Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Short form Content Comes of Age

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast November 23, 2017

Recognition at Emmys shows industry is finally taking format seriously

The International Emmys in New York is always a gala event that acknowledges the wide range of outstanding non-US-centric TV.

But this year, the buzzword was ‘short’: it was a shorter event because Kevin Spacey’s Special Award was dropped for very obvious reasons, and short-form video was a hot topic because it was the first time there was a category dedicated to it.

This acknowledgement of short-form caught my eye because it has had a bad rap for years, thanks to endless cat videos on YouTube and the lingering idea that it is somehow easier to make.

But short-form is going through a bit of a renaissance – it will be part of the 2018 Bafta Awards too – and may prove to be a key strategy for TV companies going forward. Research suggests it works for younger audiences and can reach any age on mobile.

As traditional TV business margins are eroded by fragmenting audiences and advertising money shifting to digital platforms, the pressure is on to come up with new models and funding mechanisms for quality content.

Media is clearly becoming a lower-margin business. This is putting pressure on legacy media businesses to do things differently, from buddying up to sell advertising in new ways to forming co-producing alliances in which former rivals work together.

Putting serious funding into a new format is another case in point. Less than 18 months ago, Vivendi set up Studio+ to underwrite 10 x 10-minute episodes of premium content, a new format that it admitted might not work.

Studio+ secured two of the four nominations in the Emmys’ inaugural Short-Form Series category: for Argentinian series Ahi Afuera and Brazilian thriller Crime Time. On the night, the accolade went to black comedy The Braun Family (Familie Braun), made by German public broadcaster ZDF for its digital service.

The show is marvellous and it is definitely television, albeit shorter than a typical series. It plays a key role for TV companies looking for new formats for new markets.

Anna Friel picked up Best Actress for Marcella

Anna Friel picked up Best Actress for Marcella

Vivendi Content chair Dominique Delport is tapping into what he thinks is a new market for premium content. And he has the stats to prove it: more than 5 million subscribers across app downloads and through mobile phone companies for the Studio+ programming, and more close to signing. A US telco deal is set to close at the end of the year.

Delport believes that big telcos like Brazil’s Vivo, Italy’s TIM, Verizon and Vodafone all have an appetite for premium short-form content as a means to differentiate themselves in a price-sensitive market. But he sees another upside for media companies increasingly becoming dwarfed by Google, Facebook and Netflix.

Delport says Telcos make good partners for media companies playing catch-up because they have “the scale, the depth, the direct connection with the customer and the data”.

Vivendi is not alone. Jeffrey Katzenberg, formerly of Dreamworks, is backing short-from content creation with the intention of raising $2bn (£1.5bn). Delport says Katzenberg’s plans are 10 times the scale of those of Studio+, and he is thrilled that premium short-form is gaining traction.

Studio+ is now developing TV sequels for some of its short-form content. “Short-form is not a one-year ROI, but in three to four years it will be a profitable model,” Delport says.

Back at the Emmys, the UK wasn’t short on awards: Kenneth Branagh won Best Actor for Wallender and Anna Friel picked up Best Actress for Marcella.

Brits were also the butt of a few jokes. The compère, comedian and actor Maz Jobrani, called out the UK’s six nominations, joking that Brits are clearly exporting as much as possible in the run-up to Brexit.

Maybe it’s not a joke at all. Post-Brexit, all bets could be off. Perhaps the TV awards people will give the UK short shrift. But I have more faith in TV land’s creativity, so that’s one bet I wouldn’t go short on.

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