Realscreen Summit Kicks Off Annual Spree of Reality Agony and Ecstasy #realscreen15

Unscripted players register angst over sector's evolution, but sense of opportunity draws eager crowd
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WASHINGTON — The 2015 Realscreen Summit kicked off its first full day of programming Wednesday with swarms of producers seeking buyers for their shows and a growing pool of buyers coping with dramatic shifts in viewer habit.

One major cable network chief surveying the bustling scene at the Hilton described it as an extension of NCTA, NAB and CES. All have become venues where "people are just trying to get their heads around all the transformation going on so they can reposition themselves." The recent ratings stagnation affecting a host of cable networks hasn't depressed the Realscreen attendees — it seems to have only made them more determined.

"We are in a bespoke economy," declared Sam Barcroft, CEO of digital video supplier Barcroft, whose news content appears on major sites such as MSN and Mail Online. "You create content and then determine where it should live, not the other way around."

The appetite for authentic, customized material is such that YouTube stars no longer automatically "graduate" to cable or broadcast deals, noted Fenton Bailey, co-founder of production company World of Wonder, whose series include Candidly Nicole on VH1 and Million Dollar Listing on Bravo. "The tipping point that surprised everyone was that it turned out YouTube talent was quite content to stay on YouTube," he added during the "Next Wave" panel session. "I'm not sure that one thing has to lead to the other. They seem to be very distinct worlds."

Beyond merely enjoying a comfortable perch, more of the people prospering online are actually prospering. The team behind Epic Mealtime, a major YouTube hit that led to a series on FYI, "is making millions of dollars," noted Gary Binkow, chief creative officer at Collective Digital Studio, a producer of the series, during the same panel. "We are no longer in the era of nickel CPMs and pennies online. It's added up to real money."

On traditional networks, participants in a lively agency roundtable described a sense of anxiety as ratings and formats stagnate. Moderator Leslie Greif, founder and CEO of ThinkFactory Media, noted that it has been years since Duck Dynasty's premiere offered a major shot of adrenaline to the sector.

"Sellers are a little bit exhausted by the proposition of selling," said Pierre Brogan of CAA, noting that many producers are getting squeezed in terms of the equity they can retain. "There is a void of creativity and motivation given they feel they don't have as much of a show even though it may have been their baby. That malaise is sapping the entire business."

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