Bo Stehmeier says its - Time TV woke up to social change
How the business is moving to a pre-sale and production financing system where companies have the power to embed responsible social change.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey, as we like to say in this industry. If this were a singing competition reality show, this is the bit where we’d cut to the emotional backstory, accompanied by a moving key change. And that’s exactly where this journey is heading to – the call not only for a key change, but a rousing chorus of diverse voices to come together.
Let me explain. I’ve spent a long time struggling with the responsibility – I call it the R word – of working in the business of narrative. I’m one of the few who studied film production and finance and got an actual job in media. After I graduated, I spent the next 15 years working at the coalface for media powerhouses, which gave me plenty of time and opportunity to study the mainstream consumer narrative. What became deafeningly clear to me was that we needed a new story. We’ve outgrown the old one and we all know it.
I also spent years working in and with very efficiently run multi-genre production and distribution giants, that entailed getting up close and personal with the commercial workings of ‘big’ media – M&As, number crunching for the city, stories as units of calculation. Now, as CEO of Off The Fence [OTF] and with the weight of expectation that only a recently won Oscar can deliver, I’m looking at the thorny issue of where to go next. This comes with an overwhelming set of choices and responsibilities. Yes, there’s that R word again.
There’s an enormous shift in thinking going on, and I’m not only talking about the chatter in the shamanic and ecofeminist networks that I joyfully plug into. It seems that many of us are waking up, whether reluctantly or with vigour, to our responsibility to cultural sense-making. Sorry, that was a shameless plug. Have I mentioned I wrote a book about all this called Wake Up! Rise & Shine?
So we’re finally, if a little late, facing up to our inherent connection to our environment and the impact we have on it, and therefore ourselves. Current TV business models echo and perpetuate the old world, by which I mean production with only a ‘business case’ attached or ideas in service of company ‘growth.’ The narrative anchors itself within this, fostering a deep fear of change and helping to protect the status quo. Arguably, the M&A tsunami of the past 20 years has killed investment in narratives and voices that don’t enhance the bottom line.
What I think we need to reflect on is how the global exportation of this content, soaked as it is in old-school values, perpetuates the cycle of cultural colonialism. Positioned as it is at the heart of this cultural colonialism in TV, OTF not only has a huge responsibility to get it right but an equally huge opportunity to do right.
Increasingly, we are moving into a pre-sale and production financing system in which we have the power to embed change. I like to think of it as planting saplings for a future narrative that we would actually want to be part of. Shows, for example, like our impending film based on the Pope’s encyclical on climate, its release soon to be announced; or Future From Above, a series that takes us on a journey to discover how the world could look in 2050, the defining year for our planet’s future; or Going Circular, which looks at the whole concept of circularity and eliminating waste.
Culture diversity – let’s called it narrative diversity – is as important as biodiversity. And media is a foghorn that allows countries and people to express themselves. So here comes the key change: how good would it be if we came together as a chorus and put a stop to our zombie-like march towards money? What about experimenting with philanthropic production financing, for example, or hyper-regional acquisition? Why don’t we think about target setting with an element of heart, measuring productivity by number and atmosphere, creating room for loss leaders and engaging in certain business from a values point of view?
At OTF, we’re questioning our internal values and how they can help us to flourish. We’re focusing on super-serving our community, rather than exploiting its vulnerability for sake of our bottom line. I’m very keen to get together and hear what other TV people who have the power and privilege to pull cultural levers have in mind. Let’s make that our bottom line.