Connecting the Dots

By Rosie Lavan

For Jim Sommers and Karim Ahmad of the Independent Television Service (ITVS), success rests on building and engaging an audience. Based in San Francisco, ITVS backs independent filmmaking for broadcast television and across media platforms, and this year its mission to champion projects which raise awareness of pressing social issues will be furthered at The Pixel Market 2013 in the form of the new ITVS Impact Pixel Market Prize for Best Social Impact Project. The winner will receive £3,000 in development funding. In the next in our series of interviews with prize sponsors, we speak to Jim, Senior VP of Content at ITVS, and Karim, Senior Programming Manager.

PttP: The ITVS Impact Pixel Market Prize is new this year. Can you say a bit more about the thinking behind its introduction, and what you’ll be looking for when you award the prize?

JS/KA: ITVS has a history of supporting original online and cross-media content projects going back 10 years, beginning with our Electric Shadows initiative.

In the past five years, we’ve expanded this portfolio to include more cross-media programming, both surrounding our documentaries with interactive online enhancements, and supporting original online short narratives with interactive components.

After participating in The Pixel Pitch jury last year, we saw an opportunity to expand our support of socially impactful digital content by creating a prize at this year’s Pixel Market that aligns well with our mission. We will be looking for projects that foster diversity by incorporating under-served or under-represented voices. We are equally interested in content that is both innovative in format and has the intention to engage wide audiences and stimulate civic discourse around urgent social issues.

PttP: How do you measure social impact? Do projects that have a “message” (for want of a much better word) have a tougher time winning audiences beyond special interest groups? Some mainstream creative sectors in the UK have seen a nostalgic return to old-fashioned forms – the safe bet of pure entertainment – in, for example, TV talent shows and theatre musicals, which are guaranteed to draw in crowds. Has this also had an effect on the production of cross-media projects with a social conscience?

JS/KA: For over 20 years, ITVS has been supporting independent media producers who are committed to bringing diverse and urgent stories to the audiences, primarily through broadcast television and now on multiple platforms. Building and engaging audiences are critical components of our mission and how we define success. With the growing number of content producers and outlets, there are no “safe bets” for creators. Everyone working in media today is grappling with how to retain and attract audiences. Creating and presenting content with a “message” is more important than ever – there are wide audiences that want it and need it, and those communities will actively seek it out. Our strategies and tactics have had to change to connect the dots to bring in our audiences.

PttP: One of the things that distinguishes The Pixel Market from film and TV events is the diversity of decision-makers it attracts each year, bringing their expertise and influence from across the industry and around the world – international leaders in sectors from gaming and live events to advertising and publishing. This opens up opportunities and networks for participants – what, for you, is the significance of this aspect of the event?

JS/KA: It was a pleasure to participate in The Pixel Market last year and be part of a multi-disciplinary jury. Good storytelling comes in many forms and it is critical to bring in experts who can speak to those areas with the potential to cross-pollinate.

PttP: This is a new partnership for ITVS and Power to the Pixel. What do you think is going to be most valuable, and most exciting, about the relationship?

JS/KA: We look forward to developing a partnership that focuses on sharing knowledge about the independent media field of storytellers, and finding ways to support new and emerging producers who are navigating this ever-changing media space. ITVS is always seeking out new voices to contribute to the public dialogue around urgent social issues, and The Pixel Market is an ideal venue to do that.

The Pixel Market takes place on 16 & 17 October in London. Download an application form here. Application deadline: 1 AUGUST 18.00 BST.

The Cross-Media Forum takes place from 15-18 October. Tickets are available with 10% off until 16 August. Buy yours here.