Ben Silverman on Working with Netflix, Storytelling for Advertisers, Being on the Road

Electus chairman-founder delivers keynote speech in French Alps

Days after “Marco Polo,” produced by Electus and The Weinstein Co., bowed in France on Dec. 12, day and date with the U.S, Electus chairman-founder Ben Silverman was at the Cristal Festival, nearly 6,000 feet up in the French Alps IN Courchevel, to deliver a keynote speech, “Creativity and Big Ideas” as part of Cristal’s Brand Entertainment & Content Summit.

France’s Cristal Fest was high-level in other ways. AOL’s digital guru David Shing spoke before Silverman (on “There Are Still Only 24 Hours in a Day”); Trigger Street Prods’ “House of Cards” producer Dana Brunetti was interviewed afterwards, before receiving an Outstanding Merit Award.

Silverman wasn’t in Courchevel for the skiing, such as its respected Grand Couloir black ski run. Via Electus, he is involved in at least three of the most talked-up business lines in entertainment: High-end series – for instance, Netflix’s “Marco Polo,” produced by Electus and The Weinstein Co; re-versioning for the U.S; the convergence of advertising and entertainment.

“I’m constantly traveling the world, creating content or finding great ideas,” said Silverman, citing “The Tudors,” which he created, or finding shows, such as Colombia’s “Ugly Betty” and the U.K.’s “The Office,” whose U.S. versions he exec produced, and “Jane the Virgin,” a Venezuelan format which he again sourced, produced by CBS TV Studios for CW.

Electus has also sold around the world show such as “Fashion Star,” which airs in Germany and China.
“I’ve always been on the road, not only looking for ideas, but packaging and selling them. One of the areas with huge opportunity is creating content pieces for advertisers and finding ways for them to scale internationally,” Silverman told Variety, having just got into Paris.

He went on: “There are two groups: One still very much focused on 30-second spot advertising, another group moving to longer formats, somewhat socially driven, through narrative, episodic story telling. These two worlds are going to eventually collide. [At Courchevel] there were people leaning in more than I’ve ever seen before from both sides, but aware of the other.”

That opens up opportunities for storytellers to create relationships with advertisers not only in the U.S. but beyond.

“I absolutely have that ambition. I’m looking to create those relationships. There are so many players who are global yet also operate locally. That’s exactly what we do through our distribution business. We take an idea like ‘Fashion Star’ or when I found back in the day ‘Who Wants To be A Millionaire’ and replicate it around the world. It’s like scaling local. But how do you scale bespoke? That’s the hardest thing to do. What’s interesting is that advertising networks are in multiple markets just as our distribution business is in multiple markets.”

With “Marco Polo,” “what’s incredible about Netflix is its global ambition. It was the first time I could reference a program of mine that had launched in America and in multiple markets at the same time.” ‘The Tudors’ took almost a full year and a half to air after its U.S. broadcast to air in France.”

“It’s similar to what’s happening in the motion picture business where the big studios are starting to do that also, to counter-effect piracy but also because it helps build off the buzz each market has and [due to] the social conversation which happens so much more quickly now.”

Electus works with every network, including Canal Plus. It exec produced Morgan Spurlock’s docu pic “Mansome,” with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, which Netflix distributed, and does have projects in the works with Netflix, such as a “more comedic series.”

Silverman is excited. “In television in general in America, I do think everyone is moving towards smart TV, thoughtful TV. My current Golden Globe nominated ‘Jane the Virgin’ is “a very thoughtful, innovative program that airs on a network that never had a Golden Globe nomination before. Yet they took the risk. The competition is forcing the networks and studios to treat their audiences like they treat themselves and not to pander down to them.”

He added: “It does feel like in the motion picture business that hasn’t quite happened because blockbusters are driving the consumption of movies.”

Silverman has to go. He got up at 4 am to get in to Paris. Having traveled, the traveler has to travel on.

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