Produced By Conference: The New Networks

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Blogging from L.A., Halifax-based producer Marc Almon, attending the Produced By Conference in L.A. last weekend with the support of Film Nova Scotia, shares trends and insights from the conference for producers.

Read Marc’s first, second and third installments.

I attended a panel today that focused on developing content for major web studios.  Entitled The New Networks: The Future of Original Programming, the panel featured an incredible line-up of speakers, including Allen DeBevoise (CEO, Machinima.com), Andy Forssell (Senior Vice President of Content, Hulu), Robert Kyncl (Global Head of Partnerships, Google/YouTube), and Roy Price (Director, Amazon Studios).

Allan DeBevoise

DeBevoise spoke first, and he described the current production landscape as being on the brink of a revolutionary “Third Wave of programming.”  The First Wave was brought about by conventional television, the Second Wave was the result of the adoption of cable, while a Third Wave is building due to the explosion of internet platforms.  Machinima.com is one of the most vibrant of these platforms, with a remarkable 1.6 billion views per month and over 168 million monthly users.

Hulu, which launched as a service offering ad-supported on-demand video streaming, is making major efforts to offer more than “last night’s TV”.  Experimenting with original programming, Forssell said the focus was on working with promising “junior talent” with “novel ideas.”

Amazon Studios has a unique model whereby writers are able to upload their scripts and have users comment on them.  Amazon execs often option

Roy Price

the best-reviewed scripts and advance development money.  “We see the difference between creators and customers as shrinking,” declares Price.  Just as Amazon has allowed authors to self-publish and realize immediate returns and feedback on their work, Amazon Studios is allowing television and movie writers to do the same with the development process.

When asked what the networks are looking for, DeBevoise was very clear in what Machinima needs: male-centric programming targeting the 18 to 34 demographic.  A good starting point: “What is this audience looking at on X-Box Live?”  From his perspective, Irreverent comedy, horror and action are by far the most popular genres.

DeBevoise stressed that they’re looking for ideas that fit their audience and are told by a “filmmaker” – someone with vision and expertise.  “Can they execute?” is a critical question.  DeBevoise noted Machinima is primarily looking for series that can be developed into a franchise.  Part of the strategy to developing a franchise is through running time: ideally the production should be nine ten-minute episodes that can be pieced together into a 90-minute feature film.  This allows the series to reach into other platforms and markets.

Andy Forssell

As for Hulu, “We have a lot of latitude… we don’t have a schedule to fill,” notes Forssell.  “We’re looking for a certain spark, a certain idea” that is told by “a specific voice.”  Forssell pointed out Battleground as an example of a series Hulu supported and committed to raising a high profile for.  “We like to hear that it [a series concept] doesn’t fit at another place.”

When it comes to what Amazon Studios wants, the motto is “let’s go right to the people.”  Price cited as an example Amazon’s new feature ‘Premise Wars’, where users compare two premises side-by-side and vote on their favorites.  The story concepts that demonstrate the most popular appeal rise to the top of the voting pile.

To incubate a concept for a series, DeBevoise recommends making a short film.  “Just start doing it.”  He listed Kevin Tancharoen’s Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Neill Blomkamp’s Alive in Joberg as examples of filmmakers making a short film and using it to launch a much larger project, as well as their careers.  “We can’t afford to develop scripts” at an early stage.  “We’ve got to see something.”

Technology has improved so much, and production costs so little, that it is much easier to move forward with an idea.  DeBevoise believes “People are sick of the process” of spending years in development.

From YouTube’s perspective, Kyncl was pleased to note that revenue sharing with content creators has doubled every year for the last four years.  The business model is clearly

Robert Kyncl

improving.  As well, YouTube is beginning to invest in specific companies to assist them in launching new channels and content.  “If there are areas with large, underserved audiences, we invest heavily in those areas.”  One of those investments was a recent $35 million infusion of support in Machinima last month.  “We’re showing we’re serious about content,” states Kyncl.

Offering helpful advice to those starting out in building their own channels, Kyncl stressed how important it is for content creators to not just focus on the number of views, but also on the viewership hours, or watch time length.  Are viewers sticking around to watch all or most of your video is a vital question.  Also critical is getting people to subscribe to your channel.  This way subscribers “can be notified” of the latest video, which is an immensely powerful tool for spreading the word about content.

All of the panelists agreed that it’s important for creators to make a living making content.  “Money should go above the line as much as possible,” believes Forssell.  With the cost of production coming down and revenue increasing, opportunities to create great work exclusively for online consumption are growing.

“Can we make content creators think like entrepreneurs?” asked Forssell.

Making this activity viable for more and more content creators holds the key to ensuring the Third Wave of programming continues to rise, changing not only livelihoods, but also the world of entertainment itself.

Photos courtesy producedybconference.com

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