Thinking Outside the Cable Box: Selling Content to New Platforms

By Wes Dening, the senior vice president of development and programming at Eureka Productions 

No one can predict what the future holds for TV, but one thing’s for certain: The days of “tuning in” are pretty much in decline. More people are streaming television shows than ever before, with nearly 60 percent of Americans using some form of streaming service, according to the CNBC All-American Economic Survey. Just look to Disney Plus, the newly unveiled streaming service that expects to gain up to in 90 million subscribers in only five years.

Disney Plus hopes to take a chunk out of Netflix’s audience, but for now, the reigning streaming king is Netflix. Slightly more than 50 percent of streamers report using Netflix. Roughly one-third subscribe to Amazon Prime, while 14 percent make a habit of watching Hulu. If we look at mobile alone, Netflix drops to second position with 38.4 million U.S. users — almost half the audience of YouTube, which has 69 million users.

Producers must understand how audiences will watch their content: On a mobile device? On a computer? Through a gaming console? The platforms producers will pitch to are obsessed with this data, so producers must be, too. Platforms are looking for more and more niche content that will reach distinct audiences who engage in predictable viewing behavior.

Can you say that you know how your content might perform on one platform versus another? In order to rise about the competition, tailor your creative and your pitch to a specific platform for your best shot at a pick up.

 

Positioning Content for Success

I’ve spent the entirety of my career pitching networks, and I’ve learned that understanding their programming is key. With streaming platforms, there’s an added piece: Each one has its own mandate and content strategy.

When I take a pitch to a new platform, I think about the best way to adapt the creative to the capabilities of the platform. Take Netflix: Typically, it releases content in one swoop, so consider binge-ability when going to this platform. Facebook Watch, on the other hand, releases episodically, influencing its inclination for creative.

The good news is that everyone is hungry for content. Whether you’re developing scripted or unscripted content, all the major players are buying, and the following should help prepare you for the game:

 

Consume

If you’re serious about selling content, watch as much as you possibly can on these platforms — and follow every announcement concerning their programming. If, for example, you’re developing a cooking competition show, check out the food shows on Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, etc. Read the releases from the networks. Then, ask yourself how your idea stands out.

Like most people, I consume a lot of streaming content on Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook. I also watch Hulu, YouTube, and Snapchat. By their content alone, you can get a picture of each platform’s target audience and which platforms will likely buy your type of show.

It’s also vital to read industry trades, which often describe what networks and platforms are currently commissioning. The shows and the way they’re being released will give some insights into not only the target audience, but also the platform’s strategy.

 

Partner

Amazon isn’t going to fork over millions of dollars to make your big idea — at least without an extensive CV of hit shows in your back pocket. If you’re unproven, you’ll want to partner with an established production company, develop the idea with its team, and take it in together.

Even newer platforms want trusted hands at the helm. Having a production company partnering with you will alleviate concerns that you can deliver on the show. It also can provide the overhead, legal, and business affairs necessary to get the idea into production. You will, unfortunately, likely give up some of your ownership. But a share of something is better than all of nothing.

Make a list of 10 production companies already making shows for the platform you are targeting, and then aggressively go after setting a meeting with each to pitch your idea.

While you’re juggling production partnerships, it’s also important to consider the talent attached to content. Talent partnerships are key as they give the show a platform to help find an audience and break through the clutter.

Make sure your talent suits your platform. Mike Rowe works for an older, more mature audience on Facebook, but would he bring an audience to Snapchat? Probably not. Would Logan Paul bring his young viewers to Netflix? Maybe, but it doesn’t feel like a slam dunk.

 

Package with the platform in mind

Packaging is one of the biggest challenges in production. You always want to bring the best possible team to a show, both in front of and behind the camera. If you’re a newbie, this isn’t easy to do. You need connections, which is why partnerships play such a critical role. For me, if someone has limited experience but can bring some A-list or B-list on-screen talent to the show, I’m in. After all, companies invest millions of dollars each year to find great talent.

You want to have as many pieces in place as possible to make the pitch undeniable: Have your talent, have your format, and be able to communicate why it works for the platform.

For example, I recently pitched Facebook Watch a new show: “Pick, Flip & Drive” — its first-ever car series. Everything from the pitch to the creative is tailored for Facebook Watch, including its episodic format. The unique hook was how the show incorporated Facebook Marketplace. I had signed up all the talent — a family based in Montana who had the skills to buy and flip the cars. Then, at the end of each episode, the car that was flipped would be listed on the Marketplace, and anyone watching the show could put in an offer to keep it.

With so much good content out there, it really comes down to why a platform should choose you over all the other creators. Your show needs to be so good that people can’t help but watch — in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

Wes Dening is the senior vice president of development and programming at Eureka Productions. Wes is an award-winning producer and content creator with more than 15 years of on-screen and production experience and television series broadcasting in more than 55 countries. Wes has extensive experience selling content and growing businesses

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at Lynn@Cynopsis.com.

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