Tribeca Film Festival Is Partnering With The Atlantic to Expand Its Branded Storytelling Category

Entries are on track to double

A film created by Samsung was the winner of last year's Tribeca X Award for branded content.
Vimeo: Samsung

The 2017 Tribeca Film Festival will once again highlight 2016’s best branded storytelling from agencies, media companies, brands and independent filmmakers. With new judges and a partnership with The Atlantic, its organizers hope to further merge advertising and entertainment while bringing the best work from marketers to the masses.

This year, the film festival will turn Tribeca X Award, the festival’s branded storytelling award, into an official festival category, moving it alongside other categories such as features, shorts and experiential work. So far, the category is on track to receive more than 600 submissions—twice the total that were received for 2016.

According to Andrew Essex, CEO of Tribeca Enterprises, the festival’s owner, said The Atlantic will host the winning entries in order to showcase superior work to an audience much broader than what the festival can reach. He said recognizing the best work will help encourage the industry to produce more of it.

“I think we are reflecting some of the secular changes that are affecting the industry,” Essex said in an interview. “People recognize that storytelling matters, that authentic artist-created work is what’s getting seen and it’s the dreck that’s getting blocked and ignored. So there is this sort of slide towards creativity, towards quality, and we’re helping to rise that tide by celebrating that kind of work.”

Last year’s Tribeca X Awards, sponsored by GE, highlighted both short and long-form content from tech, fashion and alcohol brands. However, this year’s winning content—which includes digital, social, virtual reality, documentary, narratives and short films—is much more diverse.

Tribeca X isn’t the only festival seeking to raise recognition for branded storytelling. Last month, during the Sundance Film Festival, Adweek hosted the first Arc Awards to highlight storytelling funded by brands. Honorees included “Lo And Behold”—a feature-length documentary produced by filmmaker Werner Herzog and funded by NetScout—and a movie for Modelo created by CNN’s branded content studio. Other festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, have also over the years slowly converged more with the Cannes Festival Creativity, which highlights the best work from the agency world.

Essex hasn’t always been on the film side of things. Prior to joining Tribeca Enterprises, which creates a lot of branded content of its own on behalf of brands, he co-founded the New York agency Droga5 and worked there as CEO before taking his current role last year.

Essex said the goal of Tribeca X isn’t just to show branded work, but “great work” in general. He said brands are now obligated to create work that audiences want to see, but it requires an “arbiter” to curate what that might look like as advertising and entertainment converge. This year, the judges also reflect those converging worlds. The 2017 Tribeca X Award will be chosen by jurors from Hearst, Upworthy, CAA, J. Crew and JASH. (Joanna Coles, chief creative officer of Hearst, is also on the board of Snapchat.)

“I think there is a massive convergence that’s taking place,” Essex said. “As interruption essentially fades into obscurity, you will essentially see content and nothing. Great work is going to be embraced, and bad work is going to be discarded. So it doesn’t really matter where the work comes from; it only matters that the work is welcome.”

He said creators should make strong work that drives results because it’s worth viewing. Asked if the award is more for raising the bar of the creators or the awareness of the audience, he said it’s for both.

“Making your head spin with all the different perspectives and creating a Darwinian mashup, if you will,” he said.