The independent TV sector, which annually gathers to distribute programming on the eve of the L.A. Screenings proper, got a shot in the arm Monday thanks to a series of keynotes, a networking game, a co-production panel and one-on-ones organized by NATPE.
The idea of the day-long initiative, NATPE president-CEO JP Bommel told World Screen, is to “empower content creators and help provide access to programming outlets and to one another.”
Over the last 15 years, the independent sector has seen the number of U.S. program exhibitors dwindle as vertical integration among Hollywood powerhouses has taken hold. At the same time, Latin players seized upon the opportunity to come to town to buy and sell to one another as well as to U.S. Hispanic outlets. And other overseas entities—think companies from Turkey, Poland and China—have arrived to hang out their shingles.
Still, the independents’ market profile as a sales bazaar had remained amorphous and its profitability for participants difficult to assess.
As a long-established media trade association, NATPE, one attendee explained, has developed a knack for adding a needed dimension to events in search of a more defined personality, if not raison d’etre. (The cost for participants to attend the day’s sessions was reportedly a modest $50.)
“It was time someone took the flagging independent market by the scruff of the neck and infused it with a bit of oomph,” another longtime attendee and program seller told World Screen. He was referring to the fact that with so much consolidation in the media business, especially Stateside, independent producers and distributors are in many respects finding themselves squeezed or out of the loop.
Many of the producer-distributors on hand at the InterContinental Hotel for Monday’s sessions are, it turns out, working to carve out niches in the burgeoning digital world, creating or supplying content to services like YouTube, Hulu and Roku as well as to one or another linear outlet.
Beginning at lunchtime, NATPE organizers hosted a speed-dating round of networking opportunities in which 70 producer-distributors participated. The five-minute, rotating meet-and-greets were boisterous; business cards were flying.
A little later, several dozen other producers and distributors—some well-established, some newcomers—showed up to take advantage of the afternoon’s informational events.
Diverse speakers from different parts of the world and varied perspectives then took the stage in succession to talk about how to do business in these disruptive times.
Among key points from each half-hour session:
Stone Newman, the CRO of kids’ producer-distributor pocket.watch, told attendees about the need for being “platform-agnostic,” and not giving up because some executive says “this will not work.” His company, which boasts the experience and input of former Nickelodeon topper Albie Hecht, has turned a YouTube kids’ show called Ryan’s Mystery Playdate into a global sensation.
MarVista Entertainment CEO Fernando Szew put the accent on the need for scale and for laser-like focus on the things that one does well. In his company’s case, that means expanding the range of made-for-TV movies it’s traditionally known for to include romance and blue-sky themes and subject matter. “Barriers have broken down,” Szew said, “and with the explosion in digital we’ve opened new hubs (which now include Toronto and Mexico).”
In a different keynote, Endemol Shine Brasil CEO Juliana Algañaraz presented a case study on how that subsidiary has, in her words, “jumped the barriers,” in so doing expanding the definition of what viable commercial content can be. “We start with whatever we have in front of us, be they broadcasters, platforms, agencies or brands,” Algañaraz told the assembled.
She went on to describe the varied iterations of and applications for MasterChef, which her Brazilian unit has turned into a multi-faceted and multi-windowed success.
Algañaraz also took the audience through her subsidiary’s pioneering work on branded reality programming for one of its advertisers, Pantene, that has become a destination show in its own right on MTV Brazil. That competition series features ten female contestants who vie for the top prize (“ten participants and one dream” is the catchphrase) and has boosted the timeslot on MTV by 114 percent and seen 2 billion impacts digitally.
During the Global Content Executives panel that followed the Brazilian case study, speakers put the emphasis on new approaches to co-production. Patrick Vien, A+E Networks’ executive managing director for international, described how his company was zagging while so many others were zigging, as it were.
“We’re now applying some of the strategies we adopted on the fiction front to factual,” he said, pointing to the upcoming co-pro Spy Wars, which features star Damian Lewis as the presenter. Vien also said the international division was getting involved in non-English-language co-pros in 14 countries at the same time that certain non-English-language producers were finding it advantageous to initiate projects in English. “We’re in a much more multicultural environment now. There are a number of scripted series that are told in more than one language, for example,” he pointed out.
For her part, Sally Habbershaw, the executive VP for the Americas at all3media, suggested on the same panel that the range of co-pro partnerships her company, which is British-based, now enjoys has expanded in the last several years from 3 or 4 to 17 or 18 in the U.S. alone. She also said that “nuanced comedy” is becoming a genre that American partners are eager to get involved with.
Most importantly, Habbershaw went on to emphasize, “The teams involved in co-production must understand each other and all should respond passionately to the story.” However, she added, “there must be clarity as to who makes the final creative or editorial decisions.”
In yet another session, Courtney Williams, Parrot Analytics’ regional director for Europe, took the audience through some of the ways big data could help producer-distributors figure out what to make, who to pitch to, how to build awareness of a project—and how to get paid more for it.
For one thing, Williams explained, “travelability is important, but we now live in a multi-layered landscape.”
With slides on hand, he demonstrated how Parrot’s data-crunching can reveal what genres currently travel well in a variety of countries. “What you might want to consider (in deciding what to produce) is what is in low supply and high demand,” Williams explained. In Turkey, for example, children’s fare is in demand, while in Russia they’re clamoring for action-adventure.
Finally, in a one-on-one with Anna Carugati, World Screen’s group editorial director, Keshet International CEO Alon Shtruzman discussed how the Israeli company has managed to blanket the world with successful formats, ranging from dramas like Prisoners of War, which became Homeland in the U.S., to reality competitions like Rising Star.
“It’s a great time for content makers,” Shtruzman told the attendees, adding, “It’s a much bigger business now but…you have to know how to change your business model (when necessary).”
Asked by Carugati where he saw likely international growth coming from, Shtruzman made a point of stressing Keshet’s new focus on India. “It’s the next big-time dynamic market. They have the industry, the talent and the appetite (for programming)…and risk-taking is embedded in us Israelis.”
Keshet has also just scored at the Upfronts in New York by having two formats picked up to series: a drama called Lincoln at NBC, which is based on the Israeli series The Bone Collector, and a rom-com called The Baker and the Beauty, greenlit by ABC. He could not be drawn on another project, a drama, recently moved ahead at HBO except to intimate it was a thriller.
As to a question about the effects of consolidation in the industry, the Keshet executive stressed that “it’s all about having great IP.” The volume of content, he went on, “is so huge but so is demand. There are more opportunities. You just have to collaborate in different ways.”
The three-day independents’ market unfolds Tuesday through Thursday and will consist of 60-odd exhibitors holed up in various suites in the hotel to do business—one-third of whom are Latin American players, one-third are U.S. indie entities or subsidiaries of Hollywood majors, and the rest are European or Asian outfits. Mostly they pitch to and/or engage in co-production or format discussions with Latin players, including Brazil’s Globo and Mexico’s Televisa.