WMR specialises in factual “box set” series and currently has World War 2 in Colour and Hitler’s Circle of Evil on Netflix
For 10 years World Media Rights (WMR) deliberately swam against the lazy assumption that the correct strategy for a UK indie was to make programmes for UK terrestrials, preferably about lifestyle or property, and then try to sell the shows to another country, possibly Australia. We rejected this strategy in 2007 as old thinking.
To this day we have never made a commission for a UK terrestrial. Our purpose is to deliver the world’s binge-watchers to cable channels in 55 territories and SVoD partners globally.
At a time when terrestrial channels were reluctant to commission even two-parters in factual we kept on making these 10 part series for the declining DVD market and for cable stations in the US, Japan, France, Germany, Australia and anywhere else with televisions. So we got very good at encouraging viewers to watch 10 hours of television. Continuously. Often back-to-back in one day.
Then a company called Netflix acquired our World War Two in Colour series, saw the results and gave us a call. So we made a brand new series for them.
The results are encouraging. Last month the Daily Mail newspaper reported that Millie Mackintosh, the UK reality celebrity, had become frustrated on her honeymoon because her new husband had been distracted from his marital duties as he was more interested in binge-watching our Hitler’s Circle of Evil series.
So how does one make 10-parters that hold and capture a massive international audience? We use five rules:
1) Always do big subjects. Great British railway journeys are quaint and pretty but in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter that much. To grab the binge-watcher you need a full-blooded series for a full-blooded viewer where ideally the fate of nations and peoples is at stake. It has to matter, otherwise your viewer will stay on honeymoon, under the duvet.
2) There has to be an element of morality involved. Viewers respond to moral themes — American cable networks have known this for a long time. A lot of cable America’s output is about good versus evil and about sinners gaining redemption, even in those gruesome tales of murder. World War Two is a particularly fertile canvas for this, as the baddies are very bad and initially the goodies are disorganised and can’t defend themselves. But in the end, after many tribulations and tests, the goodies win. Also in World War Two there is no moral ambiguity — the goodies are good and the baddies are bad. With some other wars, like the Cold War, this is not so obvious.
3) Make sure that all 10 parts of the series have a story that continues through all the episodes. This seems obvious but it is surprising how few producers do it. Only that way can you make the binge-watcher hungry to know what happened next. It also allows you to insert a cliffhanger at the end of each episode, so as the 10 seconds count down to the next episode on Netflix they stay put for the next episode.
4) Have characters who return across all 10 episodes. Our Hitler’s Circle of Evil was conceived as ‘Downton Abbey meets the Third Reich,’ as there is an ensemble cast all trying to grab the attention of the top dog (either the Earl of Grantham or Mr A Hitler). People are fascinated by the interplay, the characters and what they might do next. Who is going to stick with Hitler in the bunker? Answer: virtually none of them.
5) Stick to the facts. We make sure we can justify everything we say from two sources. For all the talk about fake news and how people love to consume it, the international binge-watcher won’t stay if they think it is fake. It has to matter, so it has to be real. There are some series that take liberties with reality. That’s fine for a local audience (as we call national viewers) but it is not going to work for the international viewer, because if the story is important they want the true story.
These rules are not new. They are as old as the great newspapers and the great newspaper barons. But some commissioners, in a rush to pursue fashionable ideas and formats, seem to have forgotten them.
Alan Griffiths, CEO World Media Rights
Article published in C21Media on 31/08/2018