Television programming: beyond the algorithm

In the first part of this paper, we have examined a flaw in what is known in the industry as the “pitching” process, a resource to seek new talent. The problem is that very few of the submissions receive due attention from the reviewers, resulting in an acceptance ratio of only 1 to 400 for contests, 1 to 1,000 for ‘cold’ submissions.

Part 2 of 3

Regarding new content, at this point there seems to be more attention paid to the Netflix algorithm, which supposedly reflects the preferences of audiences in each country regarding existing exhibited content, and less to seeking different plot twists that eventually may result in new genres or twist existing ones into new directions.

Hollywood is testing AI (Artificial Intelligence) to ‘predict’ how future movies can be successful and result in earnings despite the production and marketing costs, which are skyrocketing due to higher amounts paid to artists and directors as well as production costs that would be able to impact large-screen viewers after Game Of Thrones raised the bar for premium television.

This trend sets the focus on tinkering with already existing fare and scripts that may become a variation of proven hits, the franchise” concept. There are also exercises on bringing back series that have been successful in the past, such as Will and Grace, whose new episodes look OK but leave the feeling that something is missing.

The basic problem with new, rookie players is that most of them ignore the rules by which the established industry works. They do may have very good ideas. But, most of this inspiration requires reworking or adaptation to what a producer or showrunner may turn into fare to be accepted by the studios, broadcasters or cable networks. And, there’s another drawback: most of the newcomers want to become executive producers of their content. When told that, at best, they will receive a couple of hundred thousand dollars for the rights to their idea or concept, in many cases they compare this to the perspective of earning millions from the full exploitation of their proposal and object the idea.

The situation is not very different when the project comes from an already established ‘independent’ producer, usually a small company that has been mildly successful with earlier ventures. At trade fairs such as MIP Cancun, in Mexico, the most asked questions to speakers are: How do I do to submit this idea to your company? And May I have your card?

Most independent entrepreneurs want to work on the development of their project, not just cash out and witness what happens later. In addition, several governments are funding promotion contests that subsidize these initiatives and may reduce the investment necessary to turn them into actual content, but hardly help them to become commercially successful.

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All this adds up to the fact that, at a pitching session, there’s usually a breach between what the bidders offer and what the buyers want. And this gap is difficult to fill because the ‘sellers’, in most cases, do not address the buyers’ needs, may even ignore them. The result is usually a polite silence among the buyers, maybe a question or two about how the plot should be handled, but little more. And most industry executives leave the gathering with the impression that most of the proposals bored them to death, and those that had a promising idea were mishandled by touting aspects that are irrelevant to the listener.

Last but not least: How can the prospective buyer trust that the ‘pitcher’ will fulfill any expectation created by its presentation? After all, investing in the production of a movie or television series is pretty much like lending money. You need to know if you can trust the person or institution that is asking you for money to finance this venture. If you attend a lecture where an ebullient speaker tells you that he or she has a bright idea to double your capital, Would you run onstage and display your hard earned cash?

The word that truly defines this dilemma is “Trust”. The problem is that the only way to be trustworthy to any other person is by repeatedly being able to fulfill challenges, starting from small ones --like the memorable mailroom at CAA and the other Hollywood agencies, decades ago-- and climb the ladder to confidence. But, of course, this take time. The reward is that, once you are considered trustworthy, people will buy your ideas through confidence in you and acceptance or your commercial taste, unless you deceive them. In other words, they trust you. Sadly, this is impossible when you watch and listen to somebody for the first time, unless the idea exposed is so compelling that you are willing to run some risks or have a way to get a handle on the deal without compromising your finances.

To access Part 1: Television programming:  The “pitching” process is flawed: Can we fix it? click here
To see Part 2, Television programming: beyond the algorithm, here
To see Part 3 of this paper, click here Fixing the “pitching” industry procedure