Thousands of top unscripted programming creators and buyers from around the world will flock to the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., Jan. 31-Feb. 3 for the 18th Realscreen Summit.
With traditional linear TV ratings sagging and considerable growth in unscripted content across platforms from YouTube to Snapchat (not to mention virtual reality lurking on the horizon), those in attendance will look for the next big breakout series and what that exactly means in today’s TV environment.
The leaders of unscripted programming, with hopes for the next Epic Meal Time or The Voice waiting to be discovered, will collaborate and discuss the shifting industry. Below are highlights from the four-day confab.
■ Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, will speak at 9:45 a.m. on Monday in a keynote conversation. Monroe was named to her current position in November after 21st Century Fox expanded its partnership with the National Geographic Society, leading to its ownership of 73% of National Geographic Partners. Monroe oversees global programming, operations and marketing for the National Geographic portfolio, including National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo People and Nat Geo Mundo, as well as National Geographic Studios. Despite announcing its first foray into scripted television with Blood Ivory at this month’s TCA winter press tour, National Geographic is still firmly in the world of unscripted, including the premiere of documentary He Named Me Malala on Feb. 29.
■ The panelists for “Working With ‘The New Normal’” will tackle the fluctuating unscripted TV consumption climate on Monday at 11 a.m. Participants include Nancy Daniels, president and GM of TLC & Discovery Life Channel; Kathleen Finch, chief programming, content & brand officer at Scripps Networks Interactive; Brent Montgomery, CEO of ITV America; SallyAnn Salsano, president of 495 Productions; and Geoffrey Suddleson, agent, alternative television department, United Talent Agency.
■ In an atmosphere where Nielsen and rivals are looking at new ways to count viewers, a panel titled “Ratings: Fear vs. Facts” will discuss what’s happening in the new world of ratings on Monday at 12:15 p.m. The panel features Kelly Abcarian, senior VP of product & innovation at Nielsen Media Research; Manish Bhatia, chief revenue officer at comScore; Keith Friedenberg, executive VP of global insights group at WME|IMG; Chris Grant, CEO at Electus; and Don Robert, senior VP of research at A+E Networks.
■ The panel “Format Focus: Game-Changers in a Changed Game” contemplates what’s the next big thing in unscripted programming as several successful series move toward the end of their runs. Eden Gaha, president of unscripted television at Endemol Shine USA, and Toby Gorman, executive VP of alternative programming at FremantleMedia North America, are among the panelists on Monday at 12:15 p.m.
■ Dirk Hoogstra, formerly of History and now chief creative officer at Stephen David Entertainment, will participate in the “Changing the Script” panel on Monday at 2:30 p.m. The session will discuss successful transitions of unscripted producers to scripted programming.
■ Morgan Spurlock, president of Warrior Poets Entertainment and producer of numerous docuseries including CNN’s Inside Man, will participate in a “Meet a Mentor” session at 3:45 p.m. on Monday. At “Meet a Mentor” sessions, attendees will get a chance to hear from producers off the record about their careers. Others participating in the “Meet a Mentor” sessions throughout the conference include Fenton Bailey, cofounder of World of Wonder, on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. and Arthur Smith, cofounder and CEO of A. Smith & Co. Productions on Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.
■ “Platform Power Players” panelists from Maker Studios, Barcroft Media, Collective Studio 71, Fullscreen and Vimeo will discuss original content in ever-changing online platforms Monday at 3:45 p.m.
■ Catch Marjorie Kaplan, president of content for Discovery Networks International, on Tuesday at 9:45 a.m. in her keynote conversation. Kaplan, named to her current position last August, is responsible for global brands and formats, female lifestyle, male factual, scripted and kids for all platforms. She also works with Discovery production companies Betty, Raw and All3Media. Kaplan will attempt to create new content around Discovery’s exclusive European TV rights for the Olympic Games from 2018-2024.
■ Mark Itkin, board member at WME, will be interviewed by Jonathan Murray, executive consultant at Bunim/Murray Productions, on Tuesday at 11 a.m. Over his 30-plus-year career as an agent, Itkin had his hand in series including The Real World, Project Runway and Deal Or No Deal.
■ Jana Bennett, who was named president and general manager of History last September following a successful stint managing FYI, will take part in a keynote conversation with moderator Abby Greensfelder, co-CEO and executive producer at Half Yard Productions, at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Under Bennett, FYI saw ratings growth with several unscripted series including Married at First Sight and Tiny House Nation. She oversees H2 as well, which will rebrand as Viceland on Feb. 29.
■ With shipments for the Oculus Rift expected to begin in April and various other brands including Samsung VR Gear, PlayStation VR and Google Cardboard making noise, virtual reality looks to hold consumers’ interests in the year to come. The panel “Virtual Reality: The Big Picture” will explore nonfiction content’s role in virtual reality with Ovrture founder and 44 Blue Productions CEO Mike Drachkovitch, among others, on Wednesday at 10:15 a.m.
■ Attendees can catch candid conversations about programming strategies and future plans in the numerous “30 Minutes With…” sessions throughout the conference. Among those participating are Wade Beckett, chief programming officer and senior VP of production at Fusion; Paul Adler, senior VP of original programming and development at Pop; and Matt Hanna, executive VP of original programming at Esquire Network.