• Australian SVOD service ready to debut its first original series 22nd October
By Dan Barrett
While US streaming service Netflix has trumpeted their use of metrics to drive program acquisition and production decisions, when local SVOD provider Stan commissioned their first original production, it came entirely from a place of creativity.
“It was funny,” explained Stan’s director of content Nick Forward.
“I don’t think that when we first started talking to producers that we had a clear picture in mind of the sort of show that we were after. For a number of reasons, the Jungleboys pitch for this really hit the spot for us.”
The series, No Activity, stars Patrick Brammall and Darren Gilshenan as two cops on stakeout and the conversations that fill the many quiet hours they experience waiting for action.
When Stan was looking for a series to commission, a half-hour comedy was not at the top of its list.
Forward revealed that they were ultimately looking for a drama series: “We were looking for hour-long dramas because that seems to be the real sweet spot for SVOD services overseas. So, I was as surprised as anyone when a comedy was the first project that tickled our fancy properly.”
So, why a comedy?
“The brief was that it needed to feel different. It needed to be clearly differentiated from the sort of shows that people would expect to see from free-to-air channels in Australia. Ultimately there’s a whole pile of things that you’re trying to get out of that new production, but one of the most important ones is to differentiate your platform, your brand, and your identity from what else is out there,” said Forward.
With No Activity not exactly meeting the original intention when Stan started hearing pitches, Forward said that they were quickly won over by the strength of the show itself. “The idea is funny. It’s relatively easy to communicate what it is. I think that’s really important for a high concept idea on a platform like ours. The idea of a show, a police show, where nothing happens is accessible. That is really important in terms of being able to communicate to customers what it is that they’ll get. And it felt very different. It really did feel like the sort of show that hasn’t been made in Australia before.”
In the world of streaming video, there is considerable emphasis placed on binge viewing experiences. Setting No Activity apart is the absence of emphasis on the narrative core of the series, or of traditional cliffhangers encouraging the viewer to immediately press play on the next episode. Forward explained that its episodic nature was part of the show’s appeal: “Would I sit down and watch all six episodes in a row? I don’t think there are many things in the world that I’d sit down and watch all six episodes in a row of. One of the great surprises for me is that the initial pitch for No Activity still felt a little episodic and not just a little episodic, but actually almost like little skits very loosely linked together. There’s actually a really nice strong narrative that links all the episodes together. It actually does reward extended viewing. I’m not sure I entirely buy into the idea that a show is designed to binge view. You have a story that has a strong narrative arc that rewards watching multiple episodes. That feels like the brief you have for any show that’s designed to be consumed online in this sort of space.”
It is the show’s difference that, to Forward, makes No Activity a Stan show: “What we are trying to do as a brand, as an SVOD platform, is do shows that feel like they sit outside of what anyone else would be doing. One of the wonderful things about this show is that I struggle to think of another service in Australia where this would sit nicely. I can think of a number in the States that would be a nice, natural home for this sort of show, given the kind of irreverence and given the tone. But it feels to me like this is genuinely something that’s a little bit different from any existing platform or any existing channel in Australia.”
When pressed on whether the Stan brand identity lends itself specifically to the shows that Forward and his team acquires, Forward was reluctant to point out specific hallmarks of a show that could be defined as a “Stan Show”. Forward explained: “The great thing about running an SVOD service is that the important thing when you’re looking at any show is that there is one determining factor on whether or not you should acquire it: Is it great? Does it view well in this environment? Does it feel like it differentiates the platform from other shows that may be available elsewhere?
“Is there a specific Stan sort of show? No. The whole nature of SVOD programming is that what you’ve got is an aggregation of niche programming, ultimately. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have a single show that will appeal to the nation as a whole. But what you will have through the many thousands of hours that you have making up one of these services is enough shows that people think are individually wonderful, but the service as a whole feels great.”
Forward has just returned home from the MIPCOM conference in Cannes where he spoke to a number of partners about the show. The distribution of No Activity is jointly handled by Jungleboys with Stan. But with a Wolf Creek production on the way, does this open the door to Stan to grow its brand internationally? Could the Stan logo one day be recognisable in the same way that the HBO screen crackle introduces their programs?
“Absolutely,” Forward exclaimed. “These shows are Stan originals and that is how the show will be presented to the world.”
Image: Patrick Brammall in No Activity