TheGrill: Innovators Talk Opportunities, Pitfalls for Video Content in the Digital Age (Video)

Traditional programmers “really have to throw out the playbook and start fresh,” Jeff Gaspin tells TheWrap’s annual leadership conference

Creating digital content in the age of digital can be an extremely liberating experience for young filmmakers — but it can also pose numerous challenges when digital and traditional media are still trying to reach common ground and a mutually beneficial way of working together.

That was a big topic at the innovators’ panel at TheGrill conference at the Montage Beverly Hills on Tuesday, where MiTu Network Beatriz Acevedo, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures president Ze Frank, TAPP co-founder Jeff Gaspin and indie film producer Sev Ohanian discussed the opportunities and stumbling blocks as they attempt to bring compelling video content to an audience with entirely new viewing habits than the previous generation.

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The panelists were among the pioneers from TheWrap’s second annual Innovators List, which acknowledges rule-breaking, risk-taking mavericks who are thinking differently about the rules of film and television production.

As someone who’s had his feet in both traditional and digital media, Gaspin, the former NBC Universal Television Entertainment Chairman, offered his perspective on what challenges making the tradition entails.

Hint: It requires a lot of adjustment.

In the past, Gaspin noted, programmers were in the position of defining what viewers watched. It’s a whole different ballgame these days.

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“That has changed 180 degrees in that the viewer will watch only what they want to watch,” Gaspin noted.

Those with backgrounds in traditional programming “really have to throw out the playbook and start fresh,” Gaspin said — adding that he envied his fellow panelists because “They don’t have the same learnings that I have that I’m trying to unlearn.”

Acevedo conceded that she too had experienced a teachable moment or two in the development of MiTu. She recalled one early project where “we made the classic mistake” of hiring traditional talent that, according to conventional wisdom, should have worked. But didn’t.

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“After two views we learned that this show was not very successful,” Acevedo recalled. “We decided we needed to take a cue” from young content creators.

Frank, whose BuzzFeed recently expanded into mid-form and long-form video, said that he views such “oops moments” as an essential part of the growing process.

“For us, it’s constant; it’s literally our process baked in, is that you fail,” Frank said, “So yeah, there’s a lot of oops moments, but it’s kind of critical to the process.”

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But while there are plenty of potential pitfalls to navigate, the rewards can be plentiful — particularly for the new breed of content creators, who find themselves not only to be able to make the content they want without creative restrictions, but also receive outside support while doing so.

“These latino millennials have been craving new content for a long, long time we do have our soaps and our game shows and our soccer, and that is fantastic, it still does really, really well on broadcast, as you all know. But we still craved something else,” Acevedo said. “These latino content creators decided to take it into their own hands and create the content they’ve been craving themselves. We wanted to be that new generation media company with MiTu who would sort of nurture them and foster them and help them grow. And this is the principle with which we have built MiTu.”

“As a young filmmaker — only a couple of years ago I was making YouTube videos in my backyard with my friend — what Ze and Beatriz are doing now is shocking,” noted Ohanian, who made headlines earlier this year with “Seeds,” a short film that was shot on Google Glass. “It’s literally mind-blowing to people who are just starting off to be able to make their own content and have that freedom, but have the support that comes with both of your respective companies — that’s not a small point for us at all. I think that is incredibly admirable, and the fact that you guys are giving opportunities to young filmmakers who are just starting off and giving them the support that they would never have otherwise — that’s huge.”

TheWrap also named to its Innovators List TAPP co-founder Jon Klein, Seriously CEO Andrew Stalbow, Whisper CEO & co-founder Michael Heyward, Techstars managing director Cody Simms, actress-director-philanthropist Angelina Jolie, “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon, General Assembly CEO & co-founder Jake Schwartz, and Is or Isn’t Entertainment founders Dan Bucatinsky and Lisa Kudrow.

See TheWrap’s complete coverage of TheGrill 2014 — News, Photos, Videos

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