Orange Smarty CEO Karen Young talks to TV Real about the U.K.-based distributor’s curation expertise in the factual space, where true-crime programming reigns supreme.
Counting among the titles in your library a series that is centered on a real-life detective who inspired Dame Helen Mirren’s character in a BAFTA Award-winning drama seems as good a strategy as any to remain visible in factual’s crowded true-crime genre. The Real Prime Suspect, made by Monster Films for CBS Reality, “ticked a lot of boxes, not only offering the complexities of detail involved in a major crime investigation, but also unprecedented access and key talent that added true authenticity,” according to Young, who has witnessed the unmistakable rise of true crime’s popularity.
Catching a Killer, made for Channel 4 by True Vision, “is another example of a series that is really doing well in this area,” says Young. A docuseries in which each feature film-length episode is a hunt for a murderer in real time—that goes behind the scenes both with the detectives on the case and the victim’s family—does sound like the type of title that isn’t likely to get washed away in the deluge of true-crime content in what Young views as a “market close to saturation.”
As the aforementioned titles suggest, Orange Smarty remains positioned to thrive. As a self-described “factual specialist,” the company has developed an expertise in categories across the genre. Key to the U.K.-based distributor’s success, with its vast array of programs, is its tactful curation that sees the cream of the content crop populating its portfolio, standing out from the swell of worthy competition. “Each title is different from the rest and is supported with an individual targeted and focused approach to sales ensuring they don’t get lost,” says Young.
Alongside curation, building productive partnerships are also proving vital at Orange Smarty, which is constantly looking for innovative new ways of working and raising funds for projects. In the span of six months, the company invested in more than twice as many projects, with even more in the pipeline. The company also boasts a considerable amount of experience in bringing additional backing to a project through both co-productions and presales. But there is a caveat: “With the distribution landscape rapidly changing—meaning more risk sitting in the laps of the production companies and distributors—the focus is shifting, and establishing an early dialogue that nurtures trust and effective, quick decision-making at a development stage is paramount.”
Two years ago, Orange Smarty launched a formats division that’s headed up by Lynn Lugsden, formerly of Tiger Aspect and Endemol, in an effort to maximize sales and bring the best new formats to the market. This expansion was an answer to certain changes in the industry, as territories in non-English-language countries began placing a greater focus on commissioning from within in lieu of more acquisitions from abroad.
“The impact these changes will have on distribution is uncertain. However, what is certain is that good ideas will always be needed, and the formats business is simply the sharing of great ideas,” says Young. Among the good ideas in Orange Smarty’s catalog is its pilgrimage travelogue series, which includes Pilgrimage: The Road to Santiago and Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome. The company always believed in its potential for finished-program sales, and while it did not produce it to be sold as a format, it did foresee the possible opportunity.
“From a structural point of view, it definitely contained format beats that could be replicated but also presented us with a unique format, which not only gives the viewer a physical travelogue, but also a spiritual journey presented in a non-denominational way,” Young says of Pilgrimage. “Throughout the journey, the contributors were examining and questioning many aspects of life that we can all relate to. Consequently, this has proven to be a very interesting format for a number of international producers with options in the pipeline.”
Orange Smarty’s library is stacked with factual titles from history and natural history to science and true crime as well as lifestyle and the arts, with programs like Pilgrimage ripe for local adaptations. “Our content is carefully curated and represents a portfolio of quality programming from highly regarded and award-winning production companies,” says Young.