13 Sep DEG Q&A | Content Sales Chief Melissa Wohl on FilmRise’s FAST Global Roll
September 13, 2023 | The global independent distributor, producer and streaming company FilmRise has been a leader in ad-supported streaming since before the term FAST was coined, its SVP and Head of Content Sales Melissa Wohl likes to point out. Wohl, who is SVP and Head of Content Sales, held executives sales positions in companies including Content Media, Harmony Gold, WTTW and Hearst Entertainment before joining FilmRise in 2017, by which time the company had quietly launched FilmRise channels on more than 16 AVOD platforms. It did so by leveraging an existing relationship with Amazon, then adding The Roku Channel, Tubi and Pluto as early AVOD and FAST partners. It also expanded early to CTV platforms, with Samsung launching ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ as a single series channel before other companies had moved towards the format. Along the way, the FilmRise sales team grew to 12 staffers, lead by Wohl. “Hashtag ‘thesalesteam’, that’s who we are,” Wohl says.
DEG recently caught up with Wohl to get her take on how FilmRise became a FAST/AVOD innovator.
DEG: FilmRise was an early leader in FAST. How has the FAST model’s rapid growth impacted the company?
MW: Well, we were an innovator in FAST early on with over 20 genre and single IP channels live even before the acronym FAST was coined. So, the impact on FilmRise was immediate and dramatic as the format was rapidly embraced in large part by the pandemic. We already had content in the pipeline identified by our proprietary data analytics team as ripe for FAST. Today, we have 250 live FAST channels with over 135 more coming online by year’s end.
DEG: How important is it for FilmRise to take this programming format (AVOD/FAST) global?
MW: FAST and AVOD are key to our present and future growth strategy. So much so that we have dedicated sales personnel who work closely not only with specific partners, but also with our acquisitions and analytics teams. Those teams focus on key growth territories identified as the inevitable shift towards the free-to-consumer distribution model rapidly accelerates globally as the dominant model and away from the reliance on paid subscription and transactional models.
DEG: How have CTVs expanded FilmRise’s reach – domestically and globally?
MW: Yes, CTV has been instrumental to our distribution growth strategy as it allows us to efficiently reach territories worldwide especially with our FAST channels. We achieved 90 percent global distribution reach largely through connected devices with all the major CTV device manufacturers including Vizio, Roku, Samsung TV Plus, LG, Plex, TCL and more.
DEG: How important is local programming to AVOD and FAST?
MW: A good portion of our audience watching AVOD and FAST have a real thirst for programming in their own language. We address that demand by dubbing programming into various languages as well as seeking out content deals of programs produced locally. For example, in Germany we dubbed ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ for AVOD into German and we have a curated channel that features programming that originates in Germany. A FAST example includes locally produced programming from Canada distributed as FilmRise Canadien.
DEG: What is the decision-making process behind what type of content lands on AVOD and what becomes part of a FAST channel? Are there specific genres that lend themselves better to FAST vs. AVOD, for example?
MW: Our decision making is largely formulated by proprietary analytics. Across acquisitions, our analytics team drives data driven analysis of content, and identifies specific genres and formats that lend themselves better to success on AVOD and FAST. By doing this, we realized early on that focusing on episodic series was best suited for FAST as that format allows the viewer the ultimate “lean back” experience. Our highly successful series ‘Highway to Heaven’ starring Michael Landon and ‘The Rifleman’ are great examples of that. Data has also pointed us to lean further into the true crime genre, which is always such a high performer across all forms of media. Iconic series such as ‘Forensic Files’ and ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ (celebrating its 35th anniversary this year) come with a large, loyal and highly engaged fan base that we can leverage to introduce our new originally produced series. More specifically, those audience insights help us determine what new original programming to invest in that will have the greatest chance for success — like the FilmRise original true crime series ‘Bloodline Detectives hosted by Nancy Grace’ (now in its 4th season) and most recently with the successful launch of ‘The Interrogation Room’ hosted by Vivica A. Fox’ this summer.
DEG: How has FilmRise expanded its global footprint over the past few years?
MW: We brought in seasoned industry executive Daniel Gagliardi as our VP, Digital Distribution and Business Development to lead our digital expansion strategies globally. Daniel continues to expand our reach domestically with new business opportunities. Through the ranks, our very own Joseph Dussault, Director of FAST Digital Distribution has grown within the company and the sales department to help not only expand our FAST imprint but he also heads up scheduling of the channels as well.
I’m excited to tout that FilmRise now has more than 250 FAST channels live around the world: 192 in North America, 53 in Europe, 6 in LATAM and 130+ more launching 2023.
We also have a dedicated international component with seasoned veteran Emilia Nuccio heading up our international division, working closely with our international reps to continue to expand our traditional and digital footprint throughout the world. Also, I’d like to mention that we love mentoring in this fast-changing business to help to raise the next generation in our world of distribution and to help teach AVOD in developing markets.
DEG: What makes the FilmRise sales team unique in the marketplace?
MW: The FilmRise sales team is an experienced and diverse “boots on the ground” global sales force that’s nimble and keenly armed with superior data analytics that keeps us ahead of the curve. For example, when the industry at large embraced FAST, FilmRise was leading the way and at the ready with reps in place creating and placing FAST channels with our partners around the globe. We are proud to tell everyone every chance we get that we created a distribution footprint that delivers 90 percent coverage globally through connected devices making us the largest independently owned provider of AVOD content and FAST channels in the world.
For more information, visit filmrise.com.