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“It’s a definitely a seller’s market right now with so many buyers competing for content,” Beatrice Springborn, head of originals for Hulu, said Saturday at a panel titled “Content Is King” at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By conference, held on the 20th Century Fox lot. “With any competitive project, there are usual five buyers that want it.”
Springborn was joined by Janet Brown, executive vp, distribution, at the digital studio Gunpowder & Sky, and Matt Kaplan, president of Awesomeness Films, which focuses on creating content for the Generation Z audience, in a discussion moderated by Sanjay Sharma, president and CEO, All Def Digital, that was sponsored by The Hollywood Reporter.
In introducing the panelists, Sharma observed, “We’ve thought of the world as traditional and digital,” but he continued, “these worlds are all merging together.”
At Gunpowder & Sky, founded by former MTV exec Van Toffler, Brown, who oversees distribution for projects aimed at the under-30 set, explained, “We’re basically focused on being a new kind of studio. We do everything from producing, developing and financing through to distribution, international sales, the whole gamut. These digital ways of distributing and telling stories really allow for a lot more adventurous storytelling, we can take a lot more risks.” One of the company’s upcoming films is the comedy The Little Hours, a raunchy tale of medieval nuns that Gunpowder picked up at Sundance.
“The whole overarching principal of what we are doing is targeting the 16-to-under-30 audience, and we’re very much aware of what it takes to get the attention of that audience, and so that’s why the stories we’re looking for are what they are,” she continued. “Because trying to get the attention of those guys is difficult. You need to have an awesome story that is going to break through and be different and be novel.”
Awesomeness Films’ Kaplan agrees. “We basically realized very early on that Gen Z doesn’t consume media the same way we all did as children,” he said. “So Awesomeness has a huge focus on trying to program each platform organically to our brand, which is specifically Gen Z.” Its programming has ranged from two- to three-minute videos to Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall, a film about Hall, who built a career out of creating original musical videos, to You Get Me, an upcoming Netflix feature. “We have an audience interacting with our brand every day,” said Kaplan of his company’s ability to use social media to attract the attention of its target audience.
And though Hulu, which has garnered a lot of attention for its new series The Handmaid’s Tale, has one foot in traditional TV, Springborn said for its original programming it is aiming for a core demo in the 18- to 34-year-old age range. “Our programming spans such a wide berth,” she explained, “that you’re seeing people watching shows that they missed in real time on linear and people who are cord-cutting and watching Hulu because that’s the only subscription they have.”
Regarding competitors from FX and TNT to Netflix and Amazon, Springborn said, “We’re all going after the same projects. But as for the audience, there is room for all of us. On the originals front, on the comedy side, we’ve been able to offer programming that is a younger, more premium offering.”
Observed Kaplan, “It’s an amazing time to be a producer for a digital studio. For us, we’re happy to partner with as many people as popular” — even brands like Nike and Gatorade, he said, who have approached the company to partner on everything from shortform programming to feature films.
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