While The Story Lab evolved out of the need for its ad agency parent Dentsu Aegis to diversify into content IP, consulting for brands wishing to break into entertainment is just one aspect of its business.
The firm, which has a presence in 23 territories, is a buyer and seller of entertainment formats and factual content, often developing ideas with third-party indies, such as UK indies Youngest Media and Renowned Films.
The company’s hits include Ninja Warrior, based on a Japanese physical gameshow format, which has sold into 12 European territories and has enjoyed a total of 30 series. Other successes have come via co-development deals such as Youngest Media’s Game of Clones. The doppelganger dating show, which The Story Lab also distributes, was originally commissioned for E4 three years ago, and is still doing roaring trade: a Latin American version for Brazil’s Record TV and Amazon Prime was announced last month, which follows runs in the US, Germany, France and China.
Other partnerships have included deals with Michael Strahan’s US-based SMAC Entertainment, and The Story Lab’s global president Michael Iskas adds that the most successful collaborations have come through ventures with “independently minded creative producers who are keen to explore different business models”.
The company’s two most recent formats, All Together At the Table – from French broadcaster M6 – and 9 Windows – co-developed with Japanese entertainment outfit Nippon TV – fortuitously contain elements of remote production, although both series were conceived before the global lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
However, with bigger brands such as Ninja Warrior only just getting back on their feet following a production hiatus, Iskas says the plan is to push these ‘Covid-friendly’ formats, which can in made remotely in parts or with limited studio requirements.
“9 Windows is very much a production of our times one that taps into programming and audience needs. We want to go heavy on shows like this for free-to-air commissions,” he adds.
According to Iskas, the company has no plans to dip into scripted, but it is targeting the streamers with a raft of factual formats, including a sports documentary series for a big US streaming platform.
The Story Lab is also keen on creating and testing IP in the premium podcast space and has numerous series in development in the UK and US. One of its Spotify series, XRey, on the Spanish King Juan Carlos abdication, is now being developed into a TV series with Weekend Studio after becoming one of Spain’s top three podcasts since its launch in May.
“There’s an appetite right now for stories that are told in a docuseries-type way and podcasts are the perfect way to enter this market,” he says.
The firm hasn’t forgotten its ad agency roots, however, and regularly acts as a conduit for brands, indies, broadcasters and streamers. The Story Lab facilitated Budweiser’s first original series in the UK Side Hustles, a show for sports streamer DAZN exploring Premier League footballers’ passion projects and business enterprises away from the pitch. The project was sent out to UK indies, with Renowned Films coming up with the best idea for the brief. “In other cases we’ve had A-list producers approach us with a concept that we knew a certain brand was looking for – so we paired them up,” Iskas adds.