By Bo Stehmeier 15-07-2016
In the current TV market, ratings are skittish, buyers are cautious and budgets are stretched, but the overall feeling with unscripted programming seems to be that bigger is better – in terms of both budgets and content.
Channel programmers and buyers are on the hunt more than ever for a solution to future-proof and minimise risk for their business, so they are increasingly turning to distribution companies to bring opportunities to the table, whether that means financial, data-related or packaging.
A lack of resources when it comes to personnel and budgets means channels are feeling the pinch in access primetime and daytime. As a result, buyers and commissioners are on the look-out for series with a high repeat value that they can strip and stack in these slots.
This type of scheduling is especially important for channels that work closely with media agencies and need to offer larger-media-value deals. Pay TV channels are also keen to find this type of ‘appointment to view’ television as it gives them an increased audience that helps lift their primetime ratings.
Long-running series in access primetime are also a great way for pan-regional pay TV stations to deliver a high number of premier hours, which are often a condition of carriage. A successful, ratings-winning series with mass appeal can also help channels deliver value to local audiences pan-regionally.
At Red Arrow International, we have recognised this need in the market and provide a number of solutions, working with producers and broadcasters to deliver quality, wide-reaching, audience-winning series that cater for current needs.
A good example is science entertainment magazine series Galileo, which has been a hit for ProSieben in Germany for 15 years and is also proving to be attractive to global broadcasters. The show is a format that comes with a vast archive of more than 200,000 clips and has been produced in at least 30 countries. A new local production has just started airing in the Netherlands, and in Russia alone 1,000 episodes have been made. It’s compelling but ‘snackable’ factual content that works in a range of timeslots.
Another current issue, particularly topical with the launch of Viceland, is attracting millennials to linear TV. Also, and conversely, increasing the digital options for linear programming is an ongoing pressure point for broadcasters as viewers diverge. We face a huge opportunity to increase consolidated viewing figures and it’s an area where distribution companies can assist by providing content with cross-media and global appeal.
To fill this gap and offer broadcasters a commercial and creative solution, we are starting to take a new type of project to market that could be called ‘trans-factual’ – transmedia meets factual.
One example is a recent Galileo special in Germany called You Are Chancellor. It’s an interactive show where the audience votes to make decisions on what action they would take if they were in Angela Merkel’s shoes. Shot through multiple segments, the show follows the most voted outcome to the end. Viewers are also able to go online and play out alternative scenarios.
Not only does this type of factual content offer viewers a sense of authenticity that is on-point at the moment, it also delivers the much-needed water cooler discussion point that helps to elevate the profile of the overall channel brand. A new English-language version of this is currently in production to cover other countries and we are starting to discuss the potential for this kind of show with broadcasters.
Another area where we, as a distributor, are packaging and connecting producers and broadcasters is in big primetime factual. These slots are frequently filled with hybrid programming that often delivers straight drama, where the programme might not be factual but the audience feels it has had a factual viewing experience.
This self-coined sub-genre of ‘scriptural’ is part of Red Arrow International’s 2017 line-up and we are working on exciting projects with a range of partners, as well as looking for other similar original IP.
Hybrids and the merging of genres are currently on trend, as are social experiment formats – a genre in which we are very successful. Although social experiment shows are formatted, and often come through a channel’s entertainment department, they deliver a very factual story at their core. A format such as our global hit Married at First Sight obviously works well locally, but sales of the ready-mades, including the US version, are also strong as viewers follow the very personal journeys of these single people in search of love.
As a distributor at the coalface of broadcasters’ needs, we are in a position to advise producers on the best way to approach creating content that will deliver to audiences and also the network’s commercial requirements. This may sometimes mean going through less traditional channels, as entertainment departments are also looking for programming with factual sensibilities at its heart.
And as part of a large, commercial, free-to-air group, Red Arrow International has contacts in all departments with major broadcast partners throughout the world, and we also have gap financing available to invest in original new projects.
We are currently seeking original factual content in its early stages, hence our presence at Sunny Side of the Doc last month. As channels’ needs evolve, we have to adapt. It’s time for distributors to get in on the ground floor, and for producers to invite them in.