How The WaterBear Network is taking conservation to the Netflix generation

WaterBear Network founder Ellen Windemuth tells Tempus about the driving force behind her new streaming network

img tempus
* The WaterBear Network, launching next year, is a showcase for environmental documentaries, offering subscribers a host of entertainment on demand

Netflix. Amazon. Hulu. TiVo. As technology develops to fit in with our busy and varied lifestyles we have become a nation of individuals seeking quality entertainment on demand. And just as the way audiences are engaging with television and cinema has changed dramatically with the rise of these sensational streaming services, so too is the way we approach our personal philanthropy. Enter the WaterBear Network.

Off The Fence CEO Ellen Windemuth has been producing and distributing documentary films about the environment for nearly 25 years, and in that time, interest in these important subjects has risen dramatically – just look at the impact of Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet series. But, Windemuth says, true interactivity and engagement now comes from education, and viewers who love a subject are far more likely to engage with a cause in the longterm.

The WaterBear Network, launching next year, works as a showcase for these environmental documentaries, offering subscribers a host of entertainment on demand. But unlike other streaming services, WaterBear also contains a strong call to action, making sure that viewers can engage with the causes close to their heart through advocacy, volunteering or financially long after the credits have finished rolling. Ahead the Tempus Earth Conservation Gala in aid of WWF, Windemuth tells Tempus about the growth of WaterBear, why she is so thrilled to sponsor the Gala, and why entertainment and action have never been so interlinked…

Tell us about the driving concept behind the WaterBear Network? How did it come about?
After nearly 25 years of running a business that produces and distributes documentary films and series about our planet, we realized that we were not making enough of a difference. The need to satisfy ratings and advertisers made TV a very finite medium for what we wanted to achieve. Seven years ago, we started developing a global, interactive video-on-demand platform that could become the showcase for the amazing efforts being made to save our oceans, forests, and endangered species. Technology has only recently matured to a place where we can now launch the first interactive video on demand network dedicated to the planet.

It's a unique mix of streaming entertainment – documentaries and films – with calls to action to aid in related causes. Could you tell us about your inspirations?
Netflix and Hulu have proved that viewers do want to see films on problematic environmental and social topics. However, we have to do more than show people things they feel powerless about. Our interactive network can do much more than the traditional lean-back experience. The WaterBear Network can link you to the NGO and conservation work behind each film, you can travel, attend events, join campaigns, find out all about your favorite species or place in the world, share info on social media and lots more. >>

Related: How the Isle of Man has taken conservation to an island-wide enterprise

img tempus
* The WaterBear Network, launching next year, is a showcase for environmental documentaries, offering subscribers a host of entertainment on demandThe WaterBear Network, launching next year, is a showcase for environmental documentaries, offering subscribers a host of entertainment on demand

Do you have a particular demographic in mind when it comes to the audience that will actively engage in philanthropy after watching these shows?
This interactive network targets millennials, families, children, teens and babyboomers. Each demographic is offered its own preferred methods of media consumption. While some people prefer to just sit and watch a beautiful film, others will donate to their favorite NGO, or watch only a few minutes and be off to book a trip. Younger viewers will go to a live concert or educate themselves more about their favorite topics. Teens and kids will want to browse and share short form content on social media as a favorite activity. The key to WaterBear Network is that every time you watch something, you get to do something. Both for yourself and for the planet!

How has our interest or engagement in philanthropy changed over the years? What kinds of calls to action will you be including in the network?
My interest in engagement and philanthropy has changed a lot over the last 10 years. Massive issues like climate change, deforestation, destruction of ocean life, increasing trade in endangered wildlife and loss of biodiversity have become so extreme that I came to hope that we have hit rock bottom. There is a fast-growing movement of people who have committed the rest of their lives to saving our connection with the natural world, and therewith with ourselves. There are millions of us out there! Most people feel they do not have the tools or information to become active, even on a hyper-local level, to create positive change. The WaterBear Network provides these tools.

Do you have specific partner charities?
We have a large library of our own premium content which we have curated over many years. In addition, we will be sourcing premium content from the industry, which include the world’s best environmental film festivals, independent producers, distributors, and strategic partners. From a partnership perspective, we choose the organisations who do groundbreaking work within the environmental industry. These partners include NGO’s, foundations, educational institutions, research institutions, and industry experts. >>

Related: Volopa launches the Earth Conservation Card that lets you give to charity as you travel

img tempus
* The WaterBear Network, launching next year, is a showcase for environmental documentaries, offering subscribers a host of entertainment on demand

Currently we are engaged with more than 100 global and local NGO’s, and we have already partnered with many, such as WWF Netherlands and Germany, Tusk, African Parks, Wildlife Conservation Society, GoodPlanet Foundation, European Nature Trust, Circle Economy, Rewilding Europe, Environmental Investigation Agency, Mongabay, Sea Shepherd, The World Bank and the Jane Goodall Foundation (to name just a few). We are continually solidifying new partnerships. We are able to support our partner’s strategic initiatives through our interactive platform by empowering our subscribers to engage with our partners, their strategic initiatives, projects and specific causes that resonate with them (our audience). Our platform will enable our subscribers to take action and make real a positive impact.

When do you plan to launch and how quickly do you expect to scale?
We plan to launch in the second quarter of 2019 and will test for three months, then scale up steadily over the next 18 months to reach a global audience in all key local languages.

I have to ask about your name and logo. What is it about this fascinating creature that inspired you?
The waterbear is the strongest animal on earth, despite it being minute in size. It can survive being blasted into outer space, thrust into boiling water, seared by radiation or dried out in the desert. The waterbear represents nature's resilience. If left for enough time to its own devices, nature thrives.

Find out more about the Tempus Earth Conservation Gala here