RS West ’16: Streaming execs urge digital “ecosystems”

Senior execs weighed in on current and future opportunities in the digital space, and encouraged thinking about platforms as experiences.
June 9, 2016

SANTA MONICA – A quintet of senior execs from across the streaming content spectrum convened at the “Full Stream Ahead” session at Realscreen West in Santa Monica on  June 8, weighing in on current and future opportunities in the digital space.

The panel session – moderated by Bruce David Klein, president and executive producer of Atlas Media Corp – featured Sam Barcroft, CEO of Barcroft Media; Ben Relles, head of comedy and unscripted programming for YouTube Originals; Rabih Gholam, president of non-scripted TV at Studio71; Ashley Kaplan, head of content at Fullscreen; and Shauna Phelan, head of development and production at AwesomenessTV.

The digital media industry, according to Klein, currently sees the average consumer viewing more than two hours of content on average per day – up from 39 minutes in 2011 – and uploading more than 300 hours of content to YouTube per minute, a vast increase from 35 hours per minute.

But still, one of the biggest concerns from content creators and distributors selling to broadcasting networks remains the fear of transforming TV dollars into Internet pennies.

Though that may be the case for the majority of digital content, YouTube Red – the Google-owned platform’s SVOD service – is looking to produce some unscripted projects with a budget similar to cable television while still maintaining an intimate relationship with its audience.

“We are looking at budgets comparable to cable TV in a lot of cases and just trying figure out how we do that so the programming doesn’t feel like YouTube is making TV shows,” Relles stated. “We want to keep it participatory and use 360-degree and keep it interactive and organic so it feels like it should have a home on YouTube.”

AwesomenessTV’s Phelan, meanwhile, said that the multi-platform media company looks to generate a compelling story with interesting characters while aligning the content with a bigger budget feel that doesn’t necessarily use a bigger budget.

“The other thing I think about is – this is specific to digital audience – there’s so much content out there and it’s so easy for someone to watch on their mobile and click away, so how do you hook someone quickly?” she said. “Jump right in and figure out how you’re going to connect with audiences immediately, because the attention span isn’t really there to have that slow burn.”

Fullscreen’s Kaplan doled out advice to producers attempting to pitch to the digital market. Generation Z is not always satisfied by sitting back and having a passive experience, she said, adding that they would rather engage with the content.

“They want to feel like it’s theirs and they want to share it with their community,” she said. “How can we think about content more like an ecosystem? Platforms aren’t mutually exclusive – it’s an experience rather than a linear story.”

Content producers must think differently when creating for the digital space, and the best way to re-imagine that series or branded content is through trial and error, said Barcroft Media’s Sam Barcroft.

“Most of our TV networks are playing to people who are 30 to 60, but they’re totally different audiences,” he said. “If we try something on YouTube and in we turn it into a TV series, it’s a pretty different product when it airs on TV from when it was a digital short video.”

An area in which producers can monetize their efforts in the digital space is by finding that “diamond in the rough” online influencer and reinventing them into traditional linear television talent.

But taking a YouTube influencer and putting them on a hit cable TV series, Barcroft said, is akin to a television drama star attempting to break out into blockbuster Hollywood films – it’s a rare accomplishment.

“As a television producer, we’ve run talent sweeps to find people that we can take from YouTube into TV because TV desperately needs new talent right now,” he continued. “But there’s this great big pool of talent that nobody above a certain age has ever heard of and they’re doing great things.”

(Photo by Nelson Blanton)

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