Shooting the message #11: World Television

Our series profiling big-hitters on the modern communications film scene returns with a look at World Television, a company whose clients have run the gamut from environmental agencies to FTSE 100 giants.

Patrick Russell

World Television production showreel

If you want a picture of the visual communications business – where it’s at, where it’s come from and where it’s headed – then World Television repays close study. Let’s start with the name. ‘Television’ is a slight misnomer but ‘world’ more than apt. With offices in five countries and operations in a further 35, World’s 65 staff produce and distribute digital video in 75 languages. This is a company, then, that exemplifies the globalisation of corporate media production, reflecting its multinational clientele.

Then there’s its intriguing history. Now HQ’d in Geneva, World has managed video projects for a plethora of FTSE listed companies – the likes of BP and HSBC, Nokia, Nestle and Easyjet. Yet it originated in Bristol, over 20 years ago, as media arm for environmental campaign groups.

Whether you think of this as selling out or stepping up is a matter of opinion. The constant factor is an astute assessment of the media landscape and, especially, the impact of technological change not just on producing but on distributing content.

It’s their integration that is perhaps central to the company’s brand and business model. To the outside world, it has a lower-key profile than The Edge, New Moon or other producers with trade reputations for impressively crafted standout productions. Such firms are a vital part of the sector, but far from the whole story.

The Future World of Energy (2013)

The Future World of Energy (2013)

Elsewhere on the spectrum, World Television produces large volumes of video for the corporate world, but much of it behind the scenes (in particular, sitting on corporate intranets). It doesn’t, in fact, style itself primarily as a production company, but as a video communications agency, offering a ‘total’ video solution to clients: a cycle of consultancy, production, distribution and statistical analysis of their use of the medium.

In its environmentalist phase, this cyclical approach was expressed in a constant ‘feed’ of NGO (non-governmental organisation) campaign footage to TV broadcasters. A central plank of its business today is the supply of proprietary video platforms to multinationals, allowing continuous programmes of moving-image communication with geographically dispersed staff. Paul ver Bruggen, London managing director, states: “One of our straplines is ‘from concept to delivery’. We aim to work at a strategic level… combining creative programming with effective online distribution that clients can actually measure.”

World Television was founded in 1991 by Peter Sibley, shortly joined by Andy Booth. Initially emerging out of Greenpeace’s media department, it was soon acting as a centralised agency for pooling and supplying stock footage from NGOs including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the World Wildlife Fund and Amnesty International as well as Greenpeace. World Television has recently kindly supplied the BFI National Archive with a sample of their work from this period.

By the late 1990s, private-sector commissions were constituting the lion’s share of income (though even now the company hasn’t abandoned its roots – see, for instance, this eco-conscious short for the World Health Organisation). In 2000, World moved to London, just as ‘business television’ was coming of age, still cassette-based but eyeing the internet on the horizon. Presciently grasping its opportunities, World Television has played a significant role in integrating webcasting and digital asset management into business communication (including developing its own streaming products for the broadband age).

Location reportage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010)

Location reportage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010)

It follows from what I’ve written above that much of the content produced by the company has a televisual rather than cinematic flavour – and intentionally so. Location reportage (‘electronic newsgathering’) has always been a big part of the mix (extensively deployed, not least, in Gulf of Mexico coverage commissioned by BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). But for all the emphasis on content-led output, there’s always a place for creativity. World’s internal BP film The Future World of Energy (2013) is another recent arrival at the BFI National Archive: a first-rate addition to BP’s rich film history, marrying experts’ predictions of macro-economic trends to stylised animation.

Previously hobbled by a rather complex shareholder structure, World Television was this year sold to a Swiss investment company. Having led that transition, Steve Garvey, CEO since 2003, has left the company, whose current executive is original founder Sibley. Now working in online streaming, Garvey retains an important role in the video world as chair of trade body the IVCA (International Visual Communications Association).

In engaging conversation with me last year, while still at World, Garvey offered trenchant comments on the ‘supply’ side of corporate production. In his view, it’s unduly fragmented and ripe for consolidation (ie a bout of mergers and acquisitions), better fitting it for welcome shifts on the client side: a strategic rather than sporadic approach to film, more conducive to long-term client-producer relationships.

However the industry develops, World Television will remain a significant and instructive player. For now, last word goes to Miss Piggy, the talent fronting this BAFTA location report, produced (for Orange Film) by World Television:

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