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Interview: Sebastian Scott

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11 July 2012

Princess Productions’ co-founder Sebastian Scott tells Jon Creamer why, after a career break and a trip to Harvard, he’s now in the business of backing indies, not running them.

It's been over two years since Sebastian Scott left Princess Productions, the largely entertainment based indie he founded in 1996 with Henrietta Conrad. And it's a period in which he's mostly stayed away from the TV business.

But he's now begun a return to the indie world, although this time helping others to start up and run their own companies through his 'production hub' Predictable Media.

So far, he's backed ex-Princess producer Lucas Green's entertainment indie Superhero TV (that sees its primetime series Let's Get Gold, a co-pro with Thames, launch on ITV1 this month) as well as DJ/presenter Richard Bacon's new factual entertainment indie, Mox and Richard Ackerman's comedy indie, Room 414. He's also soon to announce a new gameshow indie that will also come under the Predictable Media umbrella.

His involvement in these start-ups is firstly financial but, he says, he'll also invest his "time and experience in helping them formulate shows and in deciding where they should be pitched, how they should be pitched and who they should be pitched to," although his involvement will vary "from company to company and from show to show because obviously I have much greater knowledge of some kinds of shows than others."

And he's keen to stress that the start-ups he backs will be well and truly run by the mds of those companies. "Really it's about those mds and the decisions they make and what they want to do, not what I want to do. What I will be doing is finding other companies to back and helping support their growth. It is about them and not me. I'd hate for them to read this and think I was taking the credit for what they're doing."

It's a light touch idea and a relatively small and organic set up compared to the one he left at Princess. That company, of course, was bought out by Liz Murdoch's Shine Group in 2007 for roughly £20m. So did he discover that a super indie wasn't where he wanted to be? He says not, "Shine is a fantastic group and Liz Murdoch is inspirational." He left because "I was in a privileged enough position to be able to say, 'I want to take some time off and go and learn some other skills.'" That time away from TV involved, along with a Kilimanjaro climb, taking positions on other company boards and a stint at the Telegraph Media Group. But most importantly it involved a "transformational" stint on the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard. "There are lots of wonderful things about running your own company but you're not really learning about how other people manage their companies. You end up running a company with 300 staff and you've had no management training at all. You've got there because you're good at having ideas and making things and then you've got to change from the person who's very good at making things to someone very good at managing people and I recognised that I would like some more help in making that transformation."

And it was while at Harvard he decided that he "really loved TV and ideas and I was quite good at it, so why didn't I find a way to go back which I would find energising and exciting?" Hence Predictable, and eventually a shared office in Shoreditch and a "world of Oyster cards, not drivers. It's fun getting right back into the beginning of something again. It gives you an energy and excitement. You realise there are loads of things you've forgotten and it's quite fun relearning those things."

He says that while the Predictable indies will have autonomy, the idea is for them to be greater than the sum of their parts. All the indies will share central services, production management, financial services, legal services "and at the moment we share a photocopier and a fax machine." But, more importantly, "we share knowledge and ideas. We come and see each others' pilots, everybody contributes to each others' pitches and we get together regularly to discuss where we feel the channels are."

That mutual support will come from the structure of the ownership, he says. "All the companies have some ownership of Predictable and Predictable has some ownership of all the companies. You need to make compensation match behaviour." And this will ensure each indie stays "on brand" too "so you don't confuse the market."

When asked about the ultimate ambition for the company, he says it's simply to "make all these little companies successful companies in their own right. It's only really been going properly for three months so it's a bit early to say." But, he says, it would be great in years to come "if we're all still sharing an office and we all had a floor each and returning series and all wanted to continue working together."

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