From producer to media owner: how TV giant FremantleMedia is pivoting to social video

The X-Factor, one of FremantleMedia's biggest successes, returns to ITV in September.

As one of its biggest properties – The X-Factor – returns to British TV screens, FremantleMedia's branded entertainment team will be focused on maximising commercial opportunities around the shiny floor extravaganza.

Speaking to The Drum at the Edinburgh International TV Festival though, global vice-president of branded entertainment Sam Glynne reveals how the production company is exploring new revenue channels as a media owner, as well as producer, and explains how it keeps long-running media properties fresh for brands.

Despite Fremantle’s reputation as a producer of linear TV shows like Got Talent (now in 69 countries, it is the most successful television property in history) and recent drama Picnic At Hanging Rock, Glynne touts the company’s social video efforts.

A clip from the most recent series of Asia’s Got Talent was recently ranked the most popular video on Facebook, according to Tubular Labs, while properties like X-Factor are repackaged for consumption across YouTube and other platforms. While Fremantle has long traded on its worldwide reach, Glynne says it has used social and the web to boost the value of its shows. “Digital’s changed everything,” she says.

“Measurement has made more of a business case for brands and media agencies who were a bit cautious about doing branded entertainment. And it’s led to the globalisation of IP. For instance, Ford will do something with us in Australia and then work with is in France, Italy, Germany and Spain.”

As one of the few publishers able to directly sell pre-roll ad space on its YouTube content, the company has made the jump from producer to media owner. “We really make that content work. We've not only become a producer but a media owner. It’s been a really successful solution, and the demand has been very interesting, especially considering brand safety issues,” says Glynne.

Glynne says the company is already experimenting with other platforms. “Facebook will eventually become a revenue stream for us. We've got some content trialling on Facebook Watch in the US which is doing incredibly well. As Watch rolls out across the world it'll be interesting to see how we fare.”

Glynne’s bread and butter consists of encouraging brands to partner and cooperate around Fremantle’s international slate of shows. Branded entertainment teams operate in each of its 30 territories, and opportunities for commercialisation are baked into development plans. Glynne says: “We create formats that will work with our broadcasters and we create IP that will travel – that’s our main criteria. But as soon as something's in the pipeline, our development team will work with us to work out what the branded opportunities are around that show.

“Even before it goes to air, we'll take the property and create a wishlist of brands that could work for the format, and when we go to market we are able to pull those brands in. And as soon as broadcasters start commissioning it, their commercial teams will consult with us.”

With X-Factor set to return to the UK this weekend (1 September), Glynne’s team will be working hard to unite audiences and brands around a long-running legacy format. ITV’s head of studios Kevin Lygo, speaking at the TV Festival, said that the network’s role was “to keep it going and keep it fun,” and Glynne echoes his call for continuity.

“There's a few different brands around the show. We’ll typically have an auto brand, FMCG brand, health and beauty brand, but we'll be clever about integrating them seamlessly so that it feels authentic.” The action doesn’t stop at the television screen, with Fremantle licensing X-Factor off air with tailored promotions such as money-can’t-buy tickets to the live recorded shows. Further branded content will be produced for YouTube as the series progresses.

While the company innovates around its premier properties and experiments online, Glynne says that other forms of branded entertainment could yield results for Fremantle in the future. Advertiser-funded programming was recently revived for Secrets In My Family, which was sponsored by Ancestry.co.uk. She hopes that the show will be picked up by broadcasters outside the UK, but points out the format’s limitations: “It did really well, but now our challenge is to take it out into the world and talk to broadcasters about putting the show on in different countries.”

Glynne explains that the running theme between Fremantle’s commercial services is collaboration – with brands, media owners and platforms. “Fremantle has historically been partnership based – we love working with brands and media. It's in the DNA of Fremantle to work in collaboration with everyone else,” she says, citing the company’s recent involvement with food-focused Vice channel Munchies.

Collaboration, she says, can help brands participate in the cultural moments that Fremantle’s shows aim to spark. “Our shows are cultural tentpoles and they transform people's lives. If we marry that with a brand's ambition to become part of that tentpole, then that's the sweet spot.”

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