a new way and the “over-saturation” of content.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

What do you foresee as the top trends in the unscripted industry for 2020 in the UK and globally?

The future for non-scripted is about stand-out ideas, which is why Fremantle is in a really good position at the top of 2020.

Audiences are increasingly spoilt for choice and we have to be respectful of that. But we’re always willing to take a risk on exceptional projects that we believe in, which reflect the world we live in now.

We’ve just taken delivery of an incredible series called Secrets Of The Solar System – not dry graphics and voice over, but compelling stories told by people at the heart of the international space programs. Made for U.S. streamer CuriosityStream, the series will appeal to both young and old, those who were there and grew up with the Apollo program to those who are discovering it for the first time.

A major series this spring is our partnership on Enslaved, a six-part history series for Epix/CBC, fronted by Samuel L. Jackson, taking a fresh look at the Transatlantic slave trade… It’s an undeniable story and we have given it the full Fremantle commercial and creative backing to take it to a new global generation.

From your perspective, what are the top genres commissioners are seeking for the year ahead?

Our observation is that commissioners are less concerned with specific genres, and more with distinctive stories told in a new way, which really connects with their audiences. Beyond genre, they are looking for content that cuts through the background noise.

What are some of the key challenges the unscripted industry will face in 2020?

The biggest challenge facing the industry is over-saturation of content. It’s no longer enough to create great programs. We also need to figure out how an audience will find it and stick with it.

At Fremantle we believe that the best way to address this challenge is to work in partnership with platforms and producers and to ask some tough questions along the way to ensure that the ideas resonate. We always start by asking ourselves ‘why are we telling this story now? How do we execute it to the best possible effect? What is the best platform? Is this story best told as a special, a series, a franchise?’ We work in partnership with creatives, from early development through funding to launch to ensure that our shows ‘land’ successfully.

How can the non-fiction content community weather those industry changes?

At Fremantle we are optimistic about the changes to the market. To thrive you have to adapt. For us, this is about staying relevant and putting incredible stories at the heart.

Some of the best storytellers in the business are single directors who nurture a germ of an idea until suddenly it is the right time to tell that story. Fremantle cultivates those creatives. We offer a collaborative environment to support their idea from initial development financing through production and then to ‘on launching’ to global audiences.

Or a producer may come to us with an idea that offers unique access to talent or a situation that tackles a topic that has the power to resonate globally. That’s when we put our money on the table and invest in making that story heard as widely as possible.

We are excited to support a fantastic slate of developments this year from politics and religion, crime and politics, science and history, history and documentary, each telling stories that have not been heard before, stories that set news agendas and reflect cultural beats. We will look at stories being told in a totally unique way and have a really exciting lineup of producers that we’re working with.

What’s on the horizon for Fremantle in 2020?

Big ideas! We have a slate of thrilling ideas which we are excited to tell people about. Watch this space.

Realscreen Summit’s annual “State of the Nation” panel brings together top executives from across the industry to discuss and debate what’s happening now, what’s coming next and why it matters.

This year’s panelists include ICM Patners’ Shade Grant, History’s Eli Lehrer, Magnolia Network’s Allison Page, All3Media America’s Tim Pastore and Wheelhouse’s Edward Simpson.

Find out more here.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.