Realscreen Summit 2014 was a smashing success, at least for me. Why?
1. Location! Location!
This year Realscreen moved to the Washington Hilton, where there was plenty of seating space, and this made it relatively easy to carry on a comfortable meeting.
We used to call it “Real Scream” because there were so many glaring matches and even chair fights in the cramped public spaces. No more.
Congrats to the Realscreen team for managing a successful step up!
2. An Organized Market
The unscripted marketplace is now mature, and therefore well-organized.
There were years of mixed messages as the soul of Realscreen shifted from content-rich docs, strands and limited series to reality programs based on big, loud characters.
Now, producers by and large know what and how to pitch. And networks give more direct feedback.
It’s not an unruly stampede anymore. I’m revealing my Aussie family roots here, but it reminds me of a bustling woolshed, where producers give up their ideas, and networks classify them for development – or not!
And as I have noticed in the shearing shed, it’s not the sheep that have the leverage.
But aside from the reality TV boom, there were many networks, producers and foundations at Realscreen who made solid progress with their content-rich and even mission-dedicated projects.
3. ‘Research Nerds’ vs ‘Gut Instincts’
I produced a sold-out Master Class on how networks use audience research tools to evaluate concepts and track performance.
- My thesis is that the cost of development has become unsustainable.
- And that just like for Netflix and Amazon, online research tools will be increasingly used by channels and production companies to filter the buffet of concepts that are piled on the table.
The panelists were:
- Brad Dancer, SVP Program Planning & Research for Nat Geo Channels. He is a veteran of the Nat Geo operation.
- Brent Stinski, CEO of Media Predict, an online research platform that can almost instantly test program concepts. Media Predict enjoys a solid client base in the US, including Nat Geo, and also with channels and producers in the UK.
Nat Geo’s “Attention Business”
Brad runs a 4-person research department, which is very small team compared with NGC’s competitors.
He summarized his team’s role as:
- Advocate & voice for the Nat Geo Channel & Nat Geo Wild viewer.
- Provider of focus and discipline on who NGC & Wild are targeting.
- A service department for all areas of Programming, Marketing, PR, but also Finance, Ad Sales, Affiliate Sales and others.
- A potentially huge resource for production companies:
- “We can’t research a hit, but we can help make shows better!”
- “Get to know network research teams, and use their expertise!”
- Platform agnostic:
- “We’re in the attention business.”
- “We need to know what’s got people’s attention and what it means for our content.”
My general Takeaway from Brad’s presentation is that producers must work hard at getting access to the research that will focus their pitches and give them an edge.
A particularly dramatic Takeaway concerned show opens:
- Brad shared several minute-by-minute ratings charts that revealed an exodus of viewers during show opens involving complex graphics and titles sequences.
- The solution: “Go straight to the story!”
Brent described how Media Predict’s online panel outperforms network programming executives in predicting winners and losers amongst show concepts:
- If MP endorsed a concept, 83% premiered above or at average when the show aired.
- And without an endorsement, “92% premiered at or below average.”
- Media Predict is a powerful tool to help focus on potential winners and weed out concepts that don’t deserve further spending.
- Online research tools will become increasingly important for channels, producers and agents as they try to bring efficiencies to their workflows.
You can read more about Media Predict here.
NEW!…………………….SWEET SPOTS 2014………………………….NEW!
Production Cost Benchmarks for U.S. Factual Networks
- What do 30 US channels pay for programs?
- For docs? And reality?
- Is our commissioning team paying more or less than the competition?
- Do preferred producers earn a premium?
- Does my pitch fall in the budget sweet spot for my target network?
We interviewed dozens of executives and producers to create a unique source of proprietary information about network budgets for commissions and copro’s.
4. How Do Brits Do It?
- I enjoyed the panel on the ‘British invasion.’
- It is amazing how many UK companies and executives are successful in the US, and very few US unscripted companies succeed on the return journey.
- More on this fascinating topic soon!
- I used to hear: “I go hot and cold on my agent.” And “I don’t know if I can justify the expense.”
- This year the message was: “My agent set up lots and lots of meetings. It used to take us weeks to arrange our schedule. Now we devote more time to fine tuning the pitches.”
- As US channels become fully distributed, and in a landscape that is saturated with networks, growth comes from stealing viewers from other entertainment channels.
- Programmers are deserting their original niches and their brands are becoming fungible.
- The message of the commissioners at Realscreen was “Just bring us your best ideas, and we’ll tell you if they work.”
- But trouble is brewing downstream with the cable, telco and satellite providers who deliver the content to paying subscribers.
- Operators once provided their subscribers with a buffet of ‘unique and unduplicated’ niche channels that targeted different consumer passions.
- It’s a tough moment for the operators because their profits from video are under threat.
- And yet dozens of their formerly distinct channels are converging on the same ‘Reality/Big Character’ space, and more of them with scripted entertainment showing up as their signature content.
- My consulting practice has been in touch with a lot of operators recently, and believe me, they are not one bit happy about this.
- Is this a boom that will end in a you-know-what?
Asian Side of the Doc
Chengdu, China, March 18-21, 2014
Panel: Crowd-funding Platforms in Asia
Panel: 3D / IMAX/ BIG SCREENS for Docs
Cannes, April 5-6, 2014
Panel: How to Get the Funds: Co-pro’s and Foundations
Interview: Louis Vaudeville, CC&C Paris: The Apocalypse Franchise
AND, don’t miss Hot Docs in the Big TO.
April 24 – May 4, 2014
BTW, We just began to prepare with the Hot Docs team our hot-selling annual International Documentary Program Buyers’ Guide
Women in Film Summit
Pittsburgh PA, May 16-18
‘Documentary & Unscripted Networks Worldwide: What Do They Want?
What Do They Pay? What’s the Deal?’
Watch out for details