Ten Predictions (and Hopes) for Branded Content in 2020

I’ve been writing top-ten prediction lists for film and media since 2006 – yes, back when my predictions included the final end of VHS (!) and what Google buying Youtube (Oct. 2006) would mean for indies. Last year’s predictions included Netflix buying a theater (pretty much), more brand studios (yes, again), and that Amazon would buy MoviePass and merge it with Prime (nope). Ok, sometimes I strike out, but my list is as much a wish-list as a prediction, so without further ado, here’s my inaugural top ten predictions (and hopes) for branded content in 2020:

1. More brand docs will qualify for the Oscars in 2020, and one will make the short list – This year, at least two brand-funded films qualified for the Oscars, 5B funded by Johnson & Johnson, and Gay Chorus Deep South, sponsored by AirBnB (there may be others in this list of 159 that qualified, please let me know if I am missing any). This isn’t the first time branded docs have qualified for the Oscars, DamNation qualified in 2014, and probably others. Qualifying consists of opening NYC and LA in a theater for a week and getting reviewed – but it’s a milestone nonetheless. Only 15 of these 159 will make the shortlist which move on for Academy consideration (which is announced on Monday, December 16th). I predict neither of these films will move forward; although Gay Chorus Deep South has Sheila Nevins from MTV (formerly of HBO) promoting it, so we can’t rule that out yet. Anyway, I predict many more films will qualify for the Oscar in 2020, and at least one will make the shortlist. It’s too early to guess which ones, but I’ll take a crazy stab and say that DAD’s, sponsored by Unilever/Dove Men’s Health, produced by Ron Howard and directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, and to be released on Apple+ has a strong shot at being a contender.

2. More brands will make narrative and fiction films – short form, feature length and episodic – Up until now, with a few exceptions, brands have stuck to funding primarily documentary films, and usually shorts. While there have been excursions into narrative and fiction films and episodic content, these have been in the minority. I predict we’ll see a big change in 2020 as more brands decide to make a broader range of content. I have clients funding narrative features and episodic, and I think we’ll see a lot more of it in 2020. And it can’t come too soon, as the field gets more crowded, brands will have to do new things to stand out. Funding narrative/fiction films can seem daunting, especially when you start dealing with stars and their agents, but it’s the logical evolution of the sector.