Outlook 2021: Endeavor Content execs talk access docs, non-scripted demand

Few (epidemiologists aside) could have predicted the turbulence of 2020, a year that brought about monumental change — welcome and unwelcome — to the non-scripted screen community, and the world. ...
February 3, 2021

Few (epidemiologists aside) could have predicted the turbulence of 2020, a year that brought about monumental change — welcome and unwelcome — to the non-scripted screen community, and the world. As the novel coronavirus put the TV and film industry on pause, stakeholders across all sectors re-calibrated — as Realscreen covered in ‘Weathering the storm‘ — and, as we heard in ‘Back to business,’ returned to the job with a new playbook. 

Now, with ‘Outlook,’ Realscreen is turning the page on 2020, and looking onward to this year. Here, you’ll hear from execs in various sectors about the challenges and opportunities they foresee for the industry in the year ahead. In this latest edition, we speak to Prentiss Fraser (pictured right), EVP, international television sales, Endeavor Content and Liesl Copland (left), EVP, non-scripted advisory. 

How was 2020 for Endeavor Content? What are some of the biggest ways this past year has affected how you operate, for better or worse? 

Liesl Copland: They’ve definitely changed for the better. We have knit together multiple teams on a more regular basis – from sales, financing and production to our partner companies and international sales – and really banded together as a team to optimize our workflows and create a wide set of opportunities for new ideas.

As the platforms have all accelerated their integration efforts and globalized rapidly, we have built more streamlined information flow and are interfacing with teams on the buyer side who are now deeply integrated across their many divisions.

A real excitement has resulted in deeper communications from seller to buyer and the net positive effect on sales feels long overdue. Deeper and broader communication efforts have created real opportunity for newly integrated buyer teams placing great content with the right partner quickly and generating deeper marketing support from parent organizations.

What practices have you adopted to do business in the COVID era that will outlast the pandemic? 

Prentiss Fraser: Connecting with colleagues and clients regularly and virtually is something we will continue after the pandemic. There have been incredible efficiencies realized and our ability to reach deeply into every market has really evolved. Our virtual market presentations, for example, are being viewed by four times the number of buyers we’d be able to meet with during an in person event. Nothing replaces the in person experience, of course, but to layer on the virtual efforts will allow for greater exposure for our production partners.

What are some of the trends you’re seeing in non-scripted content that will be at the forefront in 2021, in your view? 

LC: Premium, access-based properties — as in the Nicki Minaj multipart series we sold to HBO Max on behalf of Bron Studios and director Michael John Warren — are at the highest of high demand as they are driving deep, eventizable presentation and viewership at the growing streamers.

A-list talent — in front of and behind the camera — have made room for premium documentary features and limited series in their business strategies and we believe that will continue as a result of the pace at which scripted programming, music touring and other talent focused businesses are coming back online.

We have also integrated a team of music focused executives including Amos Newman in an all-new role as SVP, music, to continue exploring and expanding the intersection of music and our content, and identifying unique opportunities to intersect the two.

PF: As several scripted series were not able to continue with production this year and budget cuts in the linear space, we’re seeing a real shift in schedules incorporating non-scripted programming in slots previously held by scripted. High-end, primetime, appropriate non-scripted titles are becoming increasingly sought after and more valuable in the market.

While festivals and markets were largely postponed, cancelled or moved online in response to COVID-19, distributors and sales agents have been able to shift to working virtually. If these events remain digital into 2021, what do you see as being some of the key challenges for distributors?

LC: Approximating the communal response when people gather and get excited about new projects is the piece that gets lost. And the cadence in the marketplace feels a little new and perhaps was a bit confusing in the Spring… but many of these events have created huge demand for films and shows… and we are working on creating events and streaming experiences that highlight more niche and audience segment focused content.

PF: Historically these events were fully in the hands of the marketing teams but they will need a lot more integration with IT in order to make these events seamless. We also need to focus on the buyer experience and ensure their needs are met. It’s very difficult for them to manage meetings on different weeks, different time zones, different screening systems etc.

In addition to the pandemic, a lack of diversity in front of and behind the camera in the TV industry has been an important conversation this year, brought on by the Black Lives Matter movement. How has that been reflected on the distribution side and how is Endeavor Content responding?

PF: This year, we have spent an incredible amount of time discussing, evaluating, planning, and implementing new strategies and processes around this at every stage of the content acquisition and partnership process. What the BLM Movement has done for us is initiated and escalated an opportunity for us to reflect. We took an in-depth look at our position in the market and our community to ensure our mission aligns with being an anti-racist content studio. Since that time, we’ve aligned ourselves with several organizations and made several commitments that are aimed to impact our studio in three areas: content, colleagues, and community — which are essentially the companies we partner with across our overall ecosystem. Of those partnerships, organizations and commitments, the most recent would be Color of Change, specifically for the #ChangeHollywood Initiative, EICOP, specifically for HBCU in LA.

LC: We have also made a commitment to increasing diverse representation in the area of media coverage for our content, and are laser-focused on criminal justice reform as evidenced by our ongoing work with 1 Community and our teaming up to support and launch ABFF’s newly launched Social Justice Now Film Festival with Michael B. Jordan and Opal Tameti as co-ambassadors. Building what we hope will be one of many market events for content focused on social and racial justice will not only help meet the demand we see growing for content on these topics but also create demand and support for creators working on important stories that need urgently to be told.

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