Reinvention: Portal A’s Nate Houghteling on tapping into digital talent

In this series, Realscreen spotlights producers who are reinventing their approaches to their craft — through revamping their business models, exploring new genres of unscripted and non-fiction content, moving into ...
December 3, 2021

In this series, Realscreen spotlights producers who are reinventing their approaches to their craft — through revamping their business models, exploring new genres of unscripted and non-fiction content, moving into multi-platform territory, or all of the above. Here, we talk to Nate Houghteling, co-founder of Portal A, about the company’s expansion of its original content offering.

From Portal A’s very beginnings, Nate Houghteling and his co-founders at the Los Angeles-based production company have worked with a goal of reaching younger audiences — newer generations whose expectations for entertainment were shaped by digital content creators and social platforms.

Houghteling started Portal A in 2010 with his two co-founders and childhood friends, Zach Blume and Kai Hasson. The three were each working at traditional media companies at the time, but they wanted to build a company that kept up with where they believed YouTube, social media platforms and online content creators were driving media, something that many companies at the time weren’t fully embracing, Houghteling says.

“We’re part of a generation that was raised on the internet and had grown accustomed to content being on demand and limitless,” Houghteling tells Realscreen.

“We’ve built this business over the last decade largely in collaboration with this new crop of digital creators. These are our people, and we work with them really well. We understand them.”

Now, Houghteling is seeing a tipping point in unscripted content, where digital creators are making the leap to streaming platforms and often bringing their audiences with them. And in turn, streaming platforms are showing more interest in digital creators than ever before.

Portal A has worked in unscripted originals since its beginning. One of the company’s first projects was White Collar Brawler, a series for the now defunct-Esquire Network that followed amateur boxers in real time as they took on their first fights.

Since then, Houghteling says the company has worked on a lot of branded content, but believes they’re reaching an audience that doesn’t necessarily see a strict divide between branded and original content, giving Portal A’s founders confidence to take on more original projects.

A major factor in Portal A’s growth has been the company’s partnership with Jimmy Kimmel and Brent Montgomery’s Wheelhouse Entertainment. Wheelhouse came on as a minority stakeholder and strategic partner in 2019, and Houghteling praises the company as being a big sibling of sorts for Portal A, through providing decades of experience working with networks while having the same vision for valuing talent at the center of projects, just like Houghteling’s company.

Working with digital content to reach Gen Z and Millennial audiences is firmly in Portal A’s wheelhouse. Now, after years of creating original, mostly digital native content for brands such as Google, Clorox and Target, Portal A is putting a greater focus on its output of original content, by creating series for major platforms.

Recently, Snapchat announced Portal A’s upcoming docuseries with NBA star Stephen Curry, Level Up, which follows Curry as he mentors younger basketball talent on and off the court. Other recent originals from Portal A include State of Pride, a YouTube Originals feature documentary from filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman that premiered at SXSW about the history of Pride celebrations and what Pride means today to new generations. Portal A also worked on Best Snaps Show for Snap Originals, that highlighted the best content on the platform.

As digital content creators make the leap more often to working with streaming platforms, Houghteling said he wants Portal A to be the company most able to help support that jump. He envisions doing this by ensuring that digital native talents are able to show a more authentic side of themselves in long-form programming.

“We grew up with this new generation of talent, and the reason they’ve been so successful in large part is they’ve created this authentic connection with their audience,” Houghteling offers. “Over the course of many years, they’ve fostered a very intimate relationship with their fans.”

“We see talent not just as someone who’s going to be on camera – if we’re talking about creators – but we see them in their world as IP, meaning the characters they bring in, their inside jokes with their fans, everything that’s an extension of their universe, we want to bring in [to programming] in a meaningful way.”

About The Author