The future of streaming is looking pretty narrow–and according to Walter Iuzzolino, that’s a good thing.
In 2009, Iuzzolino quit his job as a TV program commissioning executive for Britain’s Channel 4 to focus on developing his long-simmering passion project Walter Presents, a streaming service featuring foreign TV dramas and nothing else. Walter Presents launched on Channel 4’s digital hub last year and recently made its debut stateside. For $6.99/month, subscribers have access to TV dramas exclusive to Walter Presents, which have been meticulously curated by Iuzzolino himself. There’s no algorithm or acquisition executive guiding Iuzzolino’s hand. The shows on Walter Presents are the result of Iuzzolino devouring more than 4,000 hours of TV and whittling it all down to his top picks.
“When you’re working for a big national broadcaster, it’s about numbers. So it’s like you lose the creative core of what you were doing because you’re thinking, ‘Is this going to put off the dads?’ or ‘Are the children going to be all right with this show?’” Iuzzolino says. “With what I’m doing now, it’s shamelessly about what I want it to be. There’s no filter other than my passion and my taste. And when people ask me who do you buy programs for? I buy them for myself.”
Iuzzolino certainly isn’t the first to tighten the funnel of streaming services with niche offerings. Efe Cakarel’s MUBI, for example, zeroes in on the hard-to-find and/or cult classics in film. What’s different with Walter Presents, niche service or otherwise, is the fact that Iuzzolino is building his brand on such a personal level. In the ideation phase of Walter Presents, generic names like World Drama Originals were thrown around, but it was Jay Hunt, chief creative officer of Channel 4, who encouraged Iuzzolino to stand squarely in front of his own service.
“[Hunt] called me one day and said, ‘everybody talks about curation but no one really does it. The best chance that this brand has to succeed is if we are honest with the viewers about what the brand is and the brand is you,’” Iuzzolino recalls. “‘Your passion will tell the real story of why we wanted to do this. We didn’t want to do it because we just wanted to randomly launch a service for drama–we did it because you made us an organization care. If we care as an organization we believe you’ll make the press and the viewers care.’”
Each series on Walter Presents starts with a brief introduction from Iuzzolino, detailing the premise of the show and any similarities with existing shows the viewer may be more familiar with. Through the introductions and overall branding of Walter Presents, Iuzzolino is aiming to establish a personal connection with viewers to become “that friend” who always has a hot tip for the best show you’re not watching.
“[Walter Presents] takes curation to the extreme level because it tries to develop a direct relationship with a curator,” Iuzzolino says. “What still drives individuals to do something is somebody you know or love who drives you personally. The personal nature of the suggestion is what has shaped the brand so strongly in the U.K., and I have every confidence that it will do the same in the U.S.”
The way Iuzzolino sees it, the TV landscape will only become more and more niche in the coming years. Cable packages offering hundreds of channels has shifted to on-demand streaming which, in Iuzzolino’s estimation, leaves ample room for services like Walter Presents. Why someone would sign up for yet another streaming service when there’s already Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO Now, etc. is mainly an issue when there’s significant overlap in available titles. What Iuzzolino has created is something entirely exclusive (all acquisitions are for a minimum of three years and can only be found on Walter Presents) and entirely personal.
“Their job in the world to maximize distribution in the broadest possible ways–that’s what they do. They buy nearly everything, for nearly everyone,” Iuzzolino says of services like Netflix. “This is the exact opposite. We will always be about quality over quantity. And it’s not elitist or snobbish. [Walter Presents] is addressed to people who love Mad Men, Homeland, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under. If you’re a lover of great drama, you will love these titles [on Walter Presents].”