Tomorrow is New York Television Festival’s Digital Day. Terence Gray, NYTF’s founder, says there are more creative possibilities in the digital space. Traditional TV is encumbered by network and brand identities and existing partnerships. It’s a good way for early-career creators to build a fan base, develop a brand and possibly even land a job with a studio or a TV network. The TV industry is extremely interested in people creating original content. At the end of the day, he said, everyone is looking for great storytellers.
Here is the full interview with Terrence Gray from Cynopsis:
Digital Day for the New York Television Festival is this Friday. What will you be discussing within the context of what NYTVF is about?
This year marks the eighth annual New York Television Festival, and the fifth annual NYTVF Digital Day — but don’t let that initial three-year gap fool you, digital entertainment and online video have been a significant factor in the way we’ve grown and evolved the organization since day one. The digital space provides a viable opportunity for talented artists to gain exposure, build an audience, and develop their craft. The internet democratized entertainment and on a very small scale, the NYTVF is trying to do the same, with a specific focus on creators of serialized content that can be enjoyed on smaller screens.
For Friday, we’ve assembled a really exciting slate of participants that represent interests across the space — interests, I should note, that compete, clash and widely differ from speaker to speaker. On a basic level, we’ll be discussing topics that are very much applicable to any creator: Project development, on- and off-camera talent, and distribution. I believe that we’ve structured the day in a way that whether you’re an early-career producer with a few videos on Vimeo, a brand representative tasked with accessing a new audience online, or a studio head controlling a slate of high profile YouTube networks, there’s knowledge to be shared and connections to be made.
There’s always a lot of discussion about the unique opportunities that digital can offer indie producers and content creators. What would you say is one of these opportunities or features that clearly separates digital from being just another distribution channel?
I think the feature that clearly separates digital from traditional content is freedom of expression. When people create and self-distribute for the online space, they are less encumbered by any number of things that exist with creating for television: Network/brand identities, studio partnerships, etc. Once people start making online content for money, of course, this all changes, but at its very core, the internet exists as a medium for expression and creativity. I think you see that television is moving more and more in that direction, but there’s less pressure on creators when they are making content for 100,000 fans on YouTube as opposed to 10 million fans on a network.
Ultimately though, 100,000 doesn’t pop as much as 10 million. So would you say that digital video can also be a gateway of sorts for a writer, creator, or producer to land a gig with a studio or online/TV network?
I think that’s absolutely the case. There is something to be said about how in the 1960s you would traditionally have a young writer or star doing an off-off-Broadway show. And then in the 80s and 90s you would say that same type of person is doing independent films. Today, web series and digital overall give writers and creators a great opportunity to build their own fan base, and then take that fan base as part of their pitch to a studio, network, or brand. Digital allows them to demonstrate that they have the skills to create an episodic series, or in other words, the ability to deliver for and keep an audience on a weekly basis. It’s a very powerful tool when presenting to a development executive.
When it comes to digital distribution and audience development, is audience more important than platform?
To me, the two are intrinsically linked. You want to find a platform that helps you reach the most people, and also the right kind of people. When you post on YouTube, you are going after a more general audience than on, say, My Damn Channel or KoldKast, or MSN. It’s all about targeting and maintaining a devoted audience, and that is very much linked to platform. Of course, you can do all of that on general sites like YouTube and Vimeo, but there are platforms that exist that aide in that fan creation. One of our goals on Digital Day is to tackle some of this head on — with targeted discussions on development, talent, and distribution.
One of the things I’ve noticed so far when it comes to original web series, there are some pretty big names behind them. Whether it’s established stars from film and TV, to “social media stars,” to big media brands. How can indie creators play in this space where the big players, at least right now, seem to be going for the big names?
There are big name production companies and brands that have deals with major online platforms, true. However, given the budgetary parameters, there is a tremendous opportunity for indie producers to create content at a lower cost. They are uniquely able to be a part of this trend. Point blank, what everyone wants — TV, digital, brands, studios, everyone — are talented storytellers.
Additionally, the ‘social media stars’ are very much something that can still be created — they’re an example of building a fan base. It’s all about making good content.
How important is YouTube for indie producers and content creators, especially if they’re not part of the site’s original programming initiative?
Obviously YouTube is important because it allows creators to self-distribute. It can help indie creators build an audience as well as learn to be disciplined in the delivery of new content to that audience. Looking at YouTube now, with its focused programming approach, there is such a great chance for content-creators to earn the opportunity to make and distribute their content with real monetary and social networking opportunities.
And you know what? With hundreds of new supported channels being added, there is a sizable need for new streams of creativity, for hours of content, and for talented producers that have the chops to deliver.
Would you say there’s a lot of interest from the TV industry in those who are creating original digital content?
There’s boundless interest. I say that because at the end of the day, what everyone is looking for, is great storytellers. When we first started this festival, we were looking for pilots that would come in at the more traditional 22- and 44-minute lengths. Now, our minimum is four minutes. When it comes to development execs, they’re looking for great characters and great stories, and that doesn’t matter if you can demonstrate that in four minutes or 12 or 22. They’re focusing more on how the character or story idea would fit their studio or network. Digital has sort of liberated the timeframe of developing a new piece of content that can serve as a starter piece for a serialized story.
For a writer or producer considering venturing into developing digital content, what would be the first piece of advice you’d give?
Spend a great deal of time on the development of your show. Know the show you want to make and know the show you’re passionate about. Once you’ve written it, know the parameters of your budget. If it’s a series, and you’re committed to making that series, you have to arc it out. Is it a seasonal thing? How many episodes will it require?
Also, know your goal. There is a difference between saying, “I want to make this series on my own terms and with my own money,” and developing a series with the intention of selling it. For the latter, and this is something for which NYTVF can be very helpful, it’s okay to just make a pilot and try to get into a festival like ours.