Michael Lolato, the senior VP of international distribution at GRB Entertainment, sat down with TV Real to talk about the trends he’s seeing in the factual space, including a continued appetite for crime, paranormal, automotive and more.
Long before Netflix’s Making a Murderer, GRB Entertainment was thriving in the true-crime space. The company, which is an established force in the factual world as both a producer and distributor, continues to do so, with paranormal and automotive also carving out strong positions in the marketplace.
TV REAL: Which factual genres are currently trending, and which titles are performing particularly well for GRB?
LOLATO: Crime is still on top. It’s the juggernaut that just keeps going, which is great because GRB Entertainment has over 700 hours of crime programming and there has been, over the last year, an even bigger increase in demand. We have a new show called The Stalker Files that’s going to be premiering on REELZ on January 27. We’ve heard about all of these famous stalker stories and they’re always centered on big celebrities. The first episode is about Madonna and her stalker in 1995. Everybody remembers a man was stalking her, we all heard about it on the news, but the interesting twist is that The Stalker Files follows two timelines—there’s Madonna releasing her album and touring, and there’s her stalker, listening to her album in his home as he hangs pictures of her on his wall. We see both timelines progress until they converge with the stalker leaping the fence onto Madonna’s property and telling her bodyguards that he will marry Madonna or he’ll slit her throat. You suddenly realize that this is real life, this is not just, “Aw, poor Madonna, you have a stalker.” This is, “My life is threatened and I have to go to court to stop it or I could die.” The show also covers Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and other big names. That is GRB’s top show in the crime space right now.
Paranormal still hits hard in a lot of different countries, and it’s starting to take off again. It had plateaued for a period of time, but it’s taking off for us in a new way. Our biggest hit for three years in a row has been Monsters & Mysteries.
Automotive has also made a big comeback and we have a couple of shows that people cannot get enough of. We launched Arabia Motors in 2017 and it’s been ramping up. It’s beautiful to watch because not only is it filmed in the Middle East, where there are gorgeous views, we also see Lamborghinis that are worth $5 million. There are 20-car garages with Monet paintings and chandeliers and gold floors. On the show, the company that publishes the motor-sport magazine Arabia Motors brings in a social media expert and they work together to expose the world of luxury cars. It’s fascinating and luxurious.
Another popular trend in factual is male-oriented programs in the science space, including weapons shows and shows with action. These types of programs have seen a big resurgence lately. Man at Arms airs on El Rey Network in the U.S. Danny Trejo is the host, and the show takes weapons that come from fiction—movies, comic books, TV shows—that aren’t real and brings them to life. Swordsmiths actually make these fictitious weapons using the technology that would have been available at the time the book or movie takes place. When they’ve finished, martial arts experts test these weapons. The interesting thing is, even though you’ve got a ninja warrior in a book who’s killing people with the fictional weapon, when these experts actually go to use the weapons, a lot of times they’ll cut their arms and say, “No, this doesn’t work in real life.” Man at Arms brings together history, weaponry and martial arts. It’s a big one for us and it really fits in the male space.
TV REAL: Is selling to digital platforms becoming a bigger focus for GRB? Is there space on these platforms for factual content?
LOLATO: Yes and yes! As everybody knows, the word “digital” is now different from the word “digital” even a year ago. I take my hat off to the Amazons, Netflixes and Hulus in the U.S. that have literally now become “another network.” For us, selling to them is just like selling to linear channels, and they are definitely players in the market.
Absolutely there is room for factual on these platforms. In fact, what we’re finding now is that as people go to these digital platforms, what’s starting to really pop is the factual programming. GRB has just entered into its second year of a three-year deal with Netflix for several factual titles. Typically, two years ago, you went to Netflix for a certain drama or a certain scripted series, and you didn’t think about watching a food show or an automotive show or a crime show, but now these types of shows are getting great numbers on these services. We deal with digital platforms around the world and it’s interesting to see that similar [genres within the factual space] are popular across the board.
So, yes, absolutely there is room for factual. That’s the beautiful thing about digital platforms—there is enough room and you’ve just got to find the right titles and the good content, which we have!
TV REAL: Is there anything you’re currently on the lookout for in the marketplace?
LOLATO: We definitely want to continue in our strengths such as crime and paranormal. We are also building out our scripted catalog. Scripted is big and risky, so we’ve latched onto some unique, niche scripted series that do very well, and we’re delving into more of that type of programming.
TV REAL: What are your goals for GRB in the year ahead?
LOLATO: We aim to continue our progress with strong acquisitions and sales. Additionally, GRB has a production side. We are famous for making Intervention for A&E and Untold Stories of the E.R. for Discovery and other productions, so another goal is to continue to produce in these spaces.
The next phase for us will also involve chats we have been having about developing our own digital channels, as well as working with others on co-productions. Since we work on the international side and the world is getting smaller—as are the television and production communities—there are far more opportunities to start working together, so that is going to be a bigger focus. We’ve started [in that direction] already because there’s a lot of great talent out there, and as budgets are getting tighter and tighter, we need to start pooling resources.