Dentsu-owned The Story Lab is settling into the sweet spot between brands’ money and entertainment. Fotini Paraskakis, global EVP of entertainment, talks about challenges and gaps in understanding as well as the giant pool of opportunity and ambition behind the campaign to drive value in the content space.
Dentsu’s content development and investment unit, The Story Lab, sits in the sweet spot between advertising money and entertainment ideas that need funding. Nice theory. In reality, the language may be the same, but comprehension remains poles apart.
Charged with creating content that straddles the needs of different worlds, The Story Lab’s EVP of entertainment, Fotini Paraskakis, says fundamental misunderstandings between the ad and entertainment worlds need to be cleared up at the same time as she assembles a global team to create the deep content business able to execute on Dentsu’s goal.
“Both industries have traditionally worked side by side, but not together,” she says. “The ad industry talks about content. But it’s nothing the TV or production industry knows as content”. The desire is the same though. “Everybody wants to make content and create businesses around content,” Paraskakis says, adding that there is a significant amount of money and enthusiasm for brands’ movement into the storytelling space. “Brands genuinely want to be involved in deeper storytelling,” she says.
The Story Lab’s exposure in Asia so far has been The Sound with Hunan TV in China and PCCW Media Group’s Viu on No Sleep No Fomo, a format created originally by The Story Lab in-house as a five-minute segment for a YouTuber. It was then built out into a streaming series, and debuted in Asia on Viu. The Story Lab has added the full episode format to its global catalogue.
Since she joined a year ago after a long career in TV production in Asia and elsewhere, Paraskakis has focused on regions where content is at the top of its game and assembled a slate of titles to take to market. Of her initial five original dramas, three are from the U.K. and two from the U.S.
The investment to date is in creators and producers, allowing them to develop their shows to a market-ready state. “It’s all about supporting them to develop whatever they need to develop their projects... to get the story to a place where we can then go and pitch it,” she says.
The Story Lab funding means bolder stories can be developed. One of the new shows pushes deeper into interactivity and viewer participation. There’s also a drama about an investigation into fairies in World War II involving high-profile people. “These are all by young creators and producers who probably wouldn’t be able to access funds elsewhere, but we have very strong conversations with big platforms on all of them,” Paraskakis says.
What would the perfect story out of Asia look like? “There are great stories in Asia in the drama space,” she adds. Her end-goal is to surface creators and storytellers to bring them to life.
While she’s not revealing exactly how much is in The Story Lab’s content fund, she says it’s comparable to other funds in the market. Like Keshet’s, which is around US$60 million. “What I would say is that it’s a strength to have Dentsu as a parent company, because they’re in it for the long term. So if something comes up that they’re interested in, there’s definitely a discussion that can be had”.
Further down the line, she speaks of an emerging environment of brand-backed content funds. “Brands are looking at the future and it’s not about straightforward product integration” into stories, she says. “It’s about being involved in and owning some of the IP,” she says, adding: “They want to be a real part of the value chain”. That said, a common refrain is that there’s absolutely no shortage of money sloshing around right now looking for a creative place to land. Paraskakis agrees that the current environment is “great for creators”. The shortage, she says, is someone to join all the dots. Her job in a nutshell.
Published in ContentAsia's Issue Seven 2019, 29 November 2019