What I Learned at Sundance as a Creator

Fresh perspective from a former agency CEO turned content exec

'At this year’s Sundance, it felt for the first time like we were really a part of things.'
Sundance/ Kelly Ann Taub

This was my first Sundance Film Festival seen through the lens of “creator” rather than agency.

I loved every one of my years on the agency side, and cherish the many experiences that each of those years brought. But, I wouldn’t trade where I sit now for anything.

Matt Seiler

My whole career has been in service of brands. I love them. I love what they are, I love what they do, and I love helping them achieve business success.

I want brands to be held in the highest regard.

But, for the last few years, I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot to help brands as much as I wanted.

I’ve done my time in account management, strategic planning and had creative agency and holding company leadership roles. I chose to go into media because it seemed to be the right altitude from which to seriously effect change.

We made real strides.

With the great fortune of unparalleled teams, and supportive bosses, things got way better. But, it bothered me that our success was measured principally by how much money we could convince our clients to spend.

No matter how good our intentions, we needed to keep clients’ budgets up … and that meant TV—lots of it. I didn’t watch much of the stuff, and when I did, I almost never watched the ads we were convincing our clients to spend behind.

Matt Seiler, left, joined Sir John Hegarty of BBH, John Partilla of Screenvision Media and JC Oliver of AOL/Microsoft, on a panel at Brand Storytelling at Sundance.
Photo: Michael Burgi

This was true of the rest of our team, and the audiences we were meant to serve. Part of that came from the other devices we were paying attention to as the TV in front of us began serving as more of a night-light. And, it was in part because when brands showed up, the experience was almost always worse.

There was only so much that could be done within the world from which I have come.

But on the content side, well that’s another thing altogether.

Here, the messages and where brands show up are as one. And, the audiences we serve are all-in. What it costs to create real engagement is a fraction of the cost of TV … and that is more than OK with us!

For example, one of Studio71’s all-time top performing digital programs was with and for a brand. Rhett and Link, aka Good Mythical Morning, one of our top channels (12 million YouTube subscribers), created a segment for Wendy’s in which the restaurant played a starring role in a full-day livestream where the duo responded to questions proposed by viewers through a virtual chat.

The level of engagement was so high it literally broke the livestream.

When it’s working best, brands add to the stories in such a way that audiences not only appreciate them being there, but look forward to their next appearance.

So, at this year’s Sundance, it felt for the first time like we were really a part of things. That what we were there to celebrate was the message, the medium, the brands, and most importantly: the creators.

Matt Seiler is president, marketing solutions for Studio71.