Kelly Jo Brick: Highlights from the Variety Entertainment & Technology Summit

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By Kelly Jo Brick

Developing material through a different lens was a recurring theme during Variety’s Entertainment & Technology Summit. In this day long event, panelists discussed the challenges of staying relevant and reimagining their strategies as the entertainment industry grows and adapts to new technologies.

When looking at the current entertainment atmosphere and the future of the film industry, President of Imagine Entertainment, Erica Huggins, declared, “A good story is a good story.” But stories can now be told in many ways as she added that there is, “A select group of people that will always tune in for something that is great.”

Ze Frank, President, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures called this the, “Golden Age of the moving image,” and behind this growing Golden Age is a wave of creators who bring an audience with them. According to George Strompolos, whose company Fullscreen’s YouTube partnership program empowers over 75,000 content creators, these creatives stand out with what they make and a lot of them come with their own army, which will shift the power. There will be fewer stories of “I couldn’t get it made” because crowdfunding will help these people make things happen.

With increasing platform proliferation and audience fragmentation, the Variety Summit also explored innovations in measuring audience interest/demand. Parrot Analytics showcased their efforts in measuring demand for cross-platform content with a real-time system designed to gauge global and country-specific interest. New technologies are also being engaged to quantify consumer attention for ads in the U.S. as campaigns air, with companies such as Ace Metrix recognizing that the ongoing availability of this real-time analytical data can help marketers craft more effective creative and optimize delivery of their message.

The ongoing development of virtual reality brought a lot of discussion amongst panelists who overwhelmingly believed that although the technology could be a game-changer, it still had a long way to go in development. “It’s all covered wagons heading west right now and that’s kinda the fun of it,” declared Robert Stromberg, Production Designer for Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. Fellow panelist, David Alpert, Executive Producer of The Walking Dead, further suggested, “It always takes a little while for the medium to find its format.” TV found its way after starting like radio, YouTube started like TV then found what fit. Virtual reality needs to do the same and find the best way it can be used to tell story.

The day also brought attention to expanding content options such as The Dove Channel, an OTT network focused on family-based entertainment that was called one of the “5 Things You Need to Know,” by USA Today. The Dove Channel puts control in the hands of the user by allowing viewers to access Dove Approved films, shorts, documentaries and TV series all rated and labeled by intensity of content so viewers can make safe and aware choices of the content they watch with their children.

Viki CEO Tammy H. Nam announced a groundbreaking new show, Dramaworld, coming to their global, fan-powered TV site in which avid fans translate TV, movies and other content into over 200 languages. According to Nam, “The reason why we wanted to produce a show is because most of the content that we license is produced for a local audience. So it’s produced for one particular country, mostly. And then we license it and we expose it to a global audience. What we wanted to do was have a show that is produced specifically for an international fan base of primarily Asian dramas.” Dramaworld, which will premiere in early 2016, is a co-production with China’s Jetavana Entertainment and features an international cast and creative team.

The Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit also brought focus to storytelling. Keynote speaker Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment shared her insights, explaining that the goal of DC was, “to create a portfolio of creators that have depth and breath.” They didn’t want to create a single universe with DC, fearing that it could put limitations on their storytelling. With this approach, shows like Gotham can grow and develop free of restraints. Nelson was excited to have 8 shows airing on multiple networks during the 2015-16 TV season. She was especially enthused by Supergirl, which comes to CBS in October, calling it “a really special show” and a very empowering approach to the character that should appeal to women and girls, as well as bring in elements that superhero fans will love.

Creatives behind Arrow, The Flash, Teen Wolf, Wet Hot American Summer and the Dark Knight franchise rounded out the day with a conversation about respecting history and developing relationships with fans. Citing the challenges of walking the tightrope between core and new followers, Greg Berlanti, Executive Producer of Arrow, Supergirl and The Flash, believed that, “There’s a dialogue between you and the audience and you can change things as you go along.” As a fan of these stories himself, Berlanti added, “If we would be excited about it and we would be interested in it, we just have to hope the fans would be as well.”


Kelly Jo Brick is a Contributing Editor at TVWriter™. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.