Summit ’21: That’s a wrap!

The first virtual edition of the annual Realscreen Summit wrapped Thursday (Feb. 4), after two weeks of content and networking opportunities for an international array of delegates. Keynote conversations this year ...
February 8, 2021

The first virtual edition of the annual Realscreen Summit wrapped Thursday (Feb. 4), after two weeks of content and networking opportunities for an international array of delegates.

Keynote conversations this year featured Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s global head of original content; former U.S. Secretary of State, First Lady and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton and author and global health advocate Chelsea Clinton; Rob Sharenow, president of programming, A+E Networks; legendary documentary directing and producing team, Ken Burns and Lynn Novick; and Wayne Brady — actor, singer, improv Comedian, producer, host, television personality, presenter and advocate — in conversation with Aisha Tyler, director, actor, comedian, author, podcaster, activist and entrepreneur.

The 11th edition of the Realscreen Awards recognized such unscripted fare as Hulu’s Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi, VH1′s RuPaul’s Drag Race and Netflix’s Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer.

Arthur Smith, founder and chairman of A. Smith & Co. Productions and chairman of Tinopolis Group U.S., and RuPaul Charles, executive producer and host of the Emmy Award-winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, were inducted into the Realscreen Awards Hall of Fame.

This year’s sessions covered a wide range of topics from the evolution of reality TV to coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and fostering diversity and inclusion. The Summit also brought together Discovery Inc. executives in a session that shed new light on Discovery+.

Plans are afoot for the 2022 edition of the Realscreen Summit to take place in Austin, Texas next January. As well, international delegates will once again convene virtually under the Realscreen banner for Realscreen Live, slated for June 7-11, 2021. Look for more information on the latter tomorrow (February 9).

Below, Realscreen wraps up more highlights from this year’s virtual event, in addition to our previous coverage.

Moving towards a more “concentrated” formats market

A panel of executives gathered virtually Feb. 4 at the 2021 Realscreen Summit to discuss buying and selling formats in the wake of COVID-19.

Phil Gurin, president and CEO of The Gurin Company moderated the session that included Avi Armoza, CEO, Armoza Formats; Revital Basel, MD, Keshet Networks, Keshet International; Sophie Ferron, CEO and EP, Media Ranch; Mikiko Nishiyama, MD, international business development, Nippon TV; and Nick Smith, EVP, formats, All3Media International.

The panelists discussed such topics as COVID-19 budgets, IP ownership and popular genres. In a conversation around selling to streamers or broadcasters, Media Ranch’s Ferron said SVODs have created more opportunity for unscripted.

Smith recalled selling The Circle to Netflix — one of the first format deals the company inked with a major streaming service.

“I had a number of broadcasters come over to the set and I showed them around and I was pushing this great format on them, and then Netflix came in with a number,” he said.

“Just this week I had a call with a big broadcast group. They said, ‘We will commission off paper, we’ll be quicker. We don’t want to keep losing these new shows to the streamers.’ I think that will actually push traditional broadcasters to up their game”

For Armoza, streamers have had a “dramatic effect” on the formats market.

“The world of formats is getting more and more consolidated and concentrated and it will affect dramatically the ability of IP owners to leverage and monetize their IP in multiple territories,” he said.

YouTube’s Susanne Daniels on pitching to the platform

YouTube’s global head of original content Susanne Daniels talked unscripted and documentary programming in a keynote conversation Jan. 27 at the 2021 Realscreen Summit with Peter White, international co-editor for Deadline.

Daniels walked Summit attendees through YouTube’s verticals, offering details for producers looking to pitch to the platform.

“We work with a lot of production companies. We really value their input and their guidance and their know-how,” she said.

In the kids realm, she’s buying animation and live action content that resonates globally for pre-school and school-aged children. Educational content should similarly have global appeal.

As part of the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund launched in June, the platform’s Black voices vertical provides the originals team with a purse to acquire or develop and produce programming by Black talent and producers for Black audiences.

In music, Daniels and YouTube have commissioned documentaries such as Justin Bieber: Next Chapter and The Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story.

“You have to think about it in terms of YouTube. Whether that means YouTubers are in it or it’s shorter form content or it’s interactive. Things that take advantage of product features on YouTube that could only be done on YouTube, things that are live streamed or interactive, we’re always interested in hearing about.”

Kindness and collaboration can go a long way

The spirit of collaboration was alive and well during a Feb. 2 panel that saw international television executives discuss the need for community for the media industry to not only survive the ongoing pandemic, but to thrive as a sector in the future.

In a session titled “International Outlook”, Blue Ant Media’s Julie Chang said she has found that unscripted executives across the board are working together more than ever before. She pointed to COVID fatigue as the culprit and stressed the importance of being kind to one another in these trying times.

“I really do feel that these relationships we’re building now will be lasting, and more and more producers, distributors, broadcasters will be open to working in a coproduction world post-pandemic,” said Blue Ant’s EVP of international coproductions.

Collaboration, noted Woodcut Media CEO Kate Beal, has played a crucial role in the London indie managing to make it through a pandemic that has eviscerated economies across the globe. For its part, Woodcut has partnered together with Blue Ant and another unnamed distributor to get a non-scripted project off the ground.

“It was probably COVID that made us, at Woodcut, say, ‘We need help, can we work together?’” she explained. “They both jumped in and made a deal – hopefully it’s a pathway to coproduction partnerships in the future.”

In an economic climate flooded by murky waters of uncertainty, collaboration means that all boats rise. It is imperative, argued Beal, for production companies to be conversing openly and sharing as much information as possible to ensure all involved benefit.

“As an indie, we are picking up the phone and asking advice for more than we ever did,” Beal said. “That’s on a day-to-day, ‘How are you doing this?’, ‘Have you been filming?’, “What problem have you had here?’, What’s your COVID testing protocol?’ We’re also asking: ‘Who are the buyers, who’s actually got money?’”

Also featured on the panel were James Burstall, chairman and CEO of Argonon, Mark Edwards, commissioning editor of ARTE France, and Arun Majaars, VP of content and channels at Insight TV.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick talk “Hemingway”, process and perseverance

Award-winning documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick of Florentine Films talked partnership, process and their latest doc Hemingway during a keynote session on Friday, January 29 with NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Burns and Novick have worked together since 1989, and it’s a partnership that endures because of their working style.

“Different parts of it we do in different ways depending on the project, frankly, and it’s also a really strong collaboration with Geoff Ward who writes our scripts and Sarah Botstein who produces our films,” Novick explained. “So it’s really the four of us kind of putting our heads together in the best possible way.”

As for documentary filmmakers wanting to work with Burns, he admitted that he does not take pitches from outside companies. “We do our own work,” he said definitively. “I’m working on eight films right now… We have so many ideas right now we’re booked out for ourselves, by ourselves, through the end of this decade. If I were given 1,000 years to live, I would not run out of topics in American history.”

(With files from Kim Izzo, Daniele Alcinii and Jillian Morgan)

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.