People/Biz

Foresight is 2020: NHNZ’s Kyle Murdoch talks streaming wars, franchise content

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 24, 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, NHNZ managing director Kyle Murdoch (pictured) shares his insights on what the unscripted and non-fiction content community can expect in 2020 — from streaming wars to creating marketable franchises and taking a risk on ambitious projects.

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

2020 is being hyped as the year of the streaming wars. With new subscription-based streamers set to launch and an estimated $240 billion projected to be spent by advertisers on mobile streaming, there’s going to be a lot of demand for big, noisy unscripted content on SVOD and AVOD. But if you don’t make factual content that can cut through all the noise for streamers, then life is going to be tough, because there is robust competition for the ever-decreasing funding available for new and untested commissions on traditional platforms. This is not a new trend, but it’s going to get even more intense in 2020. As commissioning dollars are harder to find, co-production is going to become a more common financing option – and not just for the cash strapped Pay TV platforms. Streamers are seeing faster subscription growth outside the US, so co-producing will help them to access and localize streaming content for emerging international markets, as well as make programming budgets stretch further. However, I don’t think you can make a “one size fits all” international version of a program anymore. Localizing your content is going to be important for international co-producers, as viewers are more likely to engage with programming that feels like it’s been produced specifically for their region or territory.

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

In the current environment, it’s not as much about specific unscripted genres as it’s about creating entertaining and marketable franchises or specials, regardless of the genre. At NHNZ, we specialize in stories inspired by nature, which just so happens to be extremely relevant right now, with the specter of climate change and impact of natural disasters all around us. Natural history has the added advantage of a genre that travels well. But even within our wheelhouse genre, we are seeing increasing use of celebrity to help programming stand out in a crowded space and producing to appeal to a wider demographic through making more family friendly productions.

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

The big challenge is to make factual content more entertaining, no matter how niche – how can we make natural history and science more entertaining to reach a wider and younger audience? That’s the exciting challenge in front of us. Funding models are evolving, and co-productions, presales and acquisitions are now as important as full commission work, with more buying being done later in the production cycle than ever before and so taking a calculated risk on an ambitious project can payoff.

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

The big winners will be those who think laterally about funding and the content they make, creating international content or formats that travel and localize, because the vast majority of shows made for a U.S. cable audience don’t travel that well outside of North America. But it’s not an even playing field out there and producers from countries with generous government media funds and tax rebates have a clear advantage.

What’s on the horizon for NHNZ in 2020?

NHNZ has a diverse portfolio and an equally diverse client base, and we specialize in making content that works in multiple regions. We are working on two high profile premium nature series, Mysterious Planet with NHK, Discovery, Arte and Alibaba’s online streaming service Youku, and an important climate change inspired documentary series with PBS, Arte and other key partners soon to be announced — the sequel to Big Pacific – a series that was watched by over 450 million viewers worldwide. We’ve got our first commission with Channel 5 in the UK focusing on Scottish Wildlife. We’ll deliver our first fully animated scripted kids’ series and we’ll produce our first full 4K archive series for Love Nature.


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 HMV.com. 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.

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