Realscreen’s 25th anniversary: “Where to next?” with Woodcut Media’s Kate Beal

In celebration of Realscreen’s 25th anniversary, we reached out to top executives across the non-fiction and unscripted screen content industry to get their perspectives on where the industry is now, and where it’s headed. We continue this series with Kate Beal, founder and CEO of London-headquartered Woodcut Media.

What is the biggest challenge facing the unscripted/non-fiction content industry right now, and how is it impacting your work?

We are in the midst of an enormous period of change within our industry. COVID supercharged the boom of the streamers, and the production business across the board has benefited from that. However, the looming cost-of-living crisis coupled with recent mergers means that there will be a period of uncertainty for content creators. The big positive is that unscripted generally weathers most storms due to our leaner budgets and the nimble nature of productions, but there will still be an impact.

What’s the biggest opportunity for producers right now?

At present the customer base is increasing, and that is a great thing for producers. There are more and more opportunities to have your content funded. This may slightly stall in the next couple of years when the market settles, but for now, we’re in a purple patch. The biggest increase is the rise of the AVOD players, who in some cases are now not just challengers to pay TV but the natural successors.

Given that the rate of change is so rapid in the industry now, what do you think the unscripted business will look like in 2025?

It’s always hard to predict the future… for years we’ve all been speculating on when the death of linear TV will finally happen, but here we still are with a wonderful mixed ecology of linear broadcasters and VOD providers. I think for the next few years this combination of platforms will continue, as viewers are adapting to watching great content in the best way for them — when and how they want it.

What has been your favorite unscripted or non-fiction project of the past 25 years?

This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. Unscripted television has created some of the biggest watercooler moments of the 21st century so far!

Personally, one of the most impactful documentaries of the past 25 years is the Adam Curtis film The Power of Nightmares, which was first aired in 2004 on the BBC. I watched it as a viewer, and as a program-maker the series really inspired my thinking. Curtis took an incredibly difficult subject — the politics of fear and the rise of fundamentalist Islam — and presented it in a unique, compelling way. His use of archive and music was incredible, making a complicated narrative accessible. As a lover of archive, it gave me confidence to create new ways of using these images.

Besides production, Woodcut also has a dedicated distribution division. Do you think that’s a vital area for producers of a certain scale to explore, and what other areas would you like to expand into in the near future with Woodcut?

I don’t think it’s vital for every producer to form their own distribution company. However, I do think it’s essential that all producers fully understand the business of program distribution and how to use it to their advantage. Thankfully, Woodcut International is proving a success and is supporting the production group. Starting a new business during the pandemic paid off!

What would the 2022 version of yourself tell the 1997 you about having a career in the business?

Producing unscripted TV is one of the greatest privileges.As a producer/director, having a camera in your hand is like a passport to many different worlds. These are life experiences money can’t buy and that I am forever grateful for.

As an indie boss and exec… well, that’s been one hell of a journey. I think I’d tell myself… don’t worry, it will all work out in the end. Work hard, be creative, know when to take a risk, and have faith that everything happens for a reason. Oh… and start your pension earlier!