Pilot Light TV Festival was formed in 2016 with the mission to celebrate the very best of small screen content, on the glorious big screen at HOME in Manchester. At the heart of that mission was to make TV, a medium that is mostly consumed in seclusion but discussed enmasse, a more communal experience!
We were deep into working on all the aspects that go into the delivery of the festival, on track to start hitting our deadlines around early March, and then the viral sensation known as COVID-19 rose to prominence around the world. When it was clear this was a global situation that wasn’t going away soon, we were ‘lucky’ to be on the precipice of making any major expenditure; so after much deliberation we made the decision to postpone the festival rather than be forced into doing so at a later point and taking a potentially fatal financial hit.
Our aim was to postpone festival delivery until August. When August drew closer it became apparent we wouldn’t stepping foot into HOME, so R&D into a digital edition became our priority.
After this period of research, we decided on Eventive as the platform to deliver the festival as it is in our opinion, the best digital replication of a festival experience out there. Following this decision, the opportunity to become part of the UK wide virtual film season Film Feels Connected arose, and with that support we went about delivering Pilot Light TV Festival: Season 5 (The Digital Special).
This online edition consisted of two days of the best in new independent TV Pilots and Web Series, curated by us, streamed straight to our audiences’ homes. All content was released on the 15th & 16th of August via a pay what you can pricing scale and was then viewable for one week.
We thought that this was the most important, and unique thing we could bring to the saturated market of online events. Zoom Q&A’s + livestreams were popping up everywhere and we thought our USP could be to deliver 23 diverse and outstanding series from around the world, for audiences who had grew tired of the mainstream offerings on streaming platforms. What resulted was a fantastic experience, with record attendance on this kind of event for us as a festival and a superb opportunity to work closely with the series creators involved to utilise and develop their audiences massively.
Season 5 of Pilot Light TV Festival was due to hit the big screen in May 2020, then COVID-19 hit, and a journey to take over the small screen began…
Provide a more diverse independent TV selection to audiences than that of easily accessible stream platforms
Develop audiences for Web Series & Indie TV Pilots
Continue to reach young diverse audiences whilst further building upon those that may not have attended physical events in the past due to accessibility issues, in both cases of disability and class
To create a slick online experience that fits in perfectly with Pilot Light TV Festival’s branding and values
Quadrupled audience size for what this content would bring in at the physical festival
Extremely valuable experience for our team in delivering a festival via Eventive
Our first time using a pay what you can sliding scale worked great, opened the festival up to new audiences whilst still allowing us to break even
A consistently gender balanced, young, queer, ethnically diverse audience with increases in attendance from those with disabilities and those from disadvantaged background
A high percentage of new audiences who will attend future physical festival editions
Reaching a sizable international audience for the first time
Nefertiti Holiday: I is a poet
All Hail Beth
The Square Root
Call It A Day
The Right Swipe
The World Between Us
Don't Tape Over
Ups and Downs
Back for Good
The Anxious Taxidermist
Unlike a typical edition, there were far fewer partnerships on this edition. Marketing partnerships were the key component, working with local organisations to ensure that we could reach the under-represented audiences we were targeting. A vital part of this year’s edition was working with the creators behind the shows featured to market the festival by connecting with their expansive and diverse pre-existing audiences, to further share the festival on an international level.
Budget in brief
Approximately £2000, Film Feels Funding for Marketing & Platform costs made up the majority of the budget, the rest was made up by a modest box office return (far less than usual due to Pay What You Can tickets across the board, but no loss was made).
Eventive as a platform - Working with Eventive as our platform partners was a huge success. We were apprehensive to move online with any platform that would mean a significant amount of compromise; Eventive allowed us to deliver the same great experience and branding that audiences expect from us, albeit in the digital realm!
Co-Pro with filmmakers - A major benefit of moving online was being able to utilise the pre-existing audience that a lot of the filmmakers featured had. Being an international festival, there has always being geographical barriers preventing creators and their audiences from fully engaging with the festival but this year we were able to create a mutual partnership with them and in turn massively develop audiences for both ours and the series featured. The inclusion of an audience award also massively helped mobilise filmmakers to bring audiences in digitally.
A filmmaker presence – whilst we didn’t have the time or manpower to effectively deliver Q&A’s, we did have all the filmmakers in competition deliver special video introductions to their screenings. This is a feature of the usual festival for international filmmakers, and a great amount of creativity goes into them. This year was no different and this was a fantastic personable aspect that helped to replicate the festival experience.
A curated, alternative TV binge offering – During lockdown we were hearing from many people that they were struggling to find their next TV watch on streaming platforms as TV premieres were down due to the pandemic; audiences were extremely receptive to our offer of (and for some, an introduction to) the superb world of web series and independent TV pilots. We brought in record numbers of those who hadn’t attended the festival and have said they’ll attend again.
A 100% Digitally Marketed Festival – This edition benefitted from us being able to solely focus our marketing efforts online, the target audience for this, as always with us, skewed younger so being able to spend all of our efforts on a digital social strategy enabled us to hit our targets.
What has been difficult
Short delivery window – we wish we had taken the decision to move online sooner so we had more than a month to develop and deliver the festival. We are proud of what we achieved, but more time would have been beneficial.
Limited streaming school time – whilst there were no fatal errors or compromises in this field, more time to get to grips with delivering events on Eventive would have been great. I’d recommend anyone delivers a couple of test events (ideally one screening + one live event) before proceeding on delivering a whole festival programme. There are many subtle knacks to these streaming platforms which are learned through experience rather than their official guides and FAQs.
The cost of Pay What You Can screenings – For all of their merits, one common criticism of Eventive I’ve discussed with other exhibitors would be the cost of free screenings not being crystal clear. Whilst we are more than happy with the results of Pay What You Can tickets and we did not make a loss, the invoice from Eventive for DRM & Ticketing fees for free tickets was much larger than expected.
What you would do differently if you did it again
More time and development – this edition was pulled together as a reaction to the postponed festival and the pandemic, should we do it again more development time would be a must in order to fully realise delivering a true version of the festival online, rather than an adaptation of it.
More live events and audience interactivity – linking with the previous point, more development would have meant more funding, time and staffing resources to deliver the high-quality live panels, in-conversations and broadcaster endorsed events that Pilot Light TV Festival is known for. This would have enabled us to hit a much larger audience base.
Day one content drop – Were we to deliver the festival online again, I would opt to release all VOD content in one push, rather than staggered approach we made. From experience on this festival and participating in others, the audience experience of creating your own viewing schedule is much preferred.
Awareness / Attitudes
We screened a selection of Independent TV Pilot & Web Series submissions from around the world, representing an eclectic programme of stories from a multitude of creative backgrounds. A core aspirational part of our programming are the people of didn’t see themselves represented on TV, and so took it into their own hands to make their own series independently.
Various themes and narratives build up our 2020 programme. To name a few we have Nefertiti Holiday (A mockumentary examining privilege from a Black perspective), Freeze (A satirical pilot about societies expectations of female bodies and fertility), Ups & Downs (A BBC Ireland pilot about a passionate young man with Down’s Syndrome, determined to attend his first rock gig), Post Coital (An intersectional Web Series delving into our vulnerable conversations after sex) and The Nervous Taxidermist (a beautifully dark musical about the things we do to cope with crippling everyday anxiety).
The full festival programme can be found here > https://bit.ly/PLTVSeason5
Diversity, Access & Inclusion has been something extremely important to us from the start. Our programming team is extremely diverse and thus naturally this trickles down to the programme we presented at Season 5. White, cisgender, heterosexual males are the minority in our programming makeup.
This year we wanted to make sure access was as wide as we could possibly manage/afford so we ensured that firstly all screenings were Pay What You Can with a starting admission price of £0, secondly we tried our best to ensure that as many screenings as possible has closed captions. In a perfect world we would have been able to get any titles missing them subtitled ourselves, but budgets were tight on this one, so it’s something we’re definitely going to push for in future funding applications and development.
For this edition, our audiences looked like this:
• 76% identified as female
• Approximately 74% were under 30 years old (a huge increase)
• 47% from queer backgrounds
• 44% of the audience identified as BAME
• 20% were from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is a welcome increase on our averages, we definitely think this is linked to our Pay What You Can Ticketing.
Knowledge & Experience
Our audience base is quite young (on average 56% under 30 annually) and both the standard audience along with prospective filmmakers may not have considered independent TV and viewing experience or a career route for themselves. Where Short Film > Feature Film is widely acknowledged as a path in film, the independent route is not discussed as often in TV career progression. We aim to inform audiences that TV does not only exist at the big budget, broadcaster and streaming platform level.
We pride ourselves on giving the next generation of TV talent a platform to showcase their creative talents to TV fans and industry that join us annually. We hope that with this edition being much more accessible from both a financial and geographical aspect, audiences for the shows featured will have been positively developed and that aspiring creatives watching the content will realise that if they dream of making TV, that is an absolutely attainable thing for them, no matter their background.
Creating a communal viewing experience is one of the foundational pillars or our organisation so we had to ensure we brought it to this online edition. TV is a medium that is commonly watched in solitude but discussed publicly more often than not. The addition of an audience award and working with our creators featured ensured that a strong social media dialogue was constantly throughout the digital festival, moving between us, creators and audiences as they experienced the festival at different times over the week.
A highlight we’re very proud of was seeing how much new audiences and those familiar with Web Series/TV fandom came together in dialogue very regularly, when discussing what they’d been watching and for example who they might be voting for in the audience award.
Our repeat screening of #RIPVINE (The 90 min compilation of Vines we put together for BFI Comedy Genius in 2018) concluded the festival and was an extremely wholesome communal digital experience, seeing the reactions roll in real-time across Twitter!