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Disruptive Women: Erin Day, New York Television Festival and Indie TV

02/17/2015 05:42 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015

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Innovations and provocative ideas come and go. And some can truly disrupt the status quo. I'll talk with women building companies in a digital economy and forging a new entrepreneurial landscape.

Erin Day is the Festival Director of the New York Television Festival (NYTVF). Founded in 2005, the NYTVF is a pioneer of the independent television movement, connecting its community of artists with leading networks, studios and brands. NYTVF's mission is to showcase the next generation of outstanding storytellers be it TV or digital, narrative or unscripted. In her role, Erin connects artists with industry insiders and guides development initiatives with partners, including FOX, NBC, A&E, Samsung and History, to name a few. Held annually each fall in New York City, the Festival hosts red-carpet screenings and panels and unites the community to help shape television's future.

Erin, you've been involved with NYTVF since the beginning. What was the genesis of the festival and what is its relevance today in such a transitional entertainment industry?

I signed on to the NYTVF team a few months before the first Festival and, at the time, we were very much looking at the idea of "Independent TV" through the lens of indie film. The primary motivating factor was that indie artists had no real way to break into TV (unlike their peers in film, who had access to a thriving independent marketplace), so the NYTVF aspired to fill that void. In the 10 years since, we evolved our model to better appeal to buyers -- be it traditional television decision-makers or the emerging digital platforms -- by curating initiatives with specific content and audiences in mind. It provided an efficiency that niche programmers were drawn to and gave artists development parameters to increase the likelihood of a project's success. TV's position in the cultural ecosystem has changed dramatically since 2005, too. There is (and has been for several years) a real excitement around the episodic art form, and you're seeing these huge, blue-chip film festivals dip their toes in the waters of "indie television." It's fantastic and heartening to see that shift.

At a time when Hollywood was full of blockbuster franchises, independent films brought back compelling storytelling and original ideas. Is NYTVF and indie TV doing the same for television?

There is so much great stuff happening on TV right now, and by TV, I'm making a blanket assessment of ALL of the variations of episodic storytelling platforms that are available to consumers. NYTVF is a part in that process by providing an independent pipeline for ideas and artists. One of the most important things that we do is to provide a platform for programming that pushes the envelope. Whether or not something is commercial, if it's artistically engaging, there's a place for it at the Festival.

Moreover, I think there's a really exciting shift afoot in the rise of independent limited series. There was some great buzz at Sundance last month around an animated series called Animals that was executive produced by the Duplass brothers and had a fully-produced season ready for market. The project's pilot actually premiered at the NYTVF in 2013 where is won Best Comedy. It's hilarious, and the creators, Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese, are big talents. I think this idea that creators (and the independent-film financing system) are looking at the multitude of outlets and opting to create an indie series illustrates a potential shift towards TV, and one that the NYTVF is anxious to foster.

In 2011 you became the Festival Director. What are some of the highlights and challenges you've experienced during your tenure?

The industry is changing at lightning speed, so much of my job is assessing how we can engage buyers across the spectrum to invest in the idea of independent TV and how we can help artists make the most of the opportunities provided. I'm most proud of the fact that we've created a system the has yielded so many viable pipelines for artist successes. Since 2011, we've facilitated over a hundred guaranteed development deals for indie creators, with partners ranging from traditional broadcasters and studios like FOX, NBC, and Lionsgate, to cablers including Comedy Central, A&E, MTV, and SundanceTV, to emerging platforms and distributers like Condé Nast Entertainment, Microsoft, Samsung, and The Orchard. There's a legitimate market that exists at the NYTVF that didn't exist before.

The most well-known aspect of the NYTVF is the Independent Pilot Competition. How does that work and how many development deals are made each year?

The Independent Pilot Competition is our annual, flagship competition, showcasing independently-produced pilots of all genres. It's comparable to a traditional film festival slate (featuring pilots instead of features), and the in-competition selections screen during our annual Festival in October. In addition to category and individual-achievement awards, the projects and creators are eligible for a number of additional deals offered by our partners. In 2014, NYTVF's Development Partners guaranteed a record 32 deals for artists competing in the Festival. Just in the last month we learned that two former IPC Official Selections have been picked up by networks -- 2013 selection Sharing is being piloted by NBC (with EP Jimmy Fallon), and 2012 Best Comedy Shrink is being developed at Pivot.

Media experts have been calling this the New Golden Age of Television. How has the rise of online platforms like Amazon, Microsoft and Netflix impacted the next generation of TV makers?

There's no question that digital platforms are having a significant impact on the landscape. They're allowing these great storytellers a level of creative freedom that wasn't necessarily the norm just a few years ago. Also, it's injecting more buyers into the system, which means that talent and ideas are in high demand. I think it's terrific.

What advice can you offer female artists seeking to succeed in the today's multi-platform television industry?

Get out there and CREATE! Oh my gosh -- there are SO many exciting projects being driven by female creators -- from Shonda Rhimes to Jill Solloway to Abbi Jacobson and Illana Glazer. I could fill this page up with names of female creatives and execs that are inspiring and ridiculously talented. Tough, smart, genius storytellers that are dominating the landscape. There is so much awesome work on TV that happens to be created by women. As for advice, it's probably the same it's always been: work, work, work. Find collaborators you trust. Develop your voice. Don't take no for an answer. And, if you've got something, submit to the NYTVF!

Tell me about NYTVF's latest venture -- NYTVF Productions?

This is something we're really excited about -- NYTVF Productions was launched at our tenth annual Festival last October. On its most basic level, we created the production arm to help take great indie projects to the next level. We have production pacts to produce pilots (stemming from NYTVF initiatives) with longtime Fest partners FOX, A&E, and HISTORY, as well as a six-episode series with indie distributor The Orchard.

What do you love most about working in such a transforming media industry?

It's an exciting, rapidly-evolving time for the content business and I think there's a growing willingness on the part of traditional media to look outside the box. You have no idea where the next big thing might come from, and finding that talent is a driving force of what we do. Also, I love TV. I get paid to be psyched about TV. I love that.

For more information go to nytvf.com