Category Archives: Distribution

MIP-TV: Yes We Cannes!

Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.

Four days of meetings equated a big batch of ideas – though the word product seems more appropriate in such a marketplace.
Fewer people were wandering the Palais this year – cuts are biting, and there’s less face to face in the business anyway these days. The cost of attending a market like this for producers and distributors is large, and the pressure is on from day one.
With four of us from SBS all doing separate meetings, we covered a lot of companies. Telling distributors and producers what we needed,  running through their ‘slates’, working off this MIP 2015 SBS Acquisitions Needs brochure.
My main impressions?
You meet who you know already. There should be a ‘lucky dip’ function on the website to put you together with people you’ve never met before.
30 minutes is not long enough for most meetings, given that I usually got there late and kept getting lost in the Riviera part of the market.
There’s no time to digest all the news and industry insight that floods the market – here are just a few of the magazines I picked up before leaving. In there are lots of programmes that I should be watching.
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Caffe Roma, the central cafe for meetings with those who haven’t registered for the market itself – serves terrible tea.
What were the Aussies up to?
The SBS stand was opposite the Screen Australia stand for the Aussie producers, who made merry at a drink on the Tuesday.
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David from Devised TV, Lara & Charlotte from SBS Sales, Claudia from Taglicht
It was good to see so many producers making the long trip to Cannes. Here’s a Screen Australia showreel of Australian projects brought to the market
At 22 minutes long, it’s a great way to get a fix of Australian TV. Spoiler alert: Doesn’t include all the terrible reality shows on Australian TV though.
I got to know a few films  through this showreel. The Secret River, being shown on ABC  looks amazing. Here’s more about The Secret River and the Seven series Gallipoli
And Blown Away (at 2:21) – a very intriguing part-animated doc on Cyclone Tracy which happened 40 years ago. There’s more about the film, shown in late December on ABC1 and co-produced by Rachel Clements, here
The other clips on the reel:
  • Deadline Gallipoli (3:17)
  • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (4:22) – which I’d love to see bought in the UK
  • Pitch Battle (5:38) – about the Palestinian football team
  • Restaurant Australia (7:22)
  • Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane (9:37)
  • Status: Vacant (11:15)
  • Struggle Street (13:05) – coming to SBS in May
  • Tattoo Tales (14:57)
  • That Sugar Film (16:36) – a kaleidoscopic look at a key health issue.
  • Winter (18:47)
  • Heart and Soul (19:35) – this looks like a good tale of girls making music and growing up
  • Hipsters (22:09) – already screened on SBS2
What were the others up to?
Vice was the star of the show after its meteoric rise. I went for a session in the impressive Grand Auditorium led by Eddy Moretti, the creative director of the trend-setting Vice, launching a new service ‘for and by women’ called Broadly. Though my neighbour, Ene Rasmussen from the Denmark MEDIA Desk, wondered why there weren’t more women and stories aimed at them in the main service.
Eddiy Moretti, Creative Director Vice
Vice is a brilliantly focussed and sure-footed media company and its ideas demand attention. Some ideas at MIP though seem there to test us. The delegate bag was sponsored by DogTV (TV for dogs, in case you were wondering). The Telegraph in the UK has written about the formats on offer, and it’s not too impressed.
One of the other SBSs around the world, in Korea, has the slogan ‘See The Bright Tomorrow’.  Which is a nice thought, even though it doesn’t exactly work as a slogan.
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Party central
MIP wouldn’t be MIP without a bit of socialising, and nothing beats a beachside party at Cannes.  This one on Monday night was from distributor DRG.
If you were at MIP, let me know how you found it. At the Nordic party, I met a gentleman from Finland who reminded me that it’s only 170 shopping days left till MIPCOM…
Kris Kringle (as the Americand call him) and Krishan

Murder (and other dramas) in the cathedral

A couple of weeks ago at BBC Worldwide’s annual showcase in Liverpool that I attended for SBS,  drama was to the fore. The big programme  being promoted was Wolf Hall, the six-parter which became the biggest drama launch on BBC2 for years.

At Showcase, BBC Worldwide laid on a dinner in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. This is a dramatic setting in itself – the 5th biggest cathedral in the world, started in 1909 and only finished in 1978 but feeling hundreds of years old.  Tables laid out for 500 guests, lit by candlelight – in honour of the candlelight by which much of the series is shot. Even the butter for the meal was presented in the form of lit candles. Peter Kosminsky, the writer, Claire Foy playing Anne Boleyn and Jonathan Pryce playing Cardinal Wolsey strode through backlighting from the back of the altar. As an entrance, it definitely had the wow factor. BBC Worldwide puts an amazing amount into promoting its big drama titles – they have built in repeat business.  Mind you, there’s unlikely to be a Wolf Hall 2 as it’s based on a series of books by Hilary Mantel and they’ve now all been adapted into this series.

The other dramas in the BBC catalogue showed the range of British series. At the ‘real’ end was Cucumber & Banana, what Americans would probably call ‘Dramedies’, which have played on Channel 4 and which SBS launched this week around Mardi Gras. And from the same profilic production company Red Productions, Ordinary Lies, with Jason Manford & Max Beasley leading an ensemble cast in a used car showroom. Historical drama, beyond Wolf Hall, was also well represented: Da Vincis Demons, Musketeers, and the story of Botany Bay in Banished, written by Jimmy McGovern and commissioned by the new BBC channel in Australia BBC First.

This was how the BBC promoted all of its drama last  autumn, looking back at a ‘lifetime of original British drama’ – especially for all you who can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch. All of human life was there:

 Channel 4 have also moved big time into the international drama market, with a head of international Simon Maxwell and a marquee drama Indian Summers

 I’m based in Denmark a country which has built its reputation for content on its drama. The public broadcaster DR has focussed production resources on producing primetime drama like Borgen, The Killing, and The Legacy – to the detriment perhaps of original factual series for TV. Italy is also making a big push into crime series for the international market.

And as well as making it, people are talking about it too, so the genre now has its own raft of gatherings and conferences. Though in much of Europe, people don’t use the words drama or fiction or their equivalents – it’s just ‘series’.  One at the end of January at the Institut Francais in London, called Totally Serialized brought together French and UK producers and writers. There’s an event open to the public at the beginning of July in Fontainebleau south of Paris called SeriesSeries, which is probably a French pun or reference to a retro pop song. And one of my very first blog posts here was about the Rome Fiction Festival in September last year – though I was there for the factual part of it. 

So from a creative point of view, all very healthy. There’s a recognition amongst government and funders that producing quality European drama is necessary to cement local audiences and the European production industry itself. The Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel’s recent trilingual report on Fiction on European TV channels notes that the proportion of TV schedules that are fiction of all sorts has remained at about 50%. And of that, non-European content in most of the fiction subgenres is over 50% – and most of that is from the US.

For most countries, the statistics on the origin of programmes show that little has changed over time. The differences between 2006 and 2013 with regard to the proportion of European works in programme schedules are generally less than 2.5%. If you want to buy the report, here’s a link  

Fiction on Euro TV channels

To attract  these productions, countries dangle tax breaks and film funds  to entice them to film in a particular area, and use local crew and facilities. Because drama brings the big bucks for a filmmaking economy of course – for US drama, the numbers of people involved, the producers and stars fees, the promotional costs, make the average cost several million an ep. Most of the time the funding  doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the story, though sometimes the money might be seen to get in the way. The new series of The Bridge, for example, will be more Danish, because of the creation of the Copenhagen Film Fund which has invested heavily and therefore demands much more of the filming to take place in Denmark. (the first 2 series were more of a 50/50 split between Denmark and Sweden, literally in terms of the first storyline). Coming to Nordic and other screens in late 2015.

I’ve never been involved in drama production, and would probably find the idea of working to a script each day, with every shot and sequence pre-planned and costed, very unusual. I still think that nothing beats the drama of real life, but then is it promotable?

Because in the end, the titles, the stars, the fantasy is what will draw people to the subscription-based TV models that we’re moving into – Netflix et al. Bingeing on 20 hours of whatever. Not authored singles, let alone documentary or entertainment. Perhaps as long as drama can continue to be supported by public channels and move between dramedy, factual historical drama, psychological thrillers and state of the nation pieces – there’s hope. Or am I being too optimistic?

Comments, questions, links, shares are – as always – all very welcome.

Money for nothing and your flicks for nearly free

Berlinale! BAFTAs! The Golden Globes! The Oscars! February seems to be the most concentrated period in the film calendar, especially the ‘award-winning film’ calendar. But how do all these star-laden and artistically challenging films get funded these days? And why do the plots often include scenes in unlikely countries? Step forward into the spotlight the unsung hero of the film business – the Fiscal Incentive.

In Europe, according to this new report from the Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel Europeene – (stargazers of a different kind) – there are 26 such incentives – eleven tax credits, nine rebates, and six tax shelters – spread across 17 countries. Half of them apply to TV production as well as cinema; three of the twenty-six also apply to funding video games. (Progress! Hooray!). The UK estimates that each £1 spent in the UK on film generates £12 in ‘Gross Value Added’.

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If there are Trade or Culture ministers from some of the countries without such incentives reading this blog by the way, the report itself is yours to own  here if you have a spare €100. Which you probably do.

Each country is establishing these schemes for roughly the same reasons – to attract film production to their nation, give work to the production/facilities sector, and perhaps be sprinkled by some of that awards stardust. Sometimes cultural and artistic reasons to support film are also advanced, but that seems to be further and further down the small print these days.

In the last year alone, Lithuania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Netherlands, and Slovakia have all brought in schemes. Ireland’s new Section 481 scheme started last month. Expect to see one or more of these countries on the credits of a few medium-budget productions in the coming months.The report talks about how employment, heritage awareness, consumer interest, economic growth, exports, tourism and so-called national ‘soft power’ are all reasons for these instruments to be set up. It’s certainly not money for nothing (cue the Dire Straits video below) but it comes at a cost.

To the producer, these incentive schemes seem to be an essential part of film and TV financing without which the film simply wouldn’t be made. And taken for granted by the bigger US based studios – who give the impression of just following the money around Europe, Romania one day, then Prague, then Malta. Even within the USA, California is losing out as ‘Hollywood’ movies are now mostly shot elsewhere. The State of California announced a few months ago that it will triple its tax breaks for entertainment companies doing business in the state, the latest effort to stem a tide of runaway production that has cost it billions in revenue.

So in European countries with attractive incentives, a succession of big-budget productions roll into town, with the ‘financial instrument’ largely paying for the employment of the film professionals of that location. The report calls these ‘portable productions’ , and says:

In mature Western European production sectors in particular – such as the UK, France, and Ireland – there are significant numbers of international portable productions attracted to the market. In many cases, portable productions are sourced from the major US studios, which are important users of production incentives.

The money comes in from government and is spent locally. Britain now has a roaring trade in such movies.  Scenes for hundreds of millions’ worth of films are produced in Europe which might otherwise get made somewhere else. Everyone’s a winner, right? I’m not so sure.  If this is national funding, it surely needs to work for the country’s own industry, and questions need to be asked. Does it improve the talent base in a country to make it self-sustaining? Does it encourage (smaller) local producers to work at home, or go abroad? Does it enable a country’s creative community to produce the next Big Thing?

The Muppet Movie, contributing to the UK’s cultural landscape?

The answers are in the Observatory’s densely argued and data-rich study, and I don’t have the film business knowledge to be able to analyse their analysis. The report does say that the government may not particularly care about these issues over pure economic ones

almost all of the incentive structures provide a greater return to the government in tax revenues than they cost to operate, whilst also providing standard trickle-down benefits to the broader economy, also including in areas such as tourism and exports.

I dealt with many creative economy issues when I worked for the BBC on the development of the production sector outside London. How could we incentivise producers? What was the right balance between ‘big producers’ (usually from London) and local/regional ones?  Did the regional film & TV sectors gain at all from this strategy? They weren’t issues with simple answers, and the impact or results weren’t immediately apparent.

As with TV,  measuring the impact of such a film production strategy purely in financial terms may only tell half the story. Is such film funding just making studio popcorn movies easier to finance? Are we using the resources of crews and talent on cinema that has no particular cultural value?  Does it take money away from ‘true cinema’? Or is this all part of a healthy mixed ecology of film production.  Comments, info & links all welcome.

 

 

 

 

A transfer window for TV production companies?

For me today is going to be a challenge to focus on work while keeping an eye on the info-fest that is Transfer Deadline Day. For those that aren’t into football, it’s one of the two days in the year (the other is the end of August) when the transfer window closes, and clubs are no longer allowed to sign players. The day is covered by the BBC and Sky on TV, text, radio, and probably carrier pigeon too. It’s known as the only business where people still use faxes to send contracts at the end of the window approaches, and no TDD is complete without a story of a last-minute paper jam which prevents a deal being done. Leaving shopping till the last day of the sales is something I can really relate to. I’m never through the doors first, unlike this lot…

The Football Transfer Window has been in place since 2002-3, which coincidentally is just before the acquisitions spree that started with new Terms of Trade being introduced for the UK production sector in 2004. This gave companies control of the righs in the ideas they created, and, therefore, made them valuable. Money poured in from VC and other investors in the UK, and from a cottage industry the production sector suddenly became a business worth billions. (Big thanks to Nick Ware who gave me the idea to connect these two themes for this blog even though he’s not into football!)

nick ware
This man likes documentaries far more than football

Britain’s status as the capital of production  company mergers and acquisitions hasn’t changed. It seems that the main reason now to start an independent company in the UK is to be able to grow it fast and then sell it – it’s business, after all.

For Brits, most global revenues still come from America. At last week’s Realscreen summit, 70 UK producers were in attendance. PACT set up a British Pub in the lobby of the Washington hotel where it all happens. The UK trade association PACT also announced the setting up of a US organisation for UK companies and their US offshoots, – with offices in LA and New York to be set up this year.

British Pub Realscreen

PACT’s figures seem to show that the only full commissions for UK companies over the past two years were from the US – though this doesn’t include coproductions, as there have been plenty of those from elsewhere in the world.

Companies in the US have a struggle to hold onto the IP in the formats they create – the channels try and take as many rights as they can – but in the UK that IP is the foundation of their business. That doesn’t stop UK companies pitching, or investing in US companies – the size of the business there means that companies are still profitable even though the rights position isn’t nearly as good. Arrow Media’s John Smithson has a pithy column in Realscreen magazine and he returns to the theme a lot.

It does of course mean that the development focus for companies is on returnable formats, as this is what those investors want to see to get a revenue stream from the company.  Like transferring a football player for an eye-watering sum, there’s no guarantee of success though; while ideas are still dependent on those capricious commissioners, there’ll always be a big element of uncertainty.

Now, how about a Transfer Window for production companies?

 

My week at FIPA, a TV festival by the sea

I’ve just spent a few days at FIPA in Biarritz,  France. That’s the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels. A few thoughts from my time there.

There’s something about waves, beaches and lighthouses that is very inspiring. Even though I didn’t actually get to the beach.
Being in a beautiful venue with big windows, the Bellevue, made it a relaxing atmosphere – and easy to meet people (because you could spot them from a distance)
The audiences for the screenings are well dressed and – dare I say it – quite bourgeois
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Fipa Industry was the conference/pitching side of the event. Good crowds for the France TV and Arte commissioning presentations, inevitably, but we had to work quite hard at the others. I gave one on SBS. It’s hard to get and keep peoples’ attention in a panel discussion or a presentation. My tips: stand up, walk around, smile,  project, use pictures.
Ludovica Fonda from Mediaset Italy gave a really good presentation of Mediaset drama, which did all of the above. Inspired me to head to Milan to check what they might have that would work for SBS
Oh, and @FipaIndustry is a much better name than the previous name FipaTel, which sounds like a mobile phone company.
When you’re invited to ‘un cocktail’,  don’t expect  mixed drinks with little umbrellas and bits of fruit. It just means a drink. A couple of the ones at FIPA featured cider, which seems be a speciality of the Aquitaine region. Try the rosé one.
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@smartfipa, the interactive section, was a real kaleidoscope of views, products, ideas. Paul Tyler of Handling Ideas did an excellent presentation. He said @smartfipa could have done with a bit more moderating to link and question the different elements – you have to treat these days like you would any sort of programming.
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I was also intrigued to see the interactive ‘Planet Corps’ project which accompanies the doc ‘Life on Us’, which Simon Nasht is bringing to SBS through commissioning editor Joseph Maxwell @josmaxwell. Looked fun, with great ideas – like a travel website as the front page.
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I was one of the seven commissioners/buyers being pitched to in the two pitch sessions. When we came to choose the best pitch, none of the three projects I’d picked was shared by any of the other judges, from France, Canada, Japan, Czech Republic & Poland. Maybe anglo-Australian tastes really are different…
It’s really tough to make films in and about Eastern Europe – buyers like me just don’t know enough about the countries there. HBO Europe is a very necessary commissioner of documentaries, and I hope it can continue the work its doing with filmmakers there. An HBO Europe project The Wellness Process was one of my favourite pitches (though I hope they think of a better title). Here’s the HBO Europe trailer from 2012

Debate is vital in events like these. Young journalists organised a ‘round table’ discussion of what the recent attacks in France meant for free speech, secularism, islamophobia, and whether there really was ‘national unity’ in France. Good initiative – the media obviously have a huge part to play in how France thinks about these issues.
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Lauren, one of the organisers of Fipa Industry, travelled around Australia aged 20 in a VW combi on her own, not speaking any English – intrepid! (then she did Central America by bicycle…). Saw these Combis in a shop window. It made me realise how in TV as well as in life, you sometimes just need to take a chance and get out there
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 If you were at FIPA, I’d be very glad to hear  your impressions, thoughts, gossip in the comments below

I went to the ATF in Singapore to see what half the world is watching

Last week’s Asia TV Forum was my first visit, and my first visit to Singapore.

Plenty of channels, distributors, funding organisations and producers in an airy exhibition floor in the huge Singapore Convention centre. The event was organised by Reed Midem, with support from the impressive Media Development Authority of Singapore.

It was good to be representing SBS at an Asian market – Australia’s nearest neighbours after all. I had to keep reminding myself that these companies represented a population of 4.4 billion people – in countries where media and television were developing fast.

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So should more people have been there? The French were by far the biggest European presence, with 20 companies on two stands – thanks to the support of  TVFI, very well run by Mathieu Béjot. Other than that, there were a few representatives from Europe and the US, but not as many as I would have thought. Beyond and Flame joined me in the Australian contingent, though there were also distributors selling to the Aussie market. Maybe the cost is simply beyond an independent producer, and it’s best left to the distributors.

The emphasis was on entertainment, lifestyle and drama – though melodrama or telenovela might be a better description for a lot of the fiction on offer. Acquisition rates may be relatively low in some countries, but there are a lot of territories and they’re hungry for content. 

I had good conversations with a few channels, and with the MDA, about working together with SBS. I know it isn’t going to be easy, and the SBS audience isn’t particularly used to Asian programming. We show the Chinese dating show If You Are the One on SBS2, and it’s one of the top-rating shows on the channel. Well, the actual title is Fei Cheng Wu Rao), 非誠勿擾, literal translation: ‘If not sincere, then do not disturb.’

If you are the one

The show was based on Take Me Out, remade as Taken Out on Australian Network Ten in 2008 and axed after just a month, only to have its format re-imagined and successfully exported to 19 countries including China. Just goes to show that ideas can have new lives.

Although Aussies are frequent visitors as holiday makers to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Myanmar and all the rest, it’s hard to find the right way to interest them in content from Asia when they return. I’m pretty convinced that we’ll need young Asian presenting talent to act as a guide to the myriad stories that are clearly waiting to be told. Once I’ve found that it’ll be a question of finding a mainstream audience for them. Anybody know if there’s a blockbuster Indian dating show we could buy?

I’ve now visited Malaysia, China, Singapore, Japan and Korea in the past few months, and know that there are talented and entrepreneurial people to work with. But I also know I’ve only scratched the surface. I think that a lot more ideas need to be generated, and working relationships formed.  I’d like to give it a go though.