Could ‘Last Dance’ be a Template For Creating Content in the COVID Era?

Even as Hollywood cautiously starts to open back up, studios and publishers are forced to reckon with a new reality – resuming production doesn’t mean a return to the way things were, at least not for the foreseeable future. And while content void created by the pandemic looms large over the industry, one way forward could include an increased use of archival footage to create compelling new content. 

Brian Cross, partner and executive VP of solution architecture, KlarisIP

Brian Cross, partner and executive VP of solution architecture, KlarisIP (Image credit: Klaris)

ESPN's The Last Dance provided a rare water cooler moment in the digital age. The ratings made it the most viewed documentary in ESPN history. The show averaged a prime-time level 6 million viewers per episode. Additionally, the documentary provided endless conversational and editorial fodder throughout the Internet after its airing.

The success of The Last Dance is not surprising given that audiences had tired endless COVID-19 coverage and were desperate for sports. But what may be truly surprising is that ESPN, Netflix and the NBA were able to collaborate and produce a resoundingly successful piece of content blending archival footage and present-day interviews. 

Media organizations leveraging their archives is not a new concept. In fact, most media companies already have this paradigm built into their content production models. Whether through documentaries, retrospectives or re-airings/republishings, archival content is already positioned to audiences for consumption.

Despite the existing use of archival content, most organizations are sitting on vast troves of unused content and media. What often ends up being aired or published is a fraction of what is actually produced. With tremendous amounts of unused footage, photography, and authored text, content studios and publishers store this ‘cutting-room-floor’ media more out of guilt than necessity, often with little intention of revisiting what was not used. 

One of the biggest obstacles is getting access to this content. Often the unused media that makes up a piece of content is either hastily archived into a system or filed away on a server, making it time consuming and prohibitively difficult to find. 

Intellectual property rights also present an obstacle for organizations. Media organizations often only secure the usage rights for the content they end up airing or publishing. Additionally, content publishers purchase “one-time rights” or “limited rights,” which means they can only run the content in narrow windows of time or distribution settings. Therefore, the rights of unused content would need to be analyzed and potentially re-negotiated to allow for expanded usage.

And some media content is not used for a reason, often because it is low quality. The process of going through the content and assessing whether the media meets the quality guidelines can be a time intensive and prohibitively expensive exercise.

Despite the obstacles, there are solutions to the access, rights and quality challenges. To meet these challenges, studios and publishers will need to put the resources and technology forward to address them.

Studios and publishers will need to lean on ‘archivists’ or ‘librarian’ roles. These teams will become increasingly important to helping facilitate the discovery of these content libraries. Often these teams are tasked with filing away and cataloging the used and unused content, giving them intimate knowledge of how to find and surface these archives. For organizations that don’t have archivist roles, the current slowdown of production provides an opportunity to build up this capability. Once content is surfaced, it will be critical that the rights are analyzed by the appropriate legal resources. This will ensure the archives can be reused without running into any legal risks.  

Organizations will also need to invest in the proper technology to ensure they are efficiently managing their archives. Through the use of MAM (Media Asset Management) systems and DAM (Digital Asset Management) systems, organizations can quickly search against their archives to see what is available. Therefore, improving the existing technologies and making continued investments around the capabilities and data of these systems is critical to avoiding wasted time and money.  

Replicating the success of The Last Dance is easier said than done, but with limited or restricted options to creating new work, leveraging archives may be one of the few ways to create a pipeline of new content. As today's content studios and publishers struggle to create new works in the age of social distancing, repurposing archives could be the new paradigm for 2020 and even 2021.  If media companies address these challenges with the right solutions, there may be a chance that “The Last Dance” content model is the winning content formula for the next year.

KlarisIP is a boutique consulting and managed services firm focusing on IP rights & royalties, digital asset management and metadata.

Brian Cross