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WCSFP ’21: What’s next for non-fiction/unscripted in 2022

The 2021 iteration of the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers conference kicked off on Tuesday morning (Nov. 30), and a panel on the first day took stock of ...
December 1, 2021

The 2021 iteration of the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers conference kicked off on Tuesday morning (Nov. 30), and a panel on the first day took stock of what to expect in the non-fiction and unscripted industry in 2022.

Creatorville founder Sam Barcroft moderated the panel, shining the spotlight on significant shifts and ongoing trends that will impact content and the industry itself. One of the subjects covered was the impending “metaverse” being plotted by tech companies and digital identity.

Wormhole Labs CEO Phil Ranta said he foresees digital identity becoming an even more important part of our future, adding that he views the metaverse as a different way the industry will be able to organize content.

“The reason I believe in the metaverse is you see with all trends (that) the younger generation comes up with one style of doing stuff, and then when they become older and people want to start targeting them for ads and spending, the way that they’ve come up through that trend becomes the mainstream,” Ranta said.

Ranta cited music videos and MTV in the 1980s as an example, as it popularized short-form content, which he argued eventually led to the popularization of YouTube when that generation was older. He added that now as kids are socializing online and through video games, they’ll want similarly interactive experiences in their social lives as they grow older.

Producer Jessica Hargrave (The Keepers, Assassins), meanwhile, talked about the ongoing rise in true-crime entertainment. She said that as this genre has become more popular, the industry has also had to face more risk with legal challenges.

“As these series become water cooler talk and not just the broccoli of filmmaking, I think the rise of lawsuits has gone up, and I think that it will be difficult for those two things to align — the desire for that content and the risk of that content,” Hargrave said.

Hargrave said facing legal backlash from more powerful entities can be tricky, but added that she thinks companies will find a way to complete projects nevertheless, as the titles are finding audiences.

Suzanne McKenna, BBC Studios’ director for unscripted content partnerships, noted how unscripted producers were able to continue working through the pandemic in a way scripted producers struggled to complete to the same extent, without needing to be on set with actors.

She said she’s seen a renewed interest for premium unscripted content, not just from streaming platforms, but from pubcasters and other more traditional spaces.

The panel was asked about whether there’s been a change in options producers face for early financing. Jorge Franzini, VP of original content development and programming at CuriosityStream, said there are some newer options like more crowd-funding opportunities. He also said an attractive option for companies like his, which may have smaller programming budgets than major global platforms like Netflix, is to create shorter but more enticing films on a single subject as opposed to a more expensive feature, and air those projects to gauge audience interest.

“We all know it’s not as easy as I’m making it out to be, but it’s all about thinking creatively about how you can get a product out there that shows your vision and gets people to buy in,” Franzini said.

The conference continues until December 2.

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