Oscar-Winning My Octopus Teacher Producer Off The Fence Sets Strategy Overhaul

Off the Fence (OTF), the co-producer of Oscar-winning documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” has revealed a strategy overhaul and expansion of its senior management team.

The move sees the U.K. and Netherlands-based factual specialist spin out its divisions into three separate business models with the aim of bringing distribution and production closer together, providing more streamer-friendly content and creating a new data-driven fast channels offering.

Bo Stehmeier, who has helmed the ZDF Enterprises-owned firm since January, said the move would help the company become a more agile, digitally driven entertainment business that would thrive an era of “monolithic companies.”

Stehmeier, the former president of Red Arrow Studios International, has also refined and categorized the genres which the company will offer. He said the focus is now on three core pillars: ‘Yesterday’ (history), ‘Today’ (which spans natural history, travel adventure, lifestyle, crime and conservation) and ‘Tomorrow’ (science).

Overseeing all content at OTF is its current production MD, Allison Bean, who takes on the senior role of chief content officer. Bean, who cut her teeth in the industry as a natural history producer, joined OTF in 2006 and has helped the company build up over 400 hours of factual programming. These will now function under three business models.

The first of the three models, OTF Originals, will generate high-end content, feature-length docs and unique hybrid story ideas for the streamers with a focus on access, storytelling and a meshing of genres such as ancient history and engineering.

Stehmeier added that some of this content would be self-commissioned and produced and that it was set up in anticipation of Europe’s new rules of engagement with streamers, which states that international SVODs must offer a 30% quota of local content to European subscribers.

“We see a huge amount of production work available for European companies with these quotas coming in and we’re investing heavily in development,” said Stehmeier.

The second business model, OTF Studios, will see a blurring of its production and distribution teams as they work side by side on co-financing, pre-sales and IP investment.

Stehmeier reasoned that newly merged entertainment behemoths with multiple platforms to feed required a holistic trading model with production and distribution expertise.

“The way that content is bought and commissioned has changed radically. Some people want commissions but at the same time they want a co-pro and whilst I’m sitting here I’ll also buy some shows for my catch up service,” said Stehmeier.

The executive added that the new studio structure would help it to continue to access alternative means of finance, as it has done with the feature doc “Columbia,” which came out of private sponsorship.

Bean said the National Geographic series “Destination Wild” was part financed by the company’s distribution arm with seed funding from the broadcaster — a model that gave OTF more creative control and freedom to sell globally.

“There’s a lot of money in the market right now, it’s just not within broadcast. An idea could start through philanthropic financing, but it could lead to a three-parter for TV as well. Under a studio structure, we can be more flexible with how we make this work,” said Stehmeier.

He added that there would be opportunities for third-party producers “in less mature markets” to come on board and commercialize their series through the expertise of a bigger company.

The firm’s third model, OTF Fast, will focus on the data behind the content and the creation of ad-supported streaming services.

The company already supplies content for the WaterBear Network, the free VOD set up by OTF’s joint CEO and founder Ellen Windemuth, which is owned by ZDFE.

“Digital revenue share models are difficult to administer for companies that are not agile and digital. This is going to be key because these monolithic companies that have been birthed won’t be so agile. Having the customer and the broadcast community at our heart will give us the secret sauce to safely sail into the future,” Stehmeier said.

The CEO added that beefing up the firm’s senior management team and promoting Bean was key to remaining connected editorially to its content. “There’s a certain size a company gets before it loses touch with its content. When it becomes units the content quality drops — Allison is there to make sure it’s never a units business- it must have editorial meaning,” Stehmeier said.

While some external development hires will be announced, most senior positions will be filled internally.

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