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NYC TV Week: Digital Talent Rises From Gaming, Social

New York – Content for digital short-form and long-form shows is increasingly coming from the gaming and social communities, with a growing list of content creators emerging from online sources like Instagram, Vine and similar sources, a panel of experts said at a Next TV Summit panel session Wednesday.

While online video sites like You Tube are still a major source to find talent, Maker Studios vice president of distribution and strategic partnership Kendra Johnson said during the Next TV session “The New Studios,” that her company is increasingly finding content creators trough other sources.

“Across our creative community we are active in discovering voices as they arise,” Johnson said during the discussion moderated by B&C deputy editor Mike Malone.

She added that Maker, which was purchased by the Walt Disney Co. last year, also casts from traditional sources – Maker is working with actor James Franco’s production company on a project as well as with alumni from Saturday Night Live and ABC sitcom Modern Family.

“Consumers are not consuming one type of content,” Johnson said.

New Form Digital, which recently signed a deal to provide six short-form digital series to Verizon Communications’ go90 mobile video service, also taps talent from several different sources, including You Tube. Senior vice president of development JC Cangilla said that typically New Form signs talent that already has a following on social media.

“We tend to respond to things people have put up and that have been tested,” Cangilla said.

The types of content being produced runs the gamut from horror and drama to comedy and reality shows, but another emerging genre and one that lends itself well to the digital platform is interactive content. At Interlude, a company that specializes in interactive digital content, president and chief operating officer Jim Spare said distributors are learning a lot from the gaming community.

Interlude adds interactive capabilities to programming allowing viewers to directly engage with shows, whether it is by answering questions or choosing specific camera shots and angles to actually determining which direction a particular story will go. Spare said the inclusion of interactivity drives deeper engagement with viewers – in one two-and-a-half minute short that allows the viewer to direct how the main character reacts to a potential home invasion, viewers spend an average of 7 minutes clicking on different outcomes.

“We’re finding that young audiences love the idea of being able to talk to a video and interact with a video,” Spare said. “It’s truly personal and it’s driving retention and engagement rates.”

While the interactive element seems to take some of the creative control out of the content creators’ hands, the panelists said that isn’t the case because the creator defines each scenario. And it provides them with information regarding what their viewers like to see.

“We’re finding a class of creator that loves the notion of enabling the experience,” Spare said.

That mountain of data also is valuable to advertisers.  

“This is very valuable to advertisers and brands trying to deliver a message,” Spare added. “There are incredible applications in testing and being able to test consumer reaction to different choices for talent and story lines.”

Content creators also are becoming increasingly savvy regarding finances, especially since larger companies like AT&T, Verizon, Disney and AOL have begun to invest in the space. But the new breed of content creator isn’t just biding their time before they strike a big network deal.

Johnson said it depends on the creators – some are looking to a network or feature film deal as the ultimate goal, while others would rather keep control of their content and maintain a more personal connection to their audience.

Cangilla agreed.

“The talent class we tend to work with are entertainers and entrepreneurs; they understand the economics of the business of the business,” Cangilla said. “In some cases the TV deal would be most lucrative, but in other cases it would be the digital one.”