RTS London’s mid-April event examined how new channels can make a splash in the online video space.
Chaired by CNBC business presenter Nadine Dereza, “Online TV – not just Netflix” boasted a panel of Lawrence Elman, co-founder of subscription channel Docsville; Tom Clifford, CEO of History Hit; and online comic Eline Van Der Velden, who has made the jump to terrestrial TV with BBC Three’s Miss Holland.
Van Der Velden discussed her experience making comedy for YouTube and other online platforms. She set up a production company to make short-form content, which she said has more appeal to those watching on handheld devices – but she missed the professional feedback from the broadcast TV commission process: “It can be so helpful getting creative feedback from people who know what they’re talking about.”
Making short-form content to show on YouTube meant it was difficult to fund her operation from the platform’s ad revenue system alone – hence her decision to pursue the route of direct commissions from broadcasters.
Lawrence Elman gave much of the credit for Docsville to co-founder Nick Fraser, who set up and oversaw the BBC’s feature documentary strand, Storyville. “Many smaller broadcasters around the world don’t have the budgets to fund major documentaries, so Nick’s idea was a ‘coalition of the willing’ for them to get together behind a slate of original, full-length feature docs, that no one broadcaster could afford on their own,” he explained.
When the BBC cut Storyville’s budget in half, but still wanted the same number of films, Elman and Fraser decided to launch Docsville. “The hardest thing about doing an online channel is cutting through the noise to find your audience. You do need to keep coming up with extraordinary content – and keep innovating in how you find an audience. Four weeks after launching on Amazon, we’d doubled our subs,” said Elman.
Tom Clifford’s partner in History Hit is TV historian Dan Snow. They began with an audio podcast, Dan Snow’s History Hit, in which Snow interviewed expert TV historians on deeper aspects of their work that didn’t make it into their TV shows.
That proved so successful, they extended it to video interviews about programmes History Hit had licensed from the original broadcaster. This has built up a community of subscribers, which now allows History Hit to invest in new programming, mining history in more depth than on mainstream channels.
“Online TV – not just Netflix” was held at ITV London Studios on 18 April. It was produced by David Thomas