Participant Media to Shut Down Operation After 20 Years

Participant Media to Shut Down Operation After 20 Years

Participant Media has announced that it will be shutting down all of its operations, Variety is reporting. The news comes after the independent film and television production company was in operation for 20 years.

Established in 2004 by Jeff Skoll, the company’s mission was to inspire social justice and humanitarian action. Participant co-produced or co-financed multiple notable movies, including best picture Oscar winners Spotlight and Green Book.

Its other acclaimed work includes Steven Spielberg’s biographical historical drama, Lincoln. The film garnered Daniel Day-Lewis his third Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of the titular America president. The company also  released the breakthrough documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Skoll broke the news of Participant’s upcoming closure to its staff of roughly 100 earlier today in a letter. Almost all of the company’s employees will be dismissed. No new content is being developed, and no further production will be pursued.

Following the layoff of its employees, Participant will become a skeletal holding company that will oversee its library. The library will represents interests in the 135 films it has made since its launch.

Skoll wrote in the company-wide memo that “I founded Participant with the mission of creating world-class content that inspires positive social change, prioritizing impact alongside commercial sustainability. Since then, the entertainment industry has seen revolutionary changes in how content is created, distributed and consumed.”

As the message suggests, Participant and similar companies face an uphill battle in the current media landscape. Amid the ongoing struggles facing the economic, making streaming business models work after most productions stopped during last year’s Hollywood labor strikes has become increasingly difficult. As a result, studios aren’t making as many movies for adults, especially ones that are tackling social issues that Participant became known for releasing during its tenure.

Participant produced many movies and shows that earned strong reviews, and its films grossed more than $3.3 billion at the worldwide box office. The company also garnered multiple prestigious accolades; it won 21 Academy Awards out of 86 nominations, and was nominated for 18 Emmys for five television series. The company has also been honored by the American Cinematheque and the Producers Guild of America.

But like all operations in show business, Participant’s output slowed during during the pandemic; it released only two movies in 2022 and 2023, down from around three times that in the years before theaters were forced to close for months.

Its most notable television effort in recent years came right before the start of COVID-19, with the release of Netflix’s crime drama mini-series, When They See Us. Participant will remain involved in several television projects. One notable production is the Hulu crime drama series Interior Chinatown, which stars Jimmy O. Yang and is in post-production.

In addition to releasing its acclaimed films, Participant also served as a model for do-gooder content. It has worked with nonprofits and activist groups to make and promote work that focused on the environment, human rights, institutional corruption and social justice.

Participant has often noted that it strove to create premium content with a strong social impact element. That element has since been widely integrated by legacy studios and streamers.

“Our titles drove tangible real-world change. We got out the vote and championed investigative journalism,” Skoll’s memo said. He added: “Participant content has made the world a safer, more just place for millions of people.”

The film producer hasn’t actively run Participant for years, having brought in former Universal movie executive David Linde as CEO in 2015. Under the latter’s reign, Participant became the largest certified B Corp in entertainment. The designation means the company meets “social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. He oversaw the development of projects from such filmmakers as Alfonso Cuaron, Ava DuVernay and Taika Waititi.

For about three years, Participant Media also owned the Pivot TV basic cable channel, after acquiring was previously known as the Documentary Channel in early 2013. Pivot TV was an early experiment in blending short-form content and unscripted programs aimed at the Gen Z audience. The channel, launched by veteran media executive Evan Shapiro, also aired several scripted originals.

However, Pivot TV was an early casualty of cable cord-cutting and the rise of streaming. As an independent solo channel operator, Participant was unable to compete with larger companies and maintain the channel’s distribution base. As a result, Pivot TV shut down in 2016.

Participant was driven by an ethos that was focused on effecting change off-screen as well. It become an early adopter of carbon neutral film sets and a provider of carbon offsets for its releases.

It’s unclear which other studio and production company may take up Participant’s space in the industry, or if such a mission is sustainable. Social impact has become a clear focus of hallmark of talent-driven production labels, like President Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground.

Read Skoll’s full farewell address to Participant’s staff below:

Dear Participant Team,

For 20 years, Participant has stood as the leading global media company focused on timely and emotionally transformational stories which speak to the world’s most pressing issues. When I founded this company in 2004, I set out to maximize impact. It was a groundbreaking philanthropic venture that was the first – and for a long time, the only – of its kind.

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