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 Ludo Dufour, SVP of international co-productions and sales at Blue Ant Media International.
How was 2020 been for Blue Ant Media International? What are some of the biggest ways the past year has affected how you operate?
Ludo Dufour: It’s been quite seamless.
Of course, there were many challenges that we had to face and many problems to solve in about two months… We had to figure out what shows could be delivered, which ones might be delayed, which would be canceled and how to continue getting fresh content during such a time of uncertainty with production.
As far as pure distribution is concerned, had the pandemic happened 15 years ago it would have been a very different story, but thanks to the Internet and calls with people around the world — whether it be Zoom or Microsoft Teams or whatever platform — it’s been easy to stay very connected with colleagues and clients.
What are some of the trends you’re seeing in non-scripted/non-scripted content that will be most popular this year among buyers and audiences?
LD: I think a lot of the trends that we’ve seen in 2020, especially in the second part of 2020, will continue at least for the first half of 2021.
I think we’ll continue to have clients really looking to escape from the bad news of our daily news cycle with very escapist content — be it natural history or travel… Co-viewing content will continue to be in high demand and also content that allows us to entertain the audience but also educate people as they’re all around the TV. So, the importance of factual takeaway within the non-fiction world will continue to be prominent.
There’s always been experts and A-list talent within documentary and factual television but I think their prominence will continue to increase over the foreseeable future. It’s something we’ve really embraced and, as long as it’s done with relevance and authenticity, it’s a great way to elevate non-fiction content… There seems to be a mixing between talent of the big screen coming to the small screen or TV talent going online…. Or digital talent coming to TV, and whether that audience can be carried over.
When we work with streamers these days, they tend to look for really, really big budgets with regards to non-fiction television… They’re very interested when we bring an A-list talent on board but they also tend to favor feature docs and limited series… whereas linear broadcasters tend to want these returnable, multi-episodic very scalable series, as they continue to have a schedule to fill.
Are you seeing an increased appetite for unscripted/non-scripted content? Is this something you see continuing through 2021?
LD: The appetite is really at an all time high.
With regards to non-scripted against scripted, this year has also shown us you can deliver ratings for a fraction of the cost. Which, at a time when many budgets are cut and organizations are restructuring, companies are really looking at… the return on investment that shows can deliver.
Another element which is interesting at the moment with regards to factual television is how media is fragmented at the moment — everybody seems to live in a different version of reality in their own information bubble. With so much fake news flying around on social media, factual television also brings that editorial quality, that expertise and the facts that people are so thirsty for at the moment.
Non-scripted is really taking a page out of the scripted playbook in terms of bringing bigger budgets, the A-list talent and more ambition than ever before.
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?
LD: We work in a people business where connections are so important. Markets will always be very important in order to connect with our clients and promote our shows and give our brand added visibility, and festivals as well with regards to really getting recognition for our content.
We really had to be very strategic when looking at our market and festival plans. We had to be a bit more selective… Our decision was to focus on those markets that either had a global scale which allowed us to speak to all of our clients or that were focused on genres or formats that we have specific expertise in.
There are only so many markets you can do in an online environment.
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 Blue Ant responding?
LD: I would really celebrate Blue Ant for their approach. It’s been a very busy year for us and yet it’s been a real priority from all sides of the business. As far as the international distribution arm is concerned, we’re really making an effort to invest in productions than employ diverse creators, that really support diversity and inclusion… Also focusing on projects that include underrepresented people and puts them in positions for scientific expertise.
This ties in also with our efforts around climate change and protecting the environment, we really want to ensure local citizens in the countries we produce gain access to job opportunities when we shoot in their community. There’s a concerted effort to work with non-Western production companies, to really support emerging talent, include underrepresented cultures. There’s a real effort from all sides of the company.
Can you share any details about what’s in Blue Ant’s pipeline as we look ahead to 2021, or what’s in store for the company next year?
LD: We’ve already launched a lot of content in 2020. We’ve launched over 600 hours of brand new premium content.
We really had to assess our needs and what we could deliver and we decided at the start of the year, when we were seeing the situation unfold, to focus on certain producers and do some large volume deals with them.
You can expect a lot of premium, 4K, stunning family friendly natural history from Love Nature. A lot of which will also be in partnership with A-list talent.
We have a series that I can’t yet mention but it’s a travel series brought up from a very successful format that will be narrated by an iconic British treasure. We’re co-producing it with a British production company.
There’s plenty trickling down the pipeline and we’re still very much open for business. So if there are any producers who read this and have exciting shows whether it’s U.S. crime shows, ancient history documentary series, long running returnable lifestyle formats — those are genres we’re very interested in.