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Listen: How YouTube and Indie Spirit Launched New York Television Festival

Terence Gray got his start in the TV event business by staging sitcom readings on stage in New York with writer and producer friends.

Next week, he will preside over the 14th edition of the New York Television Festival, a weeklong affair designed to connect emerging talents with the executives and talent agents that can advance their careers.

On the latest episode of “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment, Gray spoke with Cynthia Littleton, Variety‘s managing editor of television, about the evolution of the festival, which runs July 14-20 at various venues.

Listen to the full interview:

Gray cites the mid-2000s moment of YouTube’s arrival and the meritocracy it created, coupled with the availability of low-cost digital production tools, for inspiring the idea of a festival revolving around a competition for independent produced pilots. The NYTVF was also ahead of the curve in providing a forum for super fans to celebrate their favorite shows. The number of TV-specific fests have multiplied in recent years.

The advent of YouTube was an enormous for a migration of people who had primarily been doing independent film to trying out the medium of TV or episodic programming,” said Gray, who is founder and CEO of NYTVF. At the same time Gray saw many friends and colleagues starting to make their own content. The early viral phenomenon of the Andy Samberg “Lazy Sunday” short from “Saturday Night Live” crystallized the opportunity for Gray.

“We saw that you could use a digital camera and some basic editing software to start to put together your own pilots,” Gray said. At that point he engaged his agent, WME’s Jon Rosen, to help launch the festival. The NYTVF now receives hundreds of submissions from around the world for its pilot competition program, and hundreds of scripts for a separate script contest.

Gray cites former A+E Networks chief Nancy Dubuc (now CEO of Vice) and then Fox entertainment chief Kevin Reilly (now TNT/TBS chief) as early supporters of the fest’s vision of offering its competition winners not cash but development deals and access to top executives.

“That experience and the chance to get feedback and work with a (network) executive try a show forward — whether or not it actually happens — that experience is going to leave a person much better prepared in terms of their next creative idea and how to frame it,” Gray says. 

Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast below for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring HBO’s Richard PleplerGroup 9’s Ben Lerer, Bankable Production’s Tyra Banks, Keshet International’s Alon Shtruzman, among others. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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