Fixing the “pitching” industry procedure

In the first two parts of this paper we have explained the current issues affecting the ‘pitching’ by which the television industry tries currently to attract new literary talent in order to obtain fresh inspiration for programming and adapt itself to the changing preferences of the linear television and digital audiences.

Part 3 of 3

We will now suggest some ideas about how these results may be improved by the content producers, reducing their reviewing work and obtaining better-oriented proposals. Since corporate egos may be affected by some of the changes, chances are that the best way to put these ideas into practice would be through an ‘independent’ (yet related to the business) book and a connected website, plus presence at the social media networks, where aspirants may obtain advice and guidelines. There are currently books dealing with pitching, but most of them, if not all, face the same problem that production executives help spread: too much talk about ‘creativity’ and ‘new approaches’, but close to nothing regarding the need to deliver ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’ to the buyers, in order to arise from anonymity in less than three minutes.

It may look as a contradiction to free competition, but it seems that a sort of unified “form” should be complied with. In the past four years of research on this issue, several (informal) instruction papers from the Hollywood studios and television production companies have been sent to our attention, and dozens of successful pitching cases have been described. However, the already quoted reference about 99.9% of the ‘cold’ proposals being ‘awful’ has prevailed over the positive references.

Without breaking proprietary data, it would be very positive to make sure that the ‘cold pitchers’ know beforehand that:

a) In addition to their supposedly bright idea, they should explain reasons why this script should attract an audience and keep it interested during one or multiple seasons, appealing to the usual terms used in the industry, beyond ‘drama’, ‘comedy’ and the other wide range definitions.
b) That their idea might be accepted but, in most cases, the production will be handled by the people receiving the proposal, with the ‘pitcher’ obtaining a flat fee and maybe a percentage on earnings, but definitely not become the showrunner of the project. This applies also to independent producers, except in the case a co-production deal can be worked out.
c) In many cases, it would be positive for the project if partial financing is included in the proposal. Without entering the ‘branded content’ field, research shows that cable networks are much more willing to consider projects that have partial financing assured than other without such a support.
d) Their project may take from one to three years to become real after approval. One of the case studies included in this research involved a pan-regional pay TV network that received a proposal from a well-known artist (which solved the “trust” and “knowledge” conditions) but still needed more than three years of work to adapt in to the format of one of its channels.
e) Their project may be adapted to another format (for example, a comic book story becoming a video game) instead of being translated ‘as is’ to a another media under the author’s or right holder’s supervision. Most ego projects are extremely reluctant to watch transformations to formats not familiar or pleasant to the author.
f) The must have fulfilled the intellectual property requirements, such as complying with the WGA registration, and is willing to incur in certain personal expenses related to the project. Many pitchers believe that, once their project is starting to be considered, the prospective buyer or promoter must foot all bills related to the venture, independently from the final results.

To a prospective buyer, being aware of the artistic trajectory of the ‘pitcher’ is extremely important because it helps develop trust. Of course, rookie proponents in most cases lack sensible past qualifications, but don’t come out of the blue. Providing a list of past achievements is helpful but cannot subtract time from the ninety seconds or so the ’pitcher’ has to call attention; providing print material that can be forwarded to the prospective buyer. However, research shows that distributing apparently impressive full color booklets, as some production companies routinely do, does not increase a buyer’s interest in the product being offered.

All in all, what newcomers need to succeed is reasonable ego (enough to convey confidence and belief in their idea) but not too much (excess repeals buyers), and a good share of salesmanship. Of course, there’s a potential conflict between selfishness and assurance, and the audience paying attention to an idea during a couple of minutes cannot be distracted by it.

Nevertheless, show business history shows dozens of examples of movies and television content that were rejected by multiple potential buyers, then became smash box-office hits because somebody noticed what the others had overlooked. Yet, we believe most people in the industry will agree that improving the current dismal acceptance ratio of new content proposals would be good, both for the studios and networks, as well as to the rookie ‘pitchers’ increasing crowd.

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