Television production company WildBear Entertainment creates vivid reflections of our lived reality. CEO Michael Tear reflects on how the company has risen to the contemporary content challenge.
WildBear Entertainment has worked with everyone from Disney+ to Netflix and National Geographic. Exporting is not only an income-earner, it’s a way to shore up sustainable work for creatives.
WildBear Entertainment is on a mission to document the world. This television production company specialises in documentaries and factual content, creating vivid reflections of our lived reality.
WildBear combines the experiences of producers Bettina Dalton, Veronica Fury, Serge Ou, Alan Erson, Dr Chadden Hunter, Craig Meade and Michael Tear.
The company has offices in 3 Australian cities and in Dunedin, New Zealand. It has worked with leading TV platforms across the globe. Highlights include commissions from the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery, Netflix, PBS and Disney+. It has also worked with all the major Australian broadcasters.
WildBear has continued growing over the past year. International revenue climbed 83% in 2019–20. Total income was up 39% on pre-pandemic levels.
Recent standout projects include Hating Peter Tatchell featuring Ian McKellen with Executive Producer Elton John. The film premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival and was quickly acquired by Netflix.
Perhaps the most significant success story this year was Playing With Sharks. The feature was accepted to the Sundance Film Festival.
The international exposure led to a bidding war for rights between 5 global buyers. The resulting deal with National Geographic for Disney+ was a WildBear record. It was also one of the highest licence fees ever paid for an Australian documentary feature film.
The film has since been covered by more than 100 media publishers, appeared in 14 international festivals, won 10 awards and is eligible for an Oscar.
With a track record like that, it’s no surprise the company is recognised as a 2021 Australian Export Awards finalist.
‘The award is incredibly rewarding and satisfying,’ says WildBear CEO Michael Tear. ‘I wanted to apply because I felt like the company had done really well and I wanted to share our story. I thought it was a positive story about how important the creative industries are to the Australian economy.’
A long-time supporter of the awards, Tear says he enjoys learning about the achievements of other companies.
‘They’re often not in our sector, so it’s exciting to hear about what they do. You look at them and think, “wow, what an amazing business.” It makes you humble.’
Tear describes the current content sector climate as competitive and challenging. But in a good way.
‘We’ve got more access to global audiences than ever before,’ he says. ‘We’ve seen platforms in our market become global players, and we’ve also seen strong local niche players.’
At the same time, Tear notes that content tastes and audience expectations are getting more demanding.
‘It’s a very competitive market,’ he notes. ‘You need to be at the top of your game. You need to constantly adapt your business and make lots of little steps rather than one big step. It’s about continuous improvement.’
Tear is particularly proud of how his team responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘It’s been really difficult to sustain an export business when you can’t travel internationally.’
A key challenge for such a creative team was working remotely.
‘We thrive on partnerships, working in teams, and getting a lot of feedback,’ he says. ‘Having to shift to a remote working environment wasn’t easy. But the team embraced it and didn't miss a beat.’
Despite an uncertain international business climate, WildBear has managed to generate a third of its income from the overseas market.
Tear says exporting has allowed the company to scale up.
‘Our international offering has allowed us build economies of scale into our business,’ he says. ‘We’ve got a bigger team, and more diverse markets.’
This in turn makes the business more resilient and sustainable. It also creates much-needed employment opportunities for creatives.
‘A lot of the people who work in the creative industries are on short-term contracts,’ says Tear. ‘One of the things we’ve been able to do is engage our creative team on longer projects. They’ve got more certainty and more confidence. I think that allows a creative person to really give their best to a project. It’s such an important contribution to the economy.’
Tear wholeheartedly encourages others to apply for the Australian Export Awards. Regardless of a win, the process helps crystallise elements of any business.
‘I think a lot of the things that we are doing, they’re kind of intuitive,’ he says. ‘But being forced to write them down and express them gives you a blueprint to think about your marketing efforts and your approach to your industry. I found the process really important.’