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Viewpoints from the frontline of content.

Catching the new creatives

By Duane Jones 01-04-2019

The explosive emergence of social media channels and online platforms has undoubtedly turned the world of TV and radio upside down. The new generation of talent is now able to reach its target audiences instantly and on its own terms. The coveted title of ‘YouTuber’ is far more appealing and accessible than trying to make it as a TV presenter and the role of Spotify playlist curator offers an enticing alternative to the red tape of radio stations.

Social media stars’ entrepreneurial mindset has enabled them to create their own lane. In YouTube, Instagram and Spotify they have harnessed a medium with unlimited global reach and are attracting subscribers, followers and views that rival the premiere ratings of terrestrial TV. With the freedom, financial opportunities and creative control that these platforms offer, you can understand why the new generation of talent and creators has little interest in TV and radio.

So where does this leave producers, commissioners and the future of TV and radio? How can they possibly compete?

For years the competition has been between channels, but now there is a much greater beast to contend with. Gone are the days when talent was banging on their doors for a chance to get on TV. It’s now imperative that commissioners start doing the pitching to bring the hoards of exciting and talented online creators to TV. The power has shifted and it’s time for decision makers to accept that and start evolving.

As well as TV, online has always been of paramount importance for us at Renowned Films. Since the very beginning we have recognised the quality and vision of talent working in this space and have made it our mission to bridge the gap between TV and online platforms. So far we’ve had series commissioned with F2 football freestylers and online comedy talent such as Judy Love and Eddie Kadi in Pranksterz for ITV2 – which has also just been commissioned for a 10-part series in the US.

Of course, YouTube is a vast space and its accessibility to everyone is both a blessing and a curse. You can find yourself watching a million versions of the same saturated content. It’s hard to avoid the stale podcast formats, countless tutorials and extensive post-match analysis that seem to dominate the space and it sometimes feels like finding an original and fresh perspective can be like searching for a needle in a haystack. But they are most certainly there, and being connected and understanding youth culture will often lead you to them.

The Pengest Munch initially began with a fast-growing following amongst the ‘urban’ youth audience, who connected with its star and presenter, Elijah, and also the backdrop to the series: the local chicken shop. It was accessible and relatable and the dry humour and parody of often-uptight restaurant reviews made it very shareable content amongst the youth audience. It soon gained a wider following amongst a much more mainstream (and noticeably middle class) audience.

We knew early on Elijah and his collaborators had a lot to bring to the television table, so we started working with them on a format that would be an extension of the brand he was already building. Channel 4 commissioned Peng Life last year, and the first season has undoubtedly introduced Elijah to a whole new audience whilst maintaining his core loyal audience.

In a sea of online mediocrity, these are the creative ideas that connect, those that are innovative and original, and it is important that the stars behind these formats have the opportunity to bring their ideas to the TV space in order for TV to continue to compete.

Of course, it is not necessarily an easy sell to bring YouTube creators to TV. YouTubers are in a position of full control and ownership of their content and decisions. They set their own deadlines and budgets, depending on what is suitable for them at a given moment. And once they gain a loyal fan base, they are able to reach an audience that can dwarf those of TV – instantaneously and without answering to anybody.

But there is still a lot to gain from making that move into TV – namely a huge untapped audience of people who aren’t necessarily YouTube fans. It is important to help them understand that it would be short-sighted not to use opportunities outside of the online space. As much as they may view working with commissioners and networks as limiting their creative control and ownership, they need to understand these are opportunities and partnerships which could result in long-term success and financial stability outside of the incredibly fast and sometimes fickle demand and consumption of online content.

There is so much talent and incredible creative content being cultivated online and it is important that production companies and networks don’t get left behind. They have to realise the stagnant procedures and processes currently in place must evolve for TV to hold any appeal for the next generation of creators.

today's correspondent

Duane Jones Co-founder and commercial director Renowned Films

Duane founded London-based Renowned Films in 2013 with Tim Withers and Max Welch. The company sold a stake to Channel 4 in 2015 as part of the broadcaster’s growth fund initiative.

Prior to working in television, he was headhunted by the BBC to spearhead the launch of BBC Radio 1Xtra in 2002 and has spent the past 14 years working across the broadcast industries. Duane was with BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra for 12 years where he won a Sony Gold Award. He has since produced high-profile programming for the BBC, MTV and 5 Live on digital and broadcast platforms.