US CABLE: Nick Hamm, US-based director of Greenroom Entertainment, tells C21 why the broadcast network model is broken and what cable channels are doing differently. Nico Franks reports.
Nick Hamm must feel like he’s been talking to a brick wall recently. Back in 2009, the director of London-based multi-platform content studio Greenroom Entertainment said traditional broadcasters would quickly have to reorganise the way they produce and distribute content in the face of technological change.
Three years later, and with a role as head of scripted content at LA prodco Momentum Entertainment, part of McCann Worldgroup, added to his list of responsibilities, Hamm stands firm on the subject. He sees no sign of US networks having changed their business model since then. Appointment TV is now “over,” he says, before declaring that the model for network television remains “utterly broken.”
“Revenues are down. Eyeballs are down. Network content is, frankly, not good enough a lot of the time. And the model doesn’t work for the creative community, the advertising community or the viewers,” Hamm argues.
Cable TV, on the other hand, is experiencing what Hamm calls a “renaissance” at the moment, producing “an explosion” of adult-orientated, complex and interesting shows. With channel-defining shows such as Burn Notice on USA Network, Mad Men on AMC and Homeland on Showtime, there’s never been a better time for original scripted content on cable.
A distinctive, original show can do wonders for a channel’s branding and reputation, so it comes as no surprise to find US satellite platform DirecTV producing its own scripted series for the first time – a show with Hamm, who made his name as a director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, at the helm.
As executive producer of Rogue, the new drama series for DirecTV’s Audience Network, Hamm hopes to tap in to what he identifies as the adult audience’s desire for bite-size series with story arcs that run over 10 episodes.
And as a coproduction between Greenroom, Entertainment One, Canadian pay channels Movie Central and The Movie Network, as well as the US satcaster, Rogue represents a growing trend for coproductions on cable. It’s a model Hamm is keen to replicate, because it mirrors the experimentalism of independent film production and allows the “creative composition” of the people involved to be much more diverse.
Filmed in Canada and set to air in 2013, the show stars British actress Thandie Newton (Crash, Mission Impossible 2) as an undercover cop who has a dysfunctional, sexually toxic relationship with an organised crime boss.
But Hamm’s view of the broadcast network model also has repercussions for cable channels. If people are turning off their televisions in favour of other devices, game consoles or the internet, that causes a problem for everyone in the TV industry, full stop.
And Hamm doesn’t take the changes currently occurring in viewing habits lightly, comparing the scale of change in the way content is distributed and watched today to that of the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century. “We are in a period where it is unequivocal that technology has changed the way we look at and receive content,” he says.
Hamm believes that because of the trend for under-25s to watch TV through their computers, future changes will be even more radical. As generations age, the traditional TV platform risks being left behind, or “withering on the vine like the music industry,” as Hamm puts it.
Looking to embrace these changes, Hamm aims to distribute to as many different devices as possible, with Greenroom focusing on producing multi-platform content there in order to maximise viewing figures and potential revenue.
People will always be attracted to interesting content. It’s often said that this tends to appear on cable, because these channels can afford to be brave and push the creative envelope in ways broadcast never can.
Furthermore, Hamm compares the cable industry of today with the independent film industry over the past 25 years, particularly in terms of the way shows are financed and the rights deals being offered to producers.
This is because the advance that cable channels make to filmmakers is part equity and part licence fee, just like deals previously done in independent film, Hamm says. As a result, not having to “surrender ownership of your product” makes for a much more liberating creative process overall, he claims.
Also on the horizon for Greenroom is a 10x10′ online thriller series called The Seeker, which according to Hamm is a “cross between [Jason] Bourne and 24″ and is “probably” being made with Warner Bros. After originating the show online, the strategy will be to migrate the show to other platforms, TV included.
Today, it’s a model that still appears alternative. However, if Hamm’s predictions about the content industry ring true, it’s a model that will become more and more widespread – not out of choice but out of necessity.