Walter Iuzzolino, the eponymous co-founder of international TV SVOD platform Walter Presents, is a busy guy, but not too busy to chat with me and to offer you a great gift.
As I had mentioned in my last article, Walter Iuzzolino was in New York City for the US premiere of the Scandi noir drama series Norskov. Following the quick chat we had at the event, Walter sat with me over coffee and danish the next morning for a more in-depth tête-à-tête at the Walter Presents offices.
But before I get into the best bits of the interview, listen to what Walter himself has to say about who he is, what he does, and why he does it.
Born and raised in Genoa, where his parents still live and he owns a “happy house” with a nearly-century-old tortoise in the garden, Walter Iuzzolino has been enamored with international television since childhood.
“My passion has always been international drama because I was born and raised in Italy, as you know. Television is dubbed there (it’s terrible, dubbing’s awful), [but] the only advantage of dubbing is that, when I was growing up, even as a child, immediately you’re exposed to a lot more range and texture and variety because… everything is considered Italian, because they speak Italian.
“You would get on Monday night La Piovra, which is a sort of Mafia [series], on Tuesday you get Desperate Housewives, which was “Italian,” set in America but speaking Italian, on Wednesday you get a French costume drama, on Thursday you get a guy called Inspector Derrick, which is a German sort-of Tatort type program. What it means is that when you’re growing up in primetime on national equivalents of ABC and NBC, you watch a lot of international TV, so you get used to stuff set in New York and set in Sicily and set in wherever, and that’s exciting.
“So when I moved to London and studied film making, I remember thinking, ‘There is nothing set outside the UK or LA or New York.’ It’s like, ‘Where’s the rest of the world?'”
Ironically, Walter’s professional career in television didn’t start out in scripted drama, despite his Ph.D. in literature, experience in script reading, and film school credentials.
“I got my first job in factual telly, and for fifteen years I worked in that sector. I enjoyed it, I think it was fun, and I became really successful. For me it was always this vicarious pleasure of trying to tell stories in a dramatic way… I tried to find the dramatic angle in documentaries.
“I did really well, and so I ended up running a whole chunk of Channel 4, where I was commissioning eight-to-nine o’clock factual for two years… It gave me a sense of responsibility that you could curate a slate… So I tried to find a way to my passions through a genre that was not necessarily the genre that I wanted.
“[Then] I ended up taking some shares in a company called Betty that produced for the BBC, for Channel 4, for ITV, and for three-and-a-half years I worked there to grow their slate.
During his tenure in factual TV, Walter continued to cultivate his dream of bringing international television to the UK.
“I knew that there were big, mainstream [international] hits. I mean, I’m a lover of independent film and opera and the arts and all that kind of stuff, but I knew that there was a way to make this non-elite, to make it broad and mainstream and fun… I think culture is an amazing thing, but it’s only amazing if it’s built on passion.
“And so I remember thinking, ‘The time will come when the British audience, and hopefully an American audience, will be ready to accept beautiful drama in its original language.
“The inspiration for me [for Walter Presents] came from the BBC after, to be honest, forever. BBC Four launched Engrenages (Spiral) and I was mesmerized. I remember thinking, ‘If this finds an audience, I will launch my channel.’
It did. And he did.
“I was lucky enough to have two colleagues, Jo [McGrath] and Jason [Thorp], just at the right time. Jason had been running Fox International Channels outside America in the UK for twenty years, and Jo was a colleague from Channel 4… We were thinking, ‘Let’s just love something and own something new.’
“Jason had been the guy who invested at the early stages in The Wire and Breaking Bad and Dexter, so he brought amazing drama to the UK that was edgy… He understood the value of new drama. And so he said, ‘Let’s do it, Walter. You’ll be the person to choose these [programs] because you speak the languages and you actually genuinely love the thing.’
“I understand how to run a channel, and Jo was great at PR and marketing and understanding how to create a brand. And so we spent all of our savings and a year and a half gathering all the material, doing research, and truffle hunting and just going, ‘Are we crazy or is the material out there?’
It was — enough for the makings of a new channel, one that would “be as simple as HBO with subtitles.”
“I always say HBO because what I like about HBO is the range. They give you stuff from Girls to Sex and the City to Six Feet Under to The Sopranos to Game of Thrones. So the variety and the texture are immense. You don’t go there to get crime; you go there to get great telly… There’s a filter of quality… because everything has been chosen with great care and not by an algorithm but by human beings that commission.”
Walter, Jo, and Jason pitched the idea to investors, and Channel 4 “moved super fast” (that is, in one week) to work with the trio in launching the new world drama section on All 4, the broadcaster’s video-on-demand service.
As for the Walter Presents branding, it was an idea proposed by Jay Hunt, the soon-to-be-former Chief Creative Director of Channel 4. To hear the rather shy but very effusive Walter tell it, Jay said:
“The brand is you. It’s a weird Italian guy who has a passion. It’s a life passion. You’ve dedicated your life to this.”
It worked. Walter Presents received “amazing reviews” and “amazing figures” in the UK — garnering pages upon pages of press coverage and “close to twenty [million streams] in six months,” when the team thought they’d get eight to ten million in the first year.
With Channel 4 being justifiably impressed with the results in the UK, coming to the US was next.
Walter Presents US launched in the States in March 2017, “squarely in the HBO, Showtime space, where it’s smart, fun entertainment” that happens to be from non-Anglo countries and have English subtitles.
By the way, for folks who have a thing about subtitles. Walter offers this perspective:
“Three minutes in, you forget you’re reading [subtitles] because you’re watching a great performance… [An international TV] show combines the pleasure of going to the cinema with the pleasure of reading a novel… And the fact that you have this reading relationship with it makes it more like a book, as well.”
According to Walter, things with Walter Presents US are going “wonderfully.”
“Raising the profile of foreign-language drama with everyone in America is fabulous… People respond to a great story. People like to be challenged… by subtitled drama of a certain edge and caliber.”
What comes easily is receiving a gift, and both Walter Iuzzolino and Walter Presents are spreading their love of international drama to readers of The Euro TV Place with a special one.
“As a lover of Euro TV drama, we created a special code and you can have a month [of Walter Presents] free and see whether you like the stuff.”
Pretty cool, right?
The special code is EUROTV30, and it is valid through 11:59 PM ET on 21 July 2017. Simply follow these steps to get in on the goods:
- Visit www.WalterPresents.com.
- Click LOGIN in the top right corner of the homepage.
- Choose how you would like to connect (Facebook, Google+, or email).
- Enter a password and CREATE ACCOUNT.
- Click SELECT on the Monthly Recurring Subscription.
- In the top right corner of the pop-up box, click REDEEM COUPON.
- Enter the code EUROTV30 and click ACTIVATE.
- Enter your first name, last name, and zip code.
- Choose your payment method (credit card or PayPal). (This is a requirement of Cleeng, the company that Walter Presents uses to manage its subscriptions and free trials.)
- Complete the payment information and CONFIRM.
- Start watching Walter Presents!
When the 30 days are up, you can opt out of subscribing or become a subscriber. Whichever you choose, Walter would like you to know…
“There’s about another four or five hundred hours of great stuff coming to Walter Presents next year.”
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