For a web series buyer to give you the greenlight they need three distinct things and the question is why? Acquisition execs and distributors know, on a good day, there are inherent risks in buying and distributing original web series’. It’s risky both financially for their company and their job is completely dependent on them having a hit.
Imagine you’re in the acquisitions department at Maker or Defy, two well-known and profitable digital platforms. Your job is to find content you can sell advertising against or draw sponsorship dollars to, to the tune of hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars. You make the wrong choice and you could cost your company a ton of money and even worse, reputation. It’s this reason we see executives changing at digital platforms and studios like you and I change socks. Simply, they lost too many times. So, you can imagine they want to mitigate risk as much as possible. That means they have to have strict criteria for how they make a buying decision.
The following is the recipe they use to make almost every buying decision they make:
Talent – This can come in the form of either onscreen, “known” talent like an actor, public figure, a reputable showrunner or influencer. Somebody they know has market value that they can sell advertising against.
Audience – Audience is the most direct way for them to take you seriously. Yes, you hear me all the time talking about the importance of building your own audience as the key way to gain market leverage and sell your work. That’s because audience is the new currency in the content game. Audience is like crack to a buyer. After all, that’s what they’re after and if you can bring them numbers they go gaga even if it someone else’s audience like you onscreen talent’s.
“Safe” Production Partner – One of the big reasons distributors say “no”is that creators demand that they be the ones to do the physical production. It makes sense, a creator says to themselves, “I know my work best. I have a DP I trust and work well with and I’ve shot a shit ton of content which should be proof enough”. But a distributor or studio is looking for guarantees. They want to know it will get delivered on-time and on budget and pre-existing, trusted production companies that have delivered repeatedly for them is much safer than just handing someone a check.
So, what’s this mean for the creator that has a great series or concept reel? I hear it all the time, "But I don’t have a network of people I can even call”. “I’m just a dude/dudette with a good idea”. I get it and that’s why it’s more important than ever to invest your efforts heavily into audience building and industry outreach. It used to be that making something great was enough. Now, it’s imperative to treat your content like a business and begin to build it like one.
One of the best ways to get attention is to write/shoot a TON of micro-content. Yes, this builds audience but it also populates the internet with your name. Most creators go gangbusters on social when they’re launching their projects but how often is that, maybe every 6 months? The internet responds to constant introduction of keywords and favors new over old. So the more times you create content, the more relevant you are and believe me, they’ll search you and if they only see a couple things or none at all about you, you go on the DCB list…”Don’t Call Back”.
To give you an idea of how much simpler this is than you think, here are some examples from my own career. Talent for example doesn’t need to be Benedict f’ing Cumberbatch, it can be that kid doing sketch comedy on YouTube with a 45k person audience. Believe me, studios and distributors care. I sold a show built around a guy who came in 3rd on Top Chef. I got the greenlight for a series built around someone who was known for two, self-distrib’d horror films that no one in the mainstream had heard of but that had a small cult following. No one was knocking down their doors to give them millions of dollars. In both cases, when the distributors looked at the audience numbers they could generate using both the talent’s audience and their own, they knew how much they could spend and we tailored the production accordingly.
Also, in both cases, they assigned their production partners to the projects. I still had control, I still directed and produced. The production partner is there to make sure that things get physically made to the specs of the distributor and don’t necessarily have a dog in the creative fight other than making sure the shoot looks like what the spirit of the content should be.
In the end, providing a rationale for a distributor to say ‘yes’ only requires that you make them feel safe by providing them with the things that make them feel comfortable.