Pilot Light Report Back From Edinburgh TV Festival

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The Edinburgh International Television Festival is one of the most prestigious media events in the UK – bringing together all parts of the television and digital world to celebrate the creativity, diversity and inspirational talent in the field, and to debate the major issues facing the industry. The Festival draws around 2000 delegates from the major networks and production companies internationally.

The team from Pilot Light TV Festival in Manchester report back from this year’s festival:

We started Pilot Light TV Festival from a background in film exhibition, simply being TV lovers wanting to see TV content in a similar setting to some of the best film events we’d attended. In our first few years we dove headfirst into the eclectic field of clearing repertory TV screening rights, and managed to create great partnerships with people like Walter Presents & Amazon Video; but during our transition into the TV industry we have come to terms with a simple fact, the TV industry is HUGE. Obviously in terms of form and demand, but there are SO MANY people who work in the industry; to the point where it can be puzzling which member of staff at Channel 4 is the right person to talk to about promotional screenings or anything else. Luckily for us this year, thanks to Film Hub NWC, the Pilot Light team got to attend Edinburgh TV Festival, and EVERYONE was there, even the noble deity that is David Attenborough.

Greg Walker, Daniel Mills and Adam Jackson, the three core team members of Pilot Light attended and it was one of the most fulfilling few days of our careers so far. Immediately we were amongst the cream of the crop of the TV industry and the next generation of talent attending through EITF’S The Network & Test Card schemes. The three of us were all there to achieve different goals to benefit the festival so we’re each going to tell you why EITF is an absolutely amazing experience for anyone working in TV events.

Greg Walker (Festival Director)

My goal at Edinburgh first and foremost was to build programming partnerships for the festival but also take in as much of the festival as possible to learn just how one of the biggest TV festivals in the world operates. As mentioned in our first two years we were lucky enough to work with Walter Presents & Amazon Video on premiering some of their material on the big screen at the festival alongside our celebration of classics and future talent in Web Series. Clearing classic/repertory TV to screen is a very complex process which is never the same for any two titles, but screening new TV is easier, if you have the right partnerships.

The majority of channels/platforms are happy to screen their titles in a cinema space as the activity functions as part of their marketing for new releases. Screening the first episode of a new show on a big screen, followed by a Q&A entices audiences to check out the rest at home. Thus far our programming partnerships have come to fruition through a combination of utilising our advisory board members contacts and just banging on the door of the major UK channels and trying to introduce them to the concept that watching TV in a cinema is the best thing ever. The problem with the structures of the likes of BBC, Sky, Channel 4, YouTube etc being so huge is it has been difficult to properly connect with the right people. EITF was an amazing antidote to this.

Unlike the film industry’s biggest industry events like Cannes Film Festival, there was a surprisingly charming lack of industry hierarchy or competition; everyone was there with a common goal to make (or in our case, celebrate) amazing content for the good of the TV industry, and interacting with the major shot-callers of them goals wasn’t only reserved for those with upper level badges or VIP party invites.

Over the course of the festival I was able to introduce Pilot Light to the right people at the likes of BBC, Comedy Central, Channel 4, YouTube and more thanks to this atmosphere, being in a room with these people (At events such as their regular free brunches, opening party at the museum, and unofficial festival pubs!) without the pretence of an elevator pitch has led to some exciting potential collaborations at Season 3 of the festival. I could be talking to someone about TV I love at an after party (Most likely Halt & Catch Fire, a team fave ha-ha), and they turn out to be the marketing/event lead at Blue Peter and they LOVE the idea of Pilot Light and working on producing events with us, these encounters happened many times over.

Outside of building partnerships for screening + Q&A content, EITF was also greatly inspiring and educational in the art of panel programming. They were very well crafted, highly informative and impeccably produced with guests such as Charlie Brooker, Phoebe Waller Bridge, Russel Brand, Jay Hunt and so many more. Outside of the vast knowledge gleamed about audience development and engagement (I’ll leave that for Dan!) the concept of panel sponsorship was very apparent and influential. Instead of our approach (As relative TV industry newcomers) of pursuing all panellists ourselves with no assistance, the panels at Edinburgh are produced with their sponsors (YouTube, Channel 4, Comedy Central, Broadcast Magazine) to utilise their extensive contact base. We’ve had a few instances of this at Pilot Light, for example our ‘Writing Soap Operas’ panel sponsored by ITV but it’s certainly something we’ll be looking at developing more with our newfound partnerships after EITF.

Overall EITF was a highly beneficial opportunity to see how a festival at the top of our game works, to create some very exciting programming partnerships for Season 3 and beyond, get a feel of the state of affairs in the TV industry, meet the amazing people who will be the future of the industry and come away feeling totally inspired for our future events. Thank you to Film Hub NWC for this great experience, we’re already excited about next year!

Daniel Mills (Festival Producer) 

Attending Edinburgh International Television Festival (EITF) was an eye-opening, educational and influential experience and one that would not have been possible without the support of the BFI Film Hub (North West Central). Thanks should always go to Sally and Alison for their belief in Pilot Light and the support to really push ourselves in terms of vision and exposure – EITF was that opportunity this year and we thrust ourselves head-first into it!

With Greg cultivating collaborations for programming partnerships & Adam developing contacts for sponsorship and progression, my focus was on the aspects of this bustling industry festival that could assist us in delivering increasingly diverse content and resultant audience for Pilot Light TV Festival. With such a well-constructed schedule of panels and workshops, the three of us knew that EITF was going to be a gold mine of information.

Early on we’d questioned the timing of the festival, overlapping with both the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe (our cosy little one-bed Airbnb in Leith proving to be a bit of a bargain in an otherwise booked-out, overpriced hotel season) but we were duly informed that this particular week was a well-known ‘down’ week in the TV industry and that it was seen as a way of guaranteeing attendance for a lot of their target/wish-list attendees. It was also uttered that many of the attendees saw the festival as an opportunity to discuss any issues or tensions that they’d experienced across the year, to blow off steam and create/mend any bridges accordingly. The first panel I attended absolutely set this tone with an age-old concern for many creative industries; how to engage and re-engage with young people. This proved a feisty affair and one which became the origin of many candid and open discussions across the festival about content, demographic and diversity. Executives from a wide range of broadcasting and production houses (from mainstream ITV to off-the-cuff VICELAND) refused to hold back their thoughts or tongues on how they saw their future tenures.

The connections made from this panel alone have created a renewed approach to how we programme not just Pilot Light’s content but more so our offer for Young People. Our existing partnerships with local universities provide us a direct link to a flourishing network of young creatives and it’s clear our panel, workshop and masterclass schedule should, like broadcast options, be tailored to provide content that directly feeds into their own experiences and ambitions.

An integral part of Pilot Light’s commitment to providing a diverse and level platform for content and expression was another focus of several events at EITF. The Creative Diversity Network (CDN)’s Deborah Williams hosted an event inspired by the CDN’s Project Diamond – an industry-wide survey investigating opportunities and equality across all levels of the broadcast and television industries. Conversations about diversity can seem all too obvious and there’s an inherent danger that straight white male dominated environments perpetuate a culture of buzzwords and lip service, so it was awesome to learn about a successful and thriving counter-culture within the broadcasting and TV production sectors. To know our personal and brand ideals were shared by such big players was as refreshing as it was damning; that only together can we really achieve anything of true value.

From the popularity of content focusing on the real lives of disabled or minority families to the ground-up culture of inclusivity and diversity at BBC Sport, the passion for resetting standards was a genuine tonic. From day one collectively we have to think about what each aspect of Pilot Light wants to achieve. The panellists spoke of their experience of getting to the end of their processes and thinking ‘we need diversity’, knowing they’d already gone wrong. Along with Pilot Light’s existing partnerships, these conversations lead onto further interactions with global platforms like YouTube, where content is created not for financial return (although success does often come organically!) but simply the wealth in diversity of content created by diverse creators.

These connections will carry into future festivals and these conversations continue to influence my whole thought structure towards what Pilot Light can (and does) represent. With the energy of open and unbiasedly cultivated content, the audiences that represent these same creative aspirations will find their niche and their passions. It is my hope that the experiences the three of us brought back from EITF will influence not just our own festival, but the audiences and professionals who in turn we provide for and influence with our programming and partnership decisions.

Adam Jackson (Festival Producer)

My goal at the festival was to network and investigate my way around EITF to find new potential sponsors and partners for Pilot Light. With us being a rare kind of festival, in being a TV Festival, we aren’t as eligible for many funding pots as some other film, arts or media festivals might be; namely due to the fact that we’re a new type of festival. I can count on my hands and toes the amount of dedicated TV Festivals there are in the world. We only just recently qualified for BFI funding due to changes in what qualifies as Film in their 2022 funding strategy. Due to these reasons, our funding is predominantly down to sponsors and box office revenue, luckily for my research purposes, so is EITF’s! The headline sponsors of EITF and YouTube & BT, closely followed by a larger group of major sponsors comprising of the likes of BBC, ITV, Sky etc.

Whilst all of these sponsors fund the festival, they also contribute to the overall production of the festival in different ways. First and most visibly 100% of the areas where delegates such as ourselves congregate and take advantage of free food (Bacon Sarnies from The Farm Group were to die for) were taken over by these sponsors, it was impossible to be in a networking situation and not be surrounded by the presence that these sponsors had. This activity was key to the communal aspect of the festival and something Pilot Light really wants to build. In these branded lounges, I was able to connect with a smorgasbord of individuals and companies who were excited by the idea of Pilot Light and expressed an interest in funding and collaborating on the festival, from Production Studio owners to Music Clearance Experts to TV/Film school directors and channel marketing leads.

The second way was an interesting approach to funding. Let’s not beat around the bush, attending EITF is expensive. The delegate passes are a little more expensive than your average film festival pass, there’s the travel to Edinburgh then finding somewhere to stay amidst the craziness of Edinburgh Fringe. Without the help now Film Hub NWC and festival friends, attending would have been very difficult for us. One way these expenses are justified is through the industry sponsors both supplying excellent panellists/speakers for the programme and ensuring that a large invaluable amount of their teams, from a multitude of departments is in attendance (There were over 50 delegates from YouTube alone) to meet and discuss collaboration with. This ensured that every delegate you spoke to was someone worth talking to, from a distance it may seem that this could make the festival inaccessible but it is one of the most inclusive festivals I’ve seen; the festival runs various schemes such as The Network, Test Card and Ones to Watch in order to make this possible as they recognise the importance of attending for those without TV production/broadcast company budgets to attend.

Attending the festival was essential for my role in the festival. It has allowed me to see how a bigger festival operates and what sponsorship ideas I can bring back to adapt for Pilot Light. Most importantly it has given me the opportunity to meet a large group of potential funders and collaborators that can help take Pilot Light forward in a big way; I never would have been able to meet this many people in Manchester in pass or through many (many) cold emails has we have done in the past. I’m very excited to see where the connections I’ve made at EITF take us in Season 3!

The Pilot Light team attended the day with a bursary from Film Hub NWC.