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July 10, 2015

Why we do this

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As the Summer approaches and we at Wildseed watch everyone else go on holiday while we continue to slave away (not really!) I thought it might be a good time to review why we do what we do at Wildseed – restate the mission if you like – so here goes…

In TV, as we know, there is a commissioning culture where commissioners, conservative and fearful often, seek to develop and develop to guarantee as close to perfection as they can before they commit.  They work with expensive talent, and make expensive products, and accept a devt ratio that sees a lot of wastage. I was in that world, commissioned lots of work, honed it, spent money on it, endless drafts, endless notes, endless conversations with teams of devt people about the material… This is the world of six months work in pursuit of 5% better – we’ve all been there I know.

We started Wildseed in the belief that this approach was a large part of the problem – IE the same talent working for a group of nervous and essentially conservative commissioners with similar tastes and cultural backgrounds giving lots of compulsory notes in fear of getting fired for saying yes to the wrong thing.

Instead we set out to make a really diverse range of intentionally scrappy pilots. We seek to avoid the expense, time, fear, wastage and most importantly homogeneity that the TV process creates. We do not seek to work with tried and tested talent and then give them compulsory notes – we seek to enable an often very inexperienced group of creators to make  the best version of the first iteration of their vision, and then step back and  watch the audience reaction. When I was in theatre we used previews to re-write plays – and so it is with the £10k first pilots.

This means resisting the deeply ingrained urge to make it “better”  ad nauseam – yes we have some basic needs – we need well told stories, we need characters that are original funny, compelling, and we need to avoid cliche and lazy answers  but beyond that we need to connect with and enable what the creator wants to do in as an unfiltered way as possible – because only then will we get the fresh surprising creative outputs that could just be the new South Park or anything else that no one has ever seen before, didn’t know the audience was ready for, and then scrabbles to copy.

We put these out, imperfect, and rough and ready as they often are, often already with our own opinions about how they could be better, and wait for the audience to tell us what is working by their reaction. Once we understand that we decide whether to make more and if we do make more – how to begin to fine tune the creative products we publish in light of that feedback/engagement. This part of the process – IE the £25 investments we have sitting behind the pilots –  is more about polish – but guided  by the intended end users responses.

I am sure to a passing grandee of TV, the results look just as undeserving of their attention as the Sex Pistols did to whichever corpulent old hipppy was producing Genesis double concept albums in 1976 – and I understand why someone would look at the channel and feel like it was “unprofessional” when viewed from that lofty elevation – but my honest take is that these people’s opinions are ushering broadcast TV to its grave…

When we committed fully to creating our own distribution brand and launched the channel a really interesting thing happened – and that was the idea of the channel brand began to play its part, as did the responsibility for marketing to an audience.

That was in fact hugely focussing – and it led us to focus much more specifically on audiences below 25, and to really engage with the new Social Talent Star System in terms of their power to drive mass engagement.

Like our strategy – we want that brand to stand for creative courage, energy, fearlessness, variety, surprise, and yes – the right to fail. The feedback we get is that this audience are very positive about this brand identity – in some ways more positive than we were expecting – but then this is the audience that made long form factual the hottest ticket in the form of Vice – so they aren’t the ADHD suffering fools the Daily Mail would have us believe…

That said, running a channel does entail catching the fear virus – because suddenly all those old voices which say “this has to work” and looking for that sure fire hit start to bite again – and you start to book ideas for reasons other than your experience tells you this is a talent with a great idea/something fresh to offer and the ability and drive to deliver it. Obviously it’s balance – we need to book people and ideas we think have the potential – but we have to resist the need to hedge our bets – that’s what 50 x £10k is for – as opposed to 1x  £500k.

But it is a real head trick to pull off – and one we need to keep working at.

I feel more confident about what we are doing than ever – I feel like we have learnt so much about the need for a younger Editorial PoV in what we pick up, about the audience and their tastes, about the talent ecosystem, about grass roots marketing and how to build our audience fan by fan and so on – and are now in a position to apply all this more consistently.

It is true we are only one hit away from relevance – but I know we will have to work three years to be an overnight success – but luckily – as the ubiquitous “Chinese proverb” says – ‘do what you love and you will never do a day’s work in your life’.

At Wildseed we do what we love – and it’s hard to call it work!

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