Complex Networks on overcoming production challenges amid pandemic

Complex Network's "Burger Scholar Sessions," hosted by food personality George Motz.
Complex Network's "Burger Scholar Sessions," hosted by food personality George Motz.

How the company was able to actively create content and maintain its pre-coronavirus budget.

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in most production work over the last four months due to physical limitations, access to talent, sponsorship expectations and the cancelation of real-life events. But Complex Networks was able to work around a lot of the obstacles by innovating and adapting its strategies.

Out of the gate, Complex Networks was fortunate in that it had programmed content as far ahead as possible when coronavirus hit, which bought the network time to focus on creating new products and changing existing ones, said Justin Killion, GM of Complex Networks and EVP of operations and content.

The company anticipated that COVID-19 would last for many months, so it quickly worked to make editing and producing as easy as possible for its production teams.

On the development side, Killion said Complex Networks saw a "huge opportunity to launch new franchises that we probably otherwise wouldn’t try."

Edgar Hernandez, chief revenue officer of Complex Networks, said that brands were really skittish around production value during shelter-in-place orders, but its online data helped diminish fears.

"What we found out immediately was that 90 percent of our survey respondents said production wouldn’t deter them from watching any content as long as its interesting and entertaining," said Hernandez.

Before the pandemic, HP bought a whole season of Complex Network's popular "Sneaker Shopping" series, but with retail shopping out of the picture, the network had to quickly pivot its thinking for the show.

Complex Networks developed two new sneaker/streetwear-related shows that operated remotely, with HP still on as the original sponsor. The new content included: Sneaker Battles, a series that finds two special guests putting the most coveted kicks in their collections in a head-to-head matchup to determine who has the best pair; and DIY Closets, which offers an inside look at sneaker collections and closets of notable sneaker fanatics.

Both shows were a success, and HP received "equal or greater value" to the initial agreement, but they received that from Complex Networks as they adapted the program for remote production.

"Content is king, and not just visually," said Killion, referring to another original show released during the pandemic, "Burger Scholar Sessions," hosted by food personality George Motz.

While the quality was high because Motz is in expert in his field, Killion said the show also was a hit because "he’s an expert on burgers and a highly entertaining character."

Since March, Complex Networks has been able to maintain its budget and actively create content. 

In addition to the sneaker and burger shows, Complex Networks created "Fridge Tours," a new content series from First We Feast that explores what celebrity guests have in their fridges and pantries; and adapted existing series "Open Late" with sponsor Truly by pivoting the show to Instragram Live. The company was even was nominated for an Emmy for the "Why We Fight" docuseries.

According to Hernandez, the trust and flexibility from brand partners was higher than ever during the pandemic, allowing Complex Networks to adapt fast, try new formats and shift KPIs based on the sponsor’s original deal.

Due to coronavirus and how consumer behavior and content consumption has changed, Killion believes that mid-tier traditional cable programming – not highly engaged YouTube shows or premium content on Netflix – but the "disposable reality content" on traditional linear networks will "erode faster" than it already had been in the near future.

As for Complex Networks, the company is working on a number of premium projects at the moment and testing new content ideas so that it has a robust slate of programming to take it into the rest of this year and 2021.

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