At the turn of the 21st century, publishing executive Chris Dorsey noticed a worrisome trend: advertising revenue was drifting from print to other media.
Dorsey recalls, “I had created TV concepts around a couple of different magazines, one of which was Sports Afield, and they could sell the television play and the digital play much more readily than the print play.” He wondered: Could he capitalize on the multibillion-dollar outdoor adventure industry by creating a conduit between brands and the television networks? In 2001, he started production company Orion Entertainment, focused on branded entertainment, to do just that.
Fifteen years later that company, now renamed Dorsey Pictures after its founder, has evolved into the world’s biggest provider of outdoor adventure series. It has 20 series airing on six networks, including HGTV’s “Tiny House, Big Living” (pictured) and the upcoming eighth season of “Building Alaska” for the DIY network. More than 170 million Americans annually tune into Dorsey’s lifestyle programming.
“Chris and Dorsey Pictures, they get us,” says John Feld, senior VP of programming and production at Scripps Networks, which has eight Dorsey series on its networks: two on HGTV, five on DIY, and three on Travel Channel. “They’re able to bring us not only great content on a regular basis, but they also present their storytelling wrapped in some of the most beautiful images on our air.”
Based in Denver — an appropriate locale for avid outdoorsman Dorsey, who lives the lifestyle he sells — the company employs 130 people who are all encouraged to create programming. Says Dorsey, “Culturally, we want to make sure that everybody has the capacity to be able to bring up ideas. The notion that development is owned by one department within a production company is not the way we want to do business.”
In January, Red Arrow Entertainment Group, part of Germany’s ProSiebenSat.1 Media, bought a majority stake in Dorsey Pictures. Red Arrow CEO and chairman Jan Frouman praises the company’s “stellar financials” and is enthusiastic about exploring multiple new avenues with it.
“I’d love to take their existing cake and sell it; I’d love to make new shows for different markets; I’d love to find ways to launch a digital asset and then exploit that globally, bring in brand partnerships — everything’s on the table,” Frouman says.
Under the umbrella of Red Arrow, Dorsey hopes to expand its activities in branded entertainment, which to date has included series, e-magazines and video content for clients like Chrysler/Ram Trucks, Ford Motor Co. and Swarovski.
“People think branded entertainment is an infomercial,” Dorsey says. “It really is a product that’s part of a storyline. It’s very much an art form.” He predicts the branded content space is going to expand. “So many brands want content these days and they want to populate every platform available. Not just television, but digital plays and YouTube channels. I think that we can be a helpful business solution, both for the brands and for the networks. We’re well positioned to do that.”