Confessions of a Hollywood producer: ‘No one knows these platforms exist’

For years, the life of a TV producer in Hollywood was pretty simple: There were a finite number of channels to sell to and shows were mostly restricted to 30-minute and hour-long programs.

That’s not the case anymore. With video a priority across social platforms, print publishers and even phone companies, there are a lot more people looking for good content. And yet this environment isn’t without its challenges and frustrations. In this edition of Confessions, we asked a veteran Hollywood TV and digital video producer about the difficulties in navigating this new video-thirsty environment. As always, we granted anonymity in exchange for honesty.

What’s the biggest problem you face in digital today?
The disconnect between what buyers think their dollars will get them and what they can actually get is astounding. There’s this sense of entitlement — “Well, we have a recognizable name so you should be excited to work with us.”

Who says that?
Any of the publishers that are actual print publishers they think because they have brands they don’t need to spend real money. They offer $1,000-per-minute or $5,000-per-minute budgets for a five-minute video that would cost me $50,000 to produce. So you want me to lose $25,000 per episode for the luxury to be on an over-the-top channel that no one has ever heard of and no one is actually going to watch? No thanks.

Where do you think that disconnect comes from?
They think their ability to be so fast and efficient when it comes to their news reporting or Facebook videos will translate to narrative content. That’s bullshit. If you’re at a $1,000 or $2,000-per-minute budget, keep doing what you’re doing. You already have a bunch of young guys churning and burning. You’ll get exactly what you paid for. Is it going to be amazing? Probably not. But you’ll be fine because you didn’t spend much.

Not everyone is like this, though. Verizon and some other companies are actually paying for content.
Look, yes, there are more places for me to sell content. But at the end of the day, no one knows these platforms exist. I was talking to this TV producer recently — this is a guy who has three network shows on air right now — and I listed some of the platforms I’ve sold to. He had not heard of any of them. That’s the position we’re in. Netflix and Amazon have quickly become household names in Hollywood. If you have a show on Netflix or Amazon, that means something. Most of these digital businesses, no one knows if it means anything.

But you’re still selling to them.
The digital industry has been talking among ourselves for 15 years now: “This is the future and everyone is going to watch video online.” Yeah, but they’re really just going to YouTube. They’re really just going to Facebook. Now, they’re kind of going to Snapchat. All the other streaming platforms haven’t broken through yet. But they’re paying so you fall into this weird position where you’re selling projects because you need the money but you’re pretty sure no one is going to see it and you’re not going to wow anybody at an event.

How has that affected which actor or celebrity you work with?
Getting any star excited for any of them is like pulling teeth. They’ll go, “I don’t know what it is” — well, half the time I don’t know what it is. We were talking about doing a show with a huge EDM star. We knew we couldn’t sell it to most digital platforms because the artist doesn’t know what it is and no one’s going to see it. I would rather do a shittier cash deal and put that show on MTV, NBC or VH1 than do a more lucrative deal with one of the digital platforms. Because I know putting it on MTV and VH1 has some value.

Are they not doing enough to market your shows?
All of them say they want to make great content and that they don’t care who sees it because they’re building this great library. So, what you’re telling me is four or five years from now you will have all these great shows and even though no one has watched them, they’re so good that you’ll be able to sell them internationally or take it to a TV network? That always cracks me up.

So TV is still the safer bet.
If you have a successful show on TV, the ancillary revenue is ginormous. You might not make money on season one or maybe even season two, but you will on seasons three, four and five. That’s when you start getting mailbox money. Digital wants to work the same way but no matter how good your show is, you’re not walking into Italy and beating out a show that was on NBC.

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