Foresight is 2020: ITV America’s Adam Sher on breaking through content clutter

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 23, 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.

Next up in the ‘Foresight is 2020′ interview series, ITV America president Adam Sher shares his insights on what the unscripted and non-fiction content community can expect in 2020 — from unscripted projects with a comedic sensibility to an appetite for game content and staying nimble in the face of challenges.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What do you foresee as the top trends in the unscripted industry for 2020 in the U.S. and (if relevant) globally?

Packaging content with celebrities and notable producers, including many from the scripted realm, will continue to become increasingly important in our space as buyers across the board look for ways to break through.

We’re also going to see more and more unscripted projects adopting a comedic sensibility – even across genres that aren’t traditionally “funny.” For instance, as a makeover, or what we call a “make better” show, Queer Eye packs all of the qualities you’d expect from the genre – it’s emotional, inspiring, uplifting, surprising. But it’s also extremely funny… By that same token, the irreverent comedic nature of Love Island is a major reason the series stands out in the crowded “dating” space. It’s “meme-able,” viewers can latch onto fun catch phrases and it even spotlights a built-in comedian, our narrator, who serves as a kind of Greek chorus, poking fun at the cast, the game and even production at times.

“Quick turn” programming will also become more prevalent. In this age of social media, where viewers’ attention spans oscillate at a greater speed than ever, near-live series create a sense of urgency – you want to be watching and talking about the show with everyone else as the events are unfolding. It also feels more authentic for viewers.

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

Unlike many linear networks with a specific lane, most streamers want content across all genres, styles and formats; that presents an opportunity for the producers that want to deliver on all fronts. ITV America has been planning for this for several years, and we’ve built our vertical-label approach with best-in-class teams in every space, setting ourselves up to offer buyers first-rate execution across virtually any area of unscripted.

Game content also continues to be a big draw. It’s a critical vehicle for audience building, with the co-viewing opportunities and escapism it offers – and a lot of commissioners are currently stocking up, as a potential strike looms.

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

Many of the challenges the business faced in 2019 will only be amplified, especially as the new streamers launch. We’ll see further fragmentation of eyeballs, decreasing budgets and more complex rights negotiations – but that’s the reason the industry’s new trends we discussed are taking shape. There will always be solutions and new opportunities to combat these challenges, and as producers operating in today’s landscape, we just need to be nimble and strategic to align with the evolving needs and buying demands.

Another challenge I think producers will continue to face is longer and ever-increasing development cycles, which make executive churn an obstacle. In many cases, the process is being stretched so long that, when the time comes for a series pickup, there may be new content mandates in place and new executives making final decisions; this, of course, also results in a lot of wasted time and money.

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

It’s not the silver bullet, but scale can be another solution to some of these challenges. We’ve seen massive consolidation across the industry and the economies of scale consolidation can provide are one way to help manage rising development costs and decreasing production budgets, along with other issues we’re facing in the marketplace.

Another aspect that may benefit the unscripted community is that 500+ scripted series a year would seem to be a financially unsustainable model, and networks and platforms will need to turn to more cost-effective non-scripted content to fill their slates and appeal to subscribers.

What’s on the horizon for ITV America in 2020?

There’s a lot we’re looking forward to in 2020. We’re going to continue packaging content with premium talent, and we have some exciting new projects rolling out with big names attached. We also have a number of projects in the works with the soon-to-be-launched streamers, with some unique series at Quibi.

We have a range of returning hits – fans will see more Queer Eye and Love Island – and we’ll be expanding on some of our existing franchises with new spin-offs.

We also have high hopes for our upcoming projects in the game space.What Rob Mills and the ABC team were able to accomplish in primetime with Jeopardy: Greatest of All Time further verified that viewers are still very hungry for compelling game content – so we’re excited to be behind some new entries in that space this year.

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.