TBI Weekly: Six takeaways from World Congress of Science & Factual Producers

Lilla Hurst

It has been a busy week for UK-based events, as producers, creatives and execs working across all genres jetted in for Content London, Tellycast Digital Forum and World Congress of Science & Factual Producers.

The latter event, which has been taking place in the Scottish city of Glasgow over the past four days, was marking its 30th anniversary and welcomed almost 700 members from 27 countries, with 37% of attendees being first-timers.

The factual-skewing conference was in person for the first time in three years and chat around coproductions, ramifications of a potential recession, the increasing interest in history programming and unexpected revenues from FAST – and where these linear channels go next – all sparked deep discussion. Lilla Hurst, global head of acquisitions & partnerships at Blue Ant International, was on hand for TBI to provide her key takeaways.

Dominant ‘R’ words

Recession, Reductions, Restructuring, Restrictions: these words have all been hanging in the air this week. However, the business acuity and spirit of collaboration we saw during sessions and private meetings during Congress suggests that the effects of a global recession will be short-lived in the TV space. Though budget cuts, hiring freezes, staffing reductions and limited greenlights are dominating the discussion, the industry is poised to keep moving forward. Over the pandemic, despite production lockdowns and seismic shifts in viewing habits, we all became more innovative than ever at finding creative ways to work together to get projects made and to find audiences. Our collective skill set is fine-tuned to working around obstacles and the appetite for new factual content is stronger than ever.

Co-pros are the way to go

In order to stretch budgets further, channels and platforms are more open than ever to partnering. It’s more expensive to produce content, so combining resources is a mutually-beneficial route. At Blue Ant International [which acquired Hurst & Ben Barrett’s Drive in June], we’ve been leaning into this strategy for some time. Our international executive team is hard-wired to orchestrate co-production deals that pull together international partners to finance creative projects. Since we are part of Blue Ant Media that has three separate business units including global channels, production, distribution, we are able to look for ways to collaborate across different segments of our company, which is a major advantage for third party partnerships.

Black West

Diverse stories lead the charge

World Congress’s What’s The Buzz session always provides a great pulse check on what kinds of stories are gaining momentum in the factual space. This year we saw a continued interest in storytelling from different perspectives, in particular exploring historically underrepresented topics like neurodiversity, sexuality and religion.

M&A fuelling the rumour mill

At every coffee break, it’s a corporate guessing game – which companies are going to merge? Which companies will be acquired? It’s guaranteed there will be a steady stream of corporate consolidation that will ultimately change the entertainment landscape moving forward.

AVOD/FAST revenues & what’s next

Producers are finding new life for content in AVOD and FAST channels. On the content side, buyer demand for FAST programming remains strong with platforms looking to acquire quality content that will keep audiences engaged. But FAST is no longer a place to just monetize legacy content. There is an expectation that launches of exclusive world premieres and can’t-miss tentpole series and documentaries will offer audiences an incentive to keep these platforms top of mind. Our parent company, Blue Ant Media, is a leader in the FAST space and now owns and operates several FAST channels, giving our global distribution team built-in knowledge of what these platforms are looking for and how to package content.

History is new again

Audiences around the world are hungry for more diverse storytelling and the history category has incredible potential to flourish with new perspectives. We’re seeing iconic moments in history being re-told from previously unheard and under-represented voices. Flipping the narrative and nurturing voices that challenge the age-old accounts of key moments in our past is an incredible opportunity to create modern, fresh and inclusive history series and documentaries. A great example is Black West, a documentary distributed by Blue Ant International, that explores the widely unacknowledged truth that in 1875, one in four American cowboys was Black and attempts to restore them to their rightful place in history using archives and first-hand historical accounts.

Lilla Hurst is global head of acquisitions & partnerships at Blue Ant International. Prior to this, she co-founded Drive Media Rights with Ben Barrett. The company was acquired by Blue Ant in June.

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