Hiding in Plain Sight for 3 Years- The Streaming Powerhouse that is The Fantasy Network
Toronto. January 28, 2021, Not all streaming services are created equal. Push aside the major streamers, and you will find a quiet (except to those who already know), Canadian content success story. The Fantasy Network (TFN), co-founded in 2018 by Ben Dobyns and Jason Faller with American partners Ron Newcomb and E.J. Kavenous, has weaponized and monetized the international power of fans and now boasts a free-to-view library of 50 web-series and 58 features produced in Canada, the US, Australia, India, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, England, Croatia, and Norway. TFN series, which range from 5 to 45 minutes per episode, and average eight episodes per season, along with their feature-length films, are all fan-supported and creator-distributed.
Stories of how fans have rescued network shows from cancellation (The Expanse, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Wynonna Earp, 15 seasons of Supernatural, and the original Star Trek) are a mainstay in TV lore. The Fantasy Network business model puts that power completely in the hands of the fans from start to finish.
“TFN was created by filmmakers to help nurture the relationship between fans and creators, empowering both to produce the kinds of adventurous stories that rarely receive studio support. Despite the many challenges of 2020, I was thrilled to see TFN grow this last year into a respected destination for genre storytellers from around the world who want to maintain control of their voices and IPs. Together we’re redefining fantasy and science fiction television for a community that is empowered to create and renew the stories that they love,” said TFN President, Ben Dobyns.
Who are these viewers? TFN boasts a broad demographic of Gen Z and Millennial fantasy and sci-fi fans. Initially, viewership was male, but a focus on acquiring and supporting female-driven and BIPOC-produced content, coupled with strong standards for maintaining healthy and diverse communities, has attracted powerful female, LGBTQ, and BIPOC viewers and content producers to the platform.
The conviction of the fan-powered shows has been rewarded with everything from Webby Awards to Best Series and Best Feature at multiple global web content festivals, including Vancouver Web Fest, Stareable, The Gen Con Film Festival, the Origins Film Festival, and beyond, adding up to dozens of award-winning productions from around the world.
This is the TFN model: fans peruse the TFN library, decide which shows they'd like to renew, sign up to let creators know they're will to pledge financial support, and then spread to word via social media, fan art, and fan-driven outreach campaigns to find more people to support the show. The TFN site shows how each series is gaining fan support in real-time. When a show reaches its pre-funding signup goal, based on the funders needed for the show’s budget, TFN launches a crowdfunding campaign. How successful are these campaigns? Flagship series like JourneyQuest and Mythicahave raised over $1.5 million, while many shows successfully raise between $100,000 and $300,000. With direct fan support, these shows can remain creator-driven and maintain their independent voices.
From an audience standpoint, TFN offers a highly innovative production slate unlike anything available on network television:
Photo – Ty Stone
*Juju (US). (Series) Three Black witches in New York City, created by Moon Ferguson, a real Black witch. Juju has captured global attention with its unique blend of modern fantasy and its representation of traditional cultural revitalization.
Photo – Joseph Baron
*LARPs (Can) (Series) Live action roleplaying gets the comedy treatment as friends try to navigate their relationships inside the game… and out of it as well. Originally acquired by Geek & Sundry for its second season, LARPs moved to TFN in 2020 to begin building a funding audience for its upcoming third season. A Montreal-based shop with a global fandom.
*Strowlers (US) (Series) Government magic users are forced to collar and train everyone with talent...but on the fringes of society, the Strowlers believe that magic is for everyone. Strowlers comes from a primarily female writers’ room, with LGBTQ and BIPOC prevalent both behind and in front of the screen. Two episodes of Strowlers were developed and written by Mongolian shaman Aminaa Batmunkh and shot in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, while other episodes were produced in Ireland, New Zealand, and Denmark. The Danish episode story was created by immigrants and refugees to Denmark, starring Danish/Iranian actor Afshin Firouzi (Wonderland Recoil, Darkland).
Photo– Ryan Wong
*AFK (New Zealand) (Series) A group of computer gamers wakes up in the bodies of their MMO characters. Gender swapped, confused and out of their element, they must work together to survive in a hostile new world. Soon crowdfunding for its third season, AFK features the first appearance of a Maori character in fantasy television. The AFK team also produced an episode of Strowlers.
ABOUT BEN DOBYNS
Co-founder of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment and The Fantasy Network, Ben Dobyns (they/them) immigrated to Canada from the USA in 2016. In addition to serving as showrunner for Strowlers and The Gamers: The Series, in 2009 Ben designed the Fan Supported / Creator Distributed business model that has helped raise millions of dollars in direct support for genre film and television, a model which evolved into The Fantasy Network in 2017. In the small windows between ongoing corporate management duties, Ben finds time to write original fiction, volunteer for social justice causes, and serve as a jazz pianist at Christ Church Cathedral and First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, BC.
ABOUT THE FANTASY NETWORK
The Fantasy Network (TFN) is a creator-owned video-on-demand and crowdfunding platform founded in 2018. With most content ad-free and free-to-watch, and featuring independent science fiction and fantasy films and television from globe-spanning independent filmmakers, TFN's mission is to build direct relationships between fans and creators, empowering audiences to renew the shows that they love. TFN is founded by the award-winning teams behind Zombie Orpheus Entertainment (The Gamers, JourneyQuest, Strowlers), Arrowstorm Entertainment (The Outpost, Mythica), The Forge Studios (The Rangers), and Recursor TV. In addition to streaming and crowdfunding, in 2020 TFN's unique interactive technology provided virtual event services for the 78th Annual WorldCon, the Hugo Awards, the Gen Con Film Festival, the 48 Hour Film Project, and more.