Australian comedies and a network geared towards millennials: a Q&A with Pivot’s Kent Rees

By Natan Edelsburg 

34423Pivot, a network that launched on August 1st by Participant Media focuses solely on millennials. The mission of Participant Media and its founder Jeff Skoll is to provide “entertainment that inspires social change,” and after a year of research, Pivot determined that millennials are more socially inclined than any demographic. All programming has been focused towards this demographic accordingly. On the day the network premiered, so did the Australian comedy “Please Like Me,” featuring Josh Thomas, and it is the network’s featured show.

Shortly after Pivot’s launch, we spoke with Kent Rees, Pivot’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, Scheduling and Operations, about “Please Like Me,” the show’s social strategy, and the network’s focus on millennials:

Lost Remote: Why did Pivot decide to launch Please Like Me?
Kent Rees:
 As soon as we saw Please Like Me we knew it had Pivot written all over it.  The series and Josh, the lead character, have this easy and charming authenticity and the storyline perfectly personifies real issues that so many Millennials are facing.   The genuine way it handles serious issues like sexuality and mental illness is also in line with our company’s double bottom line and we knew would resonate with Millennials.

Because its from Australia, our initial inclination was to remake it, but knew that would be risky since it’s based on personal experiences of creator, writer and star Josh Thomas and remakes historically don’t do the original version justice. As we played it for more people at Pivot and saw the way everyone, but especially the Millennials in our office, reacted to it, we knew it was something we needed to bring to viewers untouched.    We also believed we could create unique marketing, online and binge programming opportunities with it and decided to hedge our bets and launch the network with it.Also, we liked having a show that represented us, and our tone right out of the gate.  It was important that we have something to point to immediately at launch- it’s easy to say “hey we’ve got a new network”.  The audience then says “so what? what’s on it?”  Please Like Me was a signature show that explained the promise of pivot instantly.

LR: What’s the reaction been?
 Even better than we could have expected.  A month ago Josh Thomas was virtually unknown in the states. Then his face was all over buses in New York and LA, critics and media embraced the show and viewers are watching it over and over.  Josh is one of those people you like instantaneously and want to see more of.  He has a special and rare quality and people are rooting for him which is underscored by comparisons to the likes of “Girls” and Louis CK.  We’re really excited for season 2.

LR: How has social media been used to spread the show?
 We relied a good amount on social to generate grass roots buzz and demand for the show, especially given the title which fits perfectly with the social media culture. Since we had a short window of time between picking up the show its network premiere, we decided to post the first episode on the website and created an aggressive strategy to get people there to watch it through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Pushing out clips from the show and Meme’s drove big engagement, shares and retweets.  We hosted an online viewing party and tweet along with Josh tied to the premiere and created a social action marketing campaign that encouraged fans to upload their own Please Like Me videos and share them across their social platforms.

It was also great to see how Josh and his friends used social to further the outdoor and bus wraps we made.  when they took pictures of the art out in the world, and then posted and tweeted it, coupled with their comments –it added a whole new layer of interaction and reach.  I loved it when Meghan McCain took pictures of Josh’s bus side, tweeted it and said how excited she was to be part fo the Pivot family.  That’s new to me.

LR: Do you personally use social media? Which platforms?
 I was a late comer to Facebook, but I really like it to both see how Pivot is moving through the world, and also for my own ramblings.  I am a huge Bob Dylan fan, and I refer to my fandom as my only hobby, and you’ll see a lot of that on Facebook from me.

I come and go with Twitter.  I think I like other people’s recaps of what people are saying on Twitter- like Gawker’s- than being on Twitter itself.  I am a context junkie, and am more interested in what’s going on around the Tweets than the Tweets themselves.  My boss, Evan Shapiro, is very into the Twitters.  It’s a good way to see what’s on his mind, his mood, and since he’s in New York and 3 hours ahead, what kind of day it’s going to be.

LR: How is Pivot built for the millennial generation?
 Every facet of the network was built from the point of view of the audience.  From the programming to the scheduling and the fact that we created the viewing experience to cater to the way Millennials watch content and their digital lifestyle.

Pivot follows the mission of its parent company Participant Media and founder Jeff Skoll to create “entertainment that inspires social change.”  We did a year of extensive research and found that Millennials more than any other generation is dedicated to social cause and are looking for issues to rally around and want a sense of community.  We give our viewers the ability to take action around a piece of issue-based content immediatelyIn order to best realize that vision, we’re crafting Pivot to be the network that reflects not just what millennials wanna watch, but how they want to watch it.  its built for how they’re experiencing media today, not in the future. to that end, we’ve developed an authenticated streaming app that allows viewers to get the network that way.  It’s an accurate reflection of what they want, and we’re thrilled to work with our partners to get it to them.  We also employ a lot of marathons and binge-watching opportunities, for example, all 6 episodes of season one of Please Like Me ran in a row on day one of the network.

LR: Anything else?
 Two more of our original series, Raising McCain and Jersey Strong, will premiere September 14.  McCain is a great example of this generation, how they think and the ways in which they are trying to gather information and come to their own conclusions and beliefs which are far from the traditional black and white which is perfectly exemplified in her show.

With all our programming, and the growth of our brand, we just want to be in conversation with our audience whenever and how ever possible.  TV can be a two-way street, and we’re excited to see where it leads.  I sincerely hope they’ll let us know how we’re doing, and I am pretty sure they will.