CANNES, France — Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media will “double down across all formats,” expanding its TV content business and moving aggressively into short-form video, David Linde, Participant Media CEO, said at Cannes’ Mipcom trade fair, delivering a Media Mastermind keynote on Tuesday afternoon.
Participant Media is teaming with “Hoop Dreams” director Steve James on its first limited non-scripted TV series, “America to Me.” It is also creating a scripted series with the team from Academy Award winning movie “Spotlight,” “looking at journalists writing important stories,” Linde said.
Skoll’s company has boarded the cyber warfare scripted series “Stuxnet,” based on Alex Gibney’s documentary “Zero Days,” which was produced by Marc Schmuger and Gibney for Participant Media and screened at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Schmuger and “Downton Abbey’s” producer Carnival Films are producing the drama series with “The Americans” writer-producer Stephen Schiff.
What Linde described as “a steady drumbeat of content” will also mean continuing to produce for digital platforms, he said.
Linde’s speech came less than a week after Participant Media acquired digital entertainment company SoulPancake, a maker of short-form videos and inspirational programs, founded by actor Rainn Wilson in 2009. SoulPancake could act as a talent incubator, Linde said.
James’ “America To Me” follows a year in Chicago’s Oak Park and River Forest High School, described as one of the country’s most exemplary and diverse public schools. It is produced by Kartemquin Films, James’ longtime producer. Participant Media will take worldwide rights. Deadline Hollywood first reported the Participant Media “America To Me” production deal.
Linde’s speech at Mipcom also came less not much more over two months after Participant revealed it was closing Pivot, its niche U.S. cable operation.
“These are incredibly difficult decisions to make,” Linde said at Cannes. “It was a question of “the deployment of resources in the best way possible,” he added, at a Q & A with Linde and Participant Media COO Sam Keswick, conducted by Deadline Hollywood’s Nancy Tartaglione.
Participant Media’s foreseeable plunge into TV and digital production comes as it seeks broader impact, across more media and in international, for what it describes as impact entertainment.
Linda began his keynote describing a scene from “Spotlight” between Liev Schriver and Michael Keaton, who are discussing making newspapers essential to their readers.
Robinson (Keaton) says: “I’d like to think it already is”, Baron (Schriver) answers back, “Yes well, I’d like to think we can do better,” Linde said. He added: “Since Participant’s first day we’ve been committed to entertaining and inspire social change. I’m here because I think we can do better.
Clarifying that Participant Media was still committed to film and documentaries, Linde chronicled some of the real impact of company films in the past.
“Not everyone agreed there would be a global market featuring a former VP of the US standing on a stage walking an audience through a slide-show about global warming,” he said. A decade after “An Inconvenient Truth,” “we stand amongst a global movement to slow and ultimately end global climate change.”
Linde insisted on both the need and audience for entertainment compelling change. “We live in a world that is more connected but more complex. Content that can make sense of this complexity is a vital part of our industry,” he argued.
Accounting for 22.7% of consumers, millennials “are socially conscious citizens who care about the world around them,” Linde said in his address. Three-quarters of millennials will pay a premium for sustainable products and services, he added. “There is a hunger for entertainment and for increased social action. Content that can meet this demand by doing both will be increasingly valuable going forward.”