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September 23, 2020

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Off the Fence Explores New Partnerships, Digital Diversification
By Kristin Brzoznowski

***ZDFE Factual***The ZDF Enterprises- and Off the Fence-backed interactive VOD platform WaterBear Network is set to launch this fall. And this follows on another partnership that Off the Fence struck up recently, aligning with Insight TV to launch InWild, a new channel dedicated to nature and wildlife content. These are but two examples of how Off the Fence has been diversifying its business, taking a 360-degree approach in doing so and proving to be a valuable partner in the marketplace.

The overall impact from the coronavirus pandemic has been somewhat unpredictable for Off the Fence and the factual-programming industry at large, according to Stefanie Fischer, managing director of sales. “We remained extremely busy, and buyers were very open to having lots of conversations but were naturally cautious and a lot of deals were delayed as a result,” she says. “However, there were also quite a few nice surprises where new slots had opened up or programming was needed quickly due to productions being put on hold. We did find that factual productions that had some sort of certainty with regards to delivery and that could be turned around fast were very desirable, and we’ve managed to greenlight a number of co-productions because of this. Factual content as a whole has a slight edge in this respect over fictional dramas and features, as it can be more flexible and can adapt to change a lot faster.”

Programming with a feel-good quality has been most in demand, says Loren Syer-Willoughby, head of acquisitions. “There was a slight rise in COVID-19 content very early on, but now broadcasters need content that is more entertaining and lighter-hearted. In addition, especially during the lockdown, there was a bigger focus and need for family-friendly programming due to families being at home together. However, with many countries opening up again, content needs have also gone somewhat back to normal.”

True crime continues to be a hot commodity in the marketplace, and Off the Fence is offering two series that have just been released from their Netflix holdbacks: Murder Mountain and Who Killed Malcolm X?

“Crime isn’t just for the late-night audiences anymore; it’s really progressed into prime time and even daytime, [with] families sometimes sitting around and watching together,” says Fischer. “We therefore find that although cases need to be explosive and somewhat well-known, they also need to be very story-driven and more open for wider audiences at different times of the day. We’re also seeing crime emerging beyond just murder stories to fraud and other scandals such as Fyre Festival and Jeffrey Epstein.”

The company has been producing and distributing content for over 26 years, with a sizable catalog of around 60 percent third-party programs versus 40 percent in-house. “Digital is an area where Off the Fence has grown exponentially and beyond straight program sales,” Fischer explains. “The changing digital landscape allows us to be in the driving seat, shifting the focus from solely B2B to also look at B2C opportunities”—such as setting up its own channels on YouTube or monetizing titles through Amazon’s PVD.

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