With digital platforms appearing to be in a constant state of change, this year’s Factual Festival brought together a panel of expert speakers who have been successful at breaking into and holding ground in the digital market. Ulla Streib of Tin Roof, Barcroft Studios’ Alex Morris and James Stafford of Studio71 UK spoke to Red Bull Media House’s Adam Gee to discuss adapting business models and producing factual programming successfully in a turbulent market.
Ulla Streib’s Tin Roof have tackled the SVOD market by establishing specific development teams, explaining that “you do not come [to SVODs] with an idea, you come with a fully developed project that can be commissioned in the room more or less.” After playing a clip of her company’s Netflix production Creative Brain, Streib was pushed on how much it typically costs to produce a Netflix sizzle, a question which elicited laughter in a room of producers who are familiar with Netflix’s covert operations “it would cost up to tens and thousands, depending on what you’re doing and where you’re going.”
Streib pointed to alternative routes into the SVOD market, her most recent commission came through National Geographic and will be streaming on Disney+. She highlighted the importance of diverse business models, emphasising “you can’t do production with SVODs exclusively.” Continuing to say “It is moving so fast, it is changing so fast in what the SVODs will expect, you can’t quite predict ahead.” However, she praised the swiftness in which SVODs approach the commissioning process “we pitched to them at the beginning of June, production started in October with a seven-part series” a speed and velocity which is “unheard of in the UK market.”
Her advice to others is that being prepared, and arriving with all bases covered was the key to SVOD success “As long as you come with a fully formed idea that works, has the access and if you know how you want to tell that story and how you can tell that story, the commissioning can happen very fast.”
James Stafford, CEO of Studio71, a company he defines as an ‘Indie/talent management business’ echoed concerns of the digital industry’s variability, “the targets always seem to be moving for us and so it’s difficult for us to make investment decisions based on this.” Using a recent project as an example, he highlighted the hurdles faced when selling UK content to an international market “These companies are global, we pitched to them and they asked where is Norwich? The characters cannot be based in Norwich – no regional accents, London is the only regional accent we’ll consider.”
He pointed to YouTube as the best place in terms of rates and monetisation for short-form content and that increasingly “there is a market for getting people to watch your content for a long time, not necessarily to like it or do anything about it.” However, there is also an increased opportunity to work more with brands who want “longer-form content that has a creative appeal and is compelling as content in the first position.”
Alex Morris of Barcroft Studios explained that what underpins their business model is “around creating IP and creative concepts that we can monetise with multiple revenue streams.” He used an example of working with Netlfix on their production Amazing Interiors where short-form digital content can be used as a springboard to longer-form content, “I could identify it as a trend through how these videos were shared on social media, we could take content already filmed and thus produce a tape for Netflix.” This allowed Barcroft to subsidise development for the Netflix programme through selling advertisement against his content on AVOD platforms.
With Barcroft’s audience reaching a billion a month, the importance is to create content which works across different platforms “A Snapchat show will look different to how it does on YouTube even though the source content is exactly the same, we just reformat it for younger audiences.” He pins the company’s success on Snapchat down to their youth-skewing content which he described as “authentic, real people telling their truth, which has worked incredibly well with young audiences.” To combat the fear-invoking algorithm which can change overnight across digital platforms he suggests to not rely on a single platform, telling the audience “what is working for us is having a nice portfolio…the inevitable dips and peaks are counterbalanced by having multiple distributions.” His advice for working with digital platforms was to not be afraid to experiment “try out different things, try different styles, and apply a test-and-learn policy to see how things work.’