Documentary

Summit ’20: The complete wrap-up

The 2020 edition of the Realscreen Summit — the second edition in New Orleans and the 22nd overall — has wrapped, after bringing approximately 1,700 delegates from around the world ...
February 3, 2020

The 2020 edition of the Realscreen Summit — the second edition in New Orleans and the 22nd overall — has wrapped, after bringing approximately 1,700 delegates from around the world to the Crescent City for four days of networking, pitching and insight from international industry executives.

Keynote presentations this year included interviews with Realscreen Hall of Fame inductees Jane Lipsitz and Dan Cutforth of the newly-minted Alfred Street Industries and PBS CEO and president Paula Kerger, and Discovery Inc. chief lifestyle brands officer Kathleen Finch. A previously scheduled keynote conversation with ViacomCBS marketing and digital executive Jacqueline Parkes was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict.

Lipsitz and Cutforth, in conversation with Main Event Media’s Jimmy Fox for an upcoming episode of the Unscripted and Unprepared podcast (produced in partnership with Realscreen), dove deep into their long-standing working relationship, from the formation of their previous prodco, Magical Elves, to the production of such iconic unscripted franchises as Top Chef and Project Runway. The duo also discussed the current phase of their partnership, establishing a new prodco and working with myriad new buyers to create the franchises of the future (Nailed It! for Netflix, the upcoming Chrissy’s Court for Quibi).

Discovery’s Finch, in conversation with Michael O’Connell from The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, gave insight into what she’s looking for in content across her portfolio of lifestyle brands, which encompasses HGTV, TLC and Food Network among others.

“You need to be a little bit loud, a little bit sticky, a little bit unpredictable if you’re going to cut through, because never in the landscape of television have there been more choices to come to than there are right now,” Finch told delegates. “If you’re not going to be a little bit big and loud and squeaky, people aren’t necessarily going to hear from you.”

PBS topper Kerger, in conversation with NPR’s Eric Deggans, reflected on the American public broadcasting institution’s mission over the course of the past 50 years, with a focus on its current opportunities and challenges.

She also discussed the importance of the documentary genre for the pubcaster, with two of its key strands — ‘POV’ and ‘Independent Lens’ — featuring topical and timely docs from independent filmmakers, as well as what makes for perfect PBS programming.

“Ultimately, our goal is to do programming that is entertaining,” she told Deggans. “What distinguishes between what we think about versus what other media organizations think about when making decisions, is that we also look for projects that will be educational… If we can do a project that helps you think about the world a little differently, inspires you in some way, then that’s truly a public television product.”

Elsewhere, a session highlighting the unscripted efforts of much-buzzed about streamer Disney+, was a standing-room-only affair (pictured, top of page), with delegates keen to hear from such executives as Disney+ non-fiction originals VP Dan Silver, Marvel Entertainment development and production VP Sarah Amos, National Geographic global unscripted entertainment EVP Geoff Daniels, and Supper Club partner Brian McGinn.

The Summit’s annual state of the nation keynote panel, “Foresight is 2020″, brought together network executives (History EVP Eli Lehrer and Allison Page, president of Discovery’s Magnolia Network, launching in May) and those on the selling side (Wheelhouse Group chief strategy officer Ed Simpson and All3Media America CEO Tim Pastore on the production side, and Shade Grant, partner and non-scripted co-head at ICM Partners). Among the topics discussed: how cable nets are returning to their core brands to fend off the deep cataloged competition from global streamers, and how smaller prodcos can carve out business in an industry dominated by multinational behemoths.

Other topics covered in the event program included a standing-room-only discussion on development, the natural history renaissance, the latest trends for the global formats industry, how linear TV needs to evolve to meet the shifts in how content is consumed, and a case study of TLC’s hugely popular franchise, 90 Day Fiance, which examined the series’ humble beginnings as a pitch by Sharp Entertainment head Matt Sharp to veteran TLC executive Howard Lee, to its current status as one of television’s top performers and an ever-expanding franchise. Indeed, Lee stopped just short of announcing a new spin-off during the session.

Elsewhere during the event, the 2020 edition of the Realscreen Awards celebrated such unscripted home runs as Queer Eye and Surviving R. Kelly, as well as new hits including comical competition format, Holey Moley, and Netflix culinary series, Salt Fat Acid Heat. The ever-popular Summit Showdown, meanwhile, awarded development deals of US$20,000 from participating networks A&E and HGTV to Uncoiled from Lily Warren and Cow Lamp Films, and Million Dollar Mansions from MX2 Productions, respectively.

The Summit also brought together top female executives within the world of non-fiction and unscripted production for the announcement, during a special invite-only luncheon, of the Propelle Content Accelerator for Women, a partner venture between Abby Greensfelder’s Everywoman Studios, and Realscreen.

Before its move to Austin in 2022, revealed during the 2020 Summit, the event will hit the Big Easy for one more go-round, from January 25-28, 2021. Realscreen West, meanwhile, heads to Dana Point, CA from June 2-4.

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.