Maker Studios International Boss Talks Content Strategy, Sports Plans, Outlook

Courtesy of Maker Studios

Rene Rechtman also discusses the rise of SnapChat, micro-payments and possible acquisitions for the Disney-owned multichannel network.

Walt Disney-owned multichannel network Maker Studios unveiled its latest programming plans at the NewFronts in New York on April 28, with top executives touting synergies with Disney. 

Rene Rechtman, president of international at Maker Studios, oversees the company's rapidly expanding business overseas. He recently talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how the company thinks about local versus global content, hot genres, the rise of new social media platforms and new revenue models.

Do you focus on content that can work around the world or more on local offers? And what kind of content works everywhere?

All our content investments are based on data. You see what's trending. We definitely look at individual talents and their attraction. We look at times of day and when does content get engagement. That's the yin. And the yang is ... we must be honest ... there may be a global Maker star who lives in England, but he is not number one in Germany, he is not number one in France, not number one in Singapore and Brazil. He is number five or six or four there. So you have at least three other forms of other entertainment that are bigger.

We invest locally in talents and shows. And on the format side, if we can create formats that are global, that's phenomenal. If we create formats that are just European, that's phenomenal. Of course, that's our ambition. Now we are creating a show in Holland on [soccer] that has humor. If that's successful in Holland, we'll do it everywhere, and we'll bring local talent in. That's the new thing in this world. Because if we get the local talent in Germany, then we know we get the German distribution. If we take the same format and do it in Singapore and get Asian talent, we know we get the distribution in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

That's the way we are thinking rather than one size fits all. The platforms are global, but the content you put into the pipes needs to be adapted.

What content genres work well for Maker, and is the ebb and flow of genres different than in traditional TV?

No, no, it's very similar. One of the big genres that has exploded over the last 12 months is unpacking. Who would have guessed that. It started with kids channels, unpacking of toys and Kinder eggs, Hello Kitty eggs, and now it's unpacking everything. There are people unpacking only trainers, every day.

It's all about niche now. If you have a passion for tattoos and somebody creates a great tattoo network, that channel would not get 10 million, it would probably get 100 million viewers around the world. It would be unrealistic to think that back in analog that would ever happen. That niche is maybe 20 percent of millennials in Denmark, 20 percent in China, 20 percent everywhere. And that's a lot of people. Our job is to keep an eye on that.

Education is another fast-growing area. Pre-school is a new area, often non-language. You give iPads or a big smartphone to a four-year-old, and they can spend hours on that. And historically, it's that mixture of comedy, gaming and entertainment. That genre is still growing exceptionally, and it's getting more local. You also see a lot of how-to, do-it-yourself. Sports is very interesting to look at. Sports is the next big thing, I think.

How do you think about sports in the digital world since traditional TV pays big amounts for sports rights?

For me, it's insane giving 4 billion for rights. I'm sure it's going to be profitable over the near-term. But go ‎to a sports event now. Everybody is recording things with their devices, and you find it on DailyMotion or somewhere else. I think what's interesting is the fan-driven [stuff]. What we're doing with AS Roma, the [soccer] club, now: they signed up to Maker‎, because they want to build a global brand around the Roma city and club brand, Italian expats in the U.S. and so on.

One of the things we're looking into is there is a lot of user-generated, semi-professional content around Rome and [soccer] in Rome, and we're aggregating that into a professional network they own. That's a trend that, I think, you will see — the aggregation and creation in niche environments and then going global.

How many hours of, say, Star Wars content that is non-Disney and non-Lucasfilm is uploaded every single day to just YouTube or Facebook. If you professionalize and organize [such content], that's quite interesting. That's something about sports that people have completely underestimated.

With Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and newer social media platforms, how is your thinking about distribution changing? 

We are looking at all those and our audience and talent, all data-driven. And where that audience is, we will be. YouTube is still the biggest and strongest platform. Facebook is growing insanely [fast]. But you also have SnapChat and Vine. And what's interesting is it's different expressions on different platforms.

So, the storytelling you see on YouTube is different from the storytelling on SnapChat and Vine. It's different stories. If you look at some of our talent, they have different expressions on different platforms. YouTube is now high production value, SnapChat is about engaging with fans more directly, Vine is for keeping people updated on funny, small snippets of what they are doing.

What are the current trends in the monetization of your content, and what models do you focus on? 

Monetization is maturing as well. We are looking at different monetization models. We have the AVOD model, which is the YouTube model. And now we have deals with CanalPlay and other digital platforms that are SVOD-based. And then we are creating shows for linear, as well as non-linear TV, which is again a different monetization model, which is production on demand. We are evolving into multiple methods of monetization. And then you have branded entertainment as a mixture, which is a very interesting model.

And in the future, I think it is going to be micro-payments. As a student, you would not subscribe to Netflix or Sky. But you might buy one element of the package or one piece of content, whether it's a live event or a series. The younger demos are used to that from apps and mobile devices. They pay per piece. So, I'm sure we'll end up in that world.

Does Maker ever feel the need to acquire anything, say production companies or smaller technology firms?

It's not impossible. But we're in the fortunate situation that we have the scale, and we are creating the biggest hits in the world when it comes to social platforms. But eventually there may be M&A activity when it comes to technology and geographic expansion.

Twitter: @georgszalai