Nicely Entertainment’s Scott Kirkpatrick and Candlelight Media Group’s Scott Wiscombe offered their perspectives on how indie film distributors can find new opportunities with FAST channels as the FAST Festival continued.
The session with Kirkpatrick, the executive VP of co-productions and distribution for Nicely Entertainment, and Wiscombe, VP of streaming and social media for Candlelight Media Group, was moderated by World Screen’s Kristin Brzoznowski. You can view it here.
“Movies have always worked very well in VOD,” Kirkpatrick observed. “They’re very short, digestible pieces of media property. There’s not a massive time commitment. In the FAST space specifically, they work great because they can be programmed neatly into slots, and you can theme and bulk a lot of them together. Once audiences have a vertical or a type of genre they prefer, they can sit down with one channel, invest in it and find movie after movie.”
Wiscombe added: “One of the benefits of TV movies is you get a little more variety than you do with some of the single-IP or series content. We started seeing some bigger players coming into it as well.”
Wiscombe stated that FAST is becoming a more critical component in overall windowing strategies. “I don’t think we’re seeing that it’s enough to be a first-window opportunity, but it provides an avenue for movies to continue to earn revenue over time.”
Kirkpatrick agreed, noting, “FAST channels are finding their footing in terms of value. As independents, we don’t have as much cash flow behind us to do the massive marketing push that some of the big players do. There is revenue there. As advertisers start to figure out how to monetize it and exploit the space, there are unique opportunities moving forward. We’re keeping a close eye on the real opportunities.”
Candlelight operates a FAST channel, SparkTV: Light & Love, delivering family-friendly content. “We’ve seen it help us reach viewers more consistently than we were able to before when we were more reliant on broadcasters and other platforms,” Wiscombe said. “We’re building that audience.”
Nicely, a newer business, having just launched in 2020, is “experiencing one of the barriers to entry to FAST,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t have enough volume to create a giant channel. We know this space is fascinating in terms of what we can do with it. We’re trying to figure out where we want to take our first direct step. We’re working with partners right now and supplying some of those FAST channels. We’re seeing some interesting revenue results. We’ll give it some time, let the money figure itself out and dive in pretty intently in the semi-near future with our own FAST channels.”
As for what works well in FAST, Kirkpatrick highlighted the TV movie genres that have historically done well for linear TV, including romance, holiday movies, female-driven thrillers and inspirational stories.
Wiscombe agreed, noting: “There’s always going to be an audience for family-friendly movies that help you just feel good, that are uplifting, easy, not heavy.”
As to the revenue question, Wiscombe responded: “Established markets like the U.S., there’s money there. Emerging markets are coming along. There’s room for growth still.”
Kirkpatrick added: “There’s a pretty precipitous drop from the revenue coming out of the U.S. versus other international countries. I am bullish on where that’s going to be in the future. But the specific question you’re asking is, is the money there currently? No. A lot of the giant advertisers are used to working as things were in the past. They haven’t quite figured out exactly what the real opportunities are. But there are many. I’m very excited about virtual product placement integration and how we can weave those sorts of things in, get user-specific experiences and extremely targeted advertising over the next couple of years and how we on the independent side can utilize that to get films funded and produced before we even go into production.”
On managing the deliverables across different platforms, Kirkpatrick noted: “Every single platform partner has their particular flavor, and they like it a very specific way, and they have their internal communication style about describing the same things. There’s a bit of a learning curve, and it does take some time and financial investment up front to place these things. Especially on the independent side, you need to do some cost/benefit to figure out which platforms are worth it and which ones aren’t, and it’s not always the best strategy to go with everyone, everywhere, all at once. It is sometimes smarter to take a step back for those specific reasons and say, we’re going to focus on these platforms and these channels and these outlets rather than go everywhere.”
The conversation then moved to data and managing the disparate methods used by operators. “We have somebody internally that on a weekly basis takes all the different data sources and brings them together,” Wiscombe said. “We have a consistent way of looking at it. It’s taken a decent amount of time to get there and understand what we can get and how it might be beneficial. We want to understand which titles perform better on which channels and which platforms. It’s not always easy to see that, but we felt that getting it into a consistent format for our purposes has been helpful.”
As for the challenges for TV movies in FAST, Kirkpatrick noted that some films age better than others: “We try to prioritize evergreen content. When it comes to our Christmas movies, we have to be a little more creative in how we do that. There’s the Christmas in July stunts, which sometimes work. The idea of doing more slates or pop-ups is where the interest lies; how can you take these products and maybe play in the space but do something slightly different from having it all year round.”
Wiscombe added: “FAST is a lean-back experience. Many times, it’s on in the background, which might lend itself to shorter-form or content where the viewers don’t feel they have to be invested in watching till the end. There are opportunities for TV movies, especially as FAST continues to get discovered and more watched and maybe down the road replaces some traditional broadcast, but you’ve got to keep it fresh and interesting.”
Both panelists see the opportunity for originals in the FAST arena. “Once you have a targeted audience, a vertical setup and metrics, and you know what the slots are worth, you can start to program to it,” Kirkpatrick said. “If it’s a virtual product placement, if it’s a traditional advertising insert, you can quickly value how that’s going to work out and therefore work backward and just fill slots with new content.”
Wiscombe added, “I’m not sure right now is the time for original movies, but it will be there.”
The conversation wrapped with the panelists discussing the factors a company must consider before setting up its FAST channel.
“There’s the upfront cost of getting it up and running, which can be quite steep,” Kirkpatrick noted. “And to be competitive in a single channel, you need 100 hours minimum. With movies, you need 75 to 100 titles to be impactful. They don’t all have to be exceptional, but it’s competitive out there, so they have to be pretty damn good if you want to get meaningful placement. Once it’s up and running, you have to be important enough to return to for an audience and advertisers; once they go through your vertical and they’ve seen everything, they don’t come back. A couple of movies per week minimum is what you need to keep that fresh and interesting for clients and audiences. You’re talking about 10 to 15 new movies a month. Plus, the 100 you started with—year on year, that is a lot.”
Wiscombe agreed that upfront costs are a significant starting hurdle. “Apart from the monetary startup standpoint, it’s time-consuming. It takes some expertise to launch, monitor and manage a channel. You don’t want viewers to get bored if you’re always showing the same things. So it’s about ensuring you have enough content to start and enough opportunity to add new content.”