For Mark Stucke, the digital age heralded a fundamental sea change in his company’s outlook. That was the point, at least from the Journeyman perspective, when the focus had to shift from B2B to B2C.
“But if we were to deal directly with the consumer then we would have to work out how to go out there and find the end-users, and start selling to them directly,” Stucke underlines.
It’s worth pointing out that 25 years ago, back in the analogue age, Journeyman was a producer of news and current affairs documentaries before the company diversified into distribution, a practice that they continue today in both news and documentary sectors.
These days the news division reps the likes of PBS’s NewsHour Weekend, Al Jazeera, BBC Arabic and ABC Australia. “While Europe is mostly our centre of gravity, all the world’s most significant TV stations regularly use our services to acquire factual content,” Stucke points out.
But it was docs that became Journeyman’s mainstay. What’s more, Stucke had his eye firmly set on the end-user, and on devising a model that could generate maximum returns for rights holders, delivering to as wide an audience as possible while (or by) cutting out the middle-man.
He kicked off with Jman.TV, but that proved unsatisfactory. “It was one of the very first documentary-dedicated platforms – all the VOD potentialities, and a Netflix-styled subscription offering – and we ran that for ten years before we closed it down,” Stucke stresses. “We simply realised that without the scale of the majors we would never have the reach to get the full potential out of the worldwide following interested in what we have to offer.”
And so the company thought bigger and determined that the way forward was to partner with the new giants of online.
“To cut a long story short, we decided to work directly with Apple, Google and Amazon. We negotiated partnerships with them and developed an expertise at promoting our releases into the consumer space.”
“We also knew we’d have to become like linear TV, with a strict timetable and something new always on offer. We release a documentary every week so the consumer knows that at a particular time every Friday we will show and promote a powerful headline film, and two or three from the archive.”
The change in modus operandi was backed up with investment within social media outreach to guarantee an audience for the platforms, including a designated YouTube channel that has, to date, attracted 1.3 million subscribers.
The choice of Journeyman content is eclectic, ranging from Reber Dosky’s Sidik and the Panther, a small but brilliant film picked up at IDFA 2019 that postulates that peace may only return to Iraqi Kurdistan when the mountain panther comes out of hiding, to the Fandom-produced Never Surrender, about the cult film ‘Galaxy Quest’. The doc went straight to number two in the US Apple chart on release, just before Christmas 2019.
“That tells you something about the system we have built,’ comments Stucke. “When we have the right product [allied with] a strong demographic and a well promoted street date we can reach millions and millions. With Never Surrender we tapped into the large Treky demographic in the lead–in to the key Christmas period.”
“The producers came to us because they knew that we had a potential for being very savvy in the digital space, with very strong social media accounts and the ability to use them, and very good at synergising with a production entity like Fandom which has its own hugely significant and massive social media following.”
“We can reach, say, a few million from our various layers of social media,” Stucke continues. “And if the producers and rights holders behind a film like Never Surrender have got significant reach into their [own] appropriate demographic then we are going to double up, and the more times we can double up then the more successful the project will be.”
Stucke further points out that Journeyman Pictures has a a “long tail” on Amazon, Google and Apple where approximately 1000 quality docs are hosted. “An army of hundreds of thousands of followers anticipate our weekly offering of both new and archival titles.”
The Journeyman method fundamentally disrupts the standard distribution system of delivery via a third party, Stucke points out. He claimed in a 2019 UK Parliamentary Review how traditional delivery to digital platforms is limited as it “adds further layers of costs and commissions, reducing the returns the copyright holders receive. It also limits the ability to manage the release of a film on these platforms in a tactile way.”
On the question of returns, Stucke underlines his model promotes a 35/65 split in favour of the rights holder.
Later in the Parliamentary Review, an ambitious Stucke looked to the future, claiming how his company is looking to expand his audience base over and beyond his core market.
“We have already seen impressive growth in territories further afield, especially China, yet we only currently access about ten per cent of our potential global market. Our future growth is going to be defined by how we target the remaining 90 per cent.”