When the New York Television Festival started 11 years ago, YouTube was still not much more than an experiment, the broadcast business was still mostly booming, and cable TV had yet to succumb to the laws of gravity (what goes up must come down).
More than a decade on, the TV industry is in a state of no small upheaval. YouTube is now a buyer of TV content, and every digital outlet seems to be going into scripted development. Far from making this kind of festival obsolete, NYTVF founder Terence Gray told Variety, the massive increase in distributors is just expanding the roster of festival partners looking to snap up promising pilots.
Jax Media is one of the production companies behind “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” “Broad City” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” and Anonymous Content has scored big with hacker thriller “Mr. Robot” on USA.
“The one thing that’s been very nice is the engagement this year, it’s way up,” Gray said.
The 2016 NYTVF kicks off Monday, Oct. 24 with a session on comedy with Evan Shapiro, NBCUniversal’s EVP of digital enterprises and the mind behind comedy subscription service Seeso, at the Helen Mills Theater in Manhattan. Over the course of six days, luminaries like Mitch Hurwitz, Ray McKinnon and Lena Dunham will discuss their craft, and eager producers will show off their pilots and meet with development executives in the hope of snagging a series commitment.
The 63 pilots dubbed official selections for the festival’s Independent Pilot Competition come from both newcomers like Uttera Singh and old TV hands like Keith Powell (Toofer from “30 Rock”).
But while the goal for these creators used to be limited to linear TV, changing distribution norms mean a series order from Seeso can be just as valuable to a producer. “We went from, in 2005, having very traditional networks as partners, to having multiple partners that are digital platforms,” Gray said. “Our goal is always to be on the bleeding edge of where content is going.”
Gray has seen a change as well where the content of said content is concerned. “There’s been a shift away from the more broad setups that we were used to 15 or 20 years ago into very individualized voices,” he said, ticking off examples like FX’s “Louie” and series on Seeso. “That’s very liberating as a creator.”
What’s helped that shift along has been not just the models set by shows like “Louie” or Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” but the fact that anyone can post their content anywhere: producers can now be their own networks, as well, distributing via YouTube or Facebook or Twitter or Vimeo or even Amazon, now.
Even so, most of those creators want to partner with someone a little bigger to help get them the distribution and budget their shows need, and that’s where Gray sees NYTVF’s value: bringing not just exposure, but real connections with the industry.