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Riding the drama boom

With drama production buoyant, there are concerns the scripted sector is facing a ‘sub-prime mortgage moment’.

Late last month, the cast of Netflix’s The Crown sat down for a read through of the entire second series of the £100m drama. The first series of the expensive royal biopic only launches in November, but Netflix is already committed to series two.

Four years ago Netflix wasn’t producing any originals – now it has 30 scripted shows in production. And this number will only rise as the company targets $6bn in content spend next year, and is aiming for a 50:50 split between original commissions and acquisitions.

Netflix is just one of many companies like HBO, AMC, Sky and Amazon to have clocked on to the power of expensive, high quality scripted to attract subscriptions and audiences. Amazon, for example, recently announced that it plans to double its budget for original content to an estimated $3bn.

British producers such as Left Bank (The Crown), Lookout Point (Amazon’s The Collection) and Archery Pictures (Sky Atlantic’s Riviera) have been a key beneficiary of this scripted boom, aided by tax breaks for high-end drama.

It’s a boom that will be highly visible at this month’s Mipcom TV market, which has a record number of international drama screenings including Carnival Films’ Jamestown, about the first British settlers in North America. Other big budget British-made dramas launching at Mipcom include Left Bank’s The Halcyon (below).

US TV networks will make 500 original scripted shows in 2017, almost 20% more than in 2015 – which was itself a record, said John Landgraf, chief executive officer of FX Networks this summer. “We are ballooning into oversupply, and that balloon will eventually deflate,” Landgraf said. “I continue to believe there is a greater supply of TV than can be produced profitably.”

BBC Worldwide chief executive Tim Davie also highlighted the growing competition in scripted last month when he noted that 1,310 international drama series have launched this year, calling it “a staggering number.” Davie was speaking at the RTS London Conference, where the scripted surge became a major talking point. 

Sky Vision boss Jane Millichip caught the ear of the broadcasting bosses in attendance when she warned that warned that the drama sector “could be heading for a sub-prime mortgage moment” if it didn’t invest wisely.
She pointed out that international distributors were investing heavily in drama. “There is a gap appearing in the international deficit and we need to be a little bit wary,” she said.

Millichip cited the example of zombie drama Z Nation (pictured below), produced by US indie The Asylum for cable network Syfy which was sold to Sky’s free to air service Pick in the UK. “I bet Pick wasn’t on their business plan when they forecast their UK licence fees,” she said.

Concerns about the amount of drama being produced run parallel with worries about the rising costs of making shows with film star casting and high levels of creative ambition.

Viewers demand higher quality and ultimately more expensive shows, said Kevin MacLellan, chairman of NBC Universal International. “This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the new reality. Increased choice has resulted in increased expectation.  So we as an industry need to figure out how to pay for all this new higher quality programming.”

Millichip put forward a few ideas for funding that doesn’t come from the international pot, including government funding, foundations, branded content or media agencies. Davie also said he was looking at third party money to fund drama. “There’s lots of capital out there.”

Few at the RTS conference believed the drama boom was likely to run out of steam soon though. Indeed many British broadcasters talked about their plans to push into the genre for the first time.

Virgin Media spoke of its plans to commission a slate of new dramas from All3Media indies, while UKTV’s director of commissioning Richard Watsham said the broadcaster will “definitely commit ourselves to drama.”

BBC1, meanwhile, has an extra £30m to spend on drama following the move of BBC3 online. The latter is still commissioning drama, including the upcoming Edinburgh University-set thriller Clique.

And Sky has an increasingly expensive drama slate, with shows such as The Young Pope, Hooten & The Lady, Tin Star (pictured below) and Guerilla.

Netflix’s Ted Sarandos revealed that he is preparing to employ commissioners in the company’s London office amid plans to increase original productions in the UK. The OTT platform is already backing new British projects including Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and a four-part adaptation of Watership Down with BBC.

“Original programming gets more viewing,” said Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos, who explained that originals are good for customer acquisition and help to distinguish Netflix from rivals.

However, the growth in drama investment was also welcomed by many panellists at the conference. Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt welcomed the millions of pounds being invested in drama by the likes of AMC, citing its co-production Humans which was shot in Britain and “did extraordinarily well for us and also did incredibly well for AMC.”

BBC Worldwide’s Davie also noted that dramas don’t need to be high concept or long running to succeed in the international market place. “Happy Valley worked beautifully for me,” he said

And Stephen Lambert, chief executive of Studio Lambert, said it wasn’t too late for indies like his to push into the genre. Lambert, who is making a three-parter for BBC1 about the Rochdale sexual abuse scandal, said: “The only way to de-risk is if you have enough irons in the fire so that the hits pay for the failures.”

NBC Universal ceo Steve Burke also suggested that companies like his would continue to invest heavily in big budget drama. “Today the middle of the market is just gone. There’s no such thing as an okay show. People will do whatever they can to find one of those great big breakthroughs.”

Posted 13 October 2016 by Tim Dams

Mipcom: pick of the British shows

The international market is awash with new dramas, and many of them will be making their debut at this month’s Mipcom international programme sales market, which kicks off in Cannes this month (17-20 October).

Here we highlight some of the top UK shows heading to the Riviera. Drama dominates the selection here. Other big dramas screening at Mipcom include Carnival Films’ tale of the first British settlers in North America, Jamestown, and Company Pictures’ The Missing 2 (both have official screening slots).

As ever, there will be a big British contingent at the market. Some 2,000 of the 14,000 participants are from the UK this year, according to Mipcom organisers Reed Midem.

Riviera (Drama)
Producer Archery Pictures/Primo Productions
Sky Atlantic
Sky Vision
Riviera’s south of France setting is bound to prick the interest of buyers at Cannes - as is the talent attached to this Sky Atlantic thriller set in the opulent world of the ultra-rich.
Created by Oscar-winning writer and director Neil Jordan, and co-written by Booker Prize-winning author John Banville, the 10-part series stars Julia Stiles, Adrian Lester, Iwan Rheon and Lena Olin.
Sky Vision’s director of drama and comedy Kylie Munnich said: “From the powerful opening scenes, buyers and audiences will be hooked by this visually stunning, original drama, set in a world we could only dare hope to know.”
Riviera launches on Sky Atlantic in 2017.

The Halcyon
Left Bank
Broadcaster ITV1
Distributor Sony Pictures Television
Left Bank’s 1940s set drama is one of the buzz titles at Mipcom this year, with a world premiere screening on the Sunday night of the market.
The Halcyon tells the story of a glamorous five-star hotel at the centre of London society at the start of World War Two. Starring Steven Mackintosh and Olivia Williams, it shows life in the capital through the prism of war, and the impact it has on families, politics, relationships and work, set to the music of the era.
Sony’s president of distribution Keith LeGoy said: “This new series has it all: exceptional writing, gripping storylines, a spectacular setting and a stellar cast.”

Rillington Place (Drama)

Producer A BBC Studios production in association with Bandit Television
Broadcaster BBC1
Distributor BBC Worldwide
Hollywood stars Tim Roth and Samantha Morton lead the cast in this drama about serial killer John Reginald Christie and the miscarriage of justice that saw a man hanged for a crime he didn’t commit.
The 3x60 drama is directed by Craig Viveiros (And Then There Were None) and written by Ed Whitmore (He Kills Coppers) and Tracey Malone (Born To Kill). BBC Worldwide’s president of global markets Paul Dempsey, said: “A true crime story starring world class talent combined with executive producer Phillippa Giles, known for her work on the award winning Luther and Silent Witness amongst others, at the helm, makes for a great drama.” 

The Level (Drama)

Prod Company Hillbilly Films
Broadcaster ITV1
Distributor DRG
ITV crime drama The Level leads distributor DRG’s slate at Mipcom.
Starring Philip Glenister, Karla Crome and Laura Haddock, it’s glossy thiller that tells of a young detective (Crome) and her loyalty to a drugs trafficker (Glenister). She is sent back to her home town to help solve a murder, to which she’s inextricably linked, but her past begins to cast a dangerous shadow and she has to fight to stay one step ahead of her colleagues – and the killer.
EVP content & acquisitions at DRG Noel Hedges said: “British Crime series have long been popular with international buyers and we have good early interest for this title, as well as some early pre-sales.”

Gun Shop (Factual)

Producer Rogan Productions
Broadcaster C4
Distributor Cineflix Rights
A British documentary set in a US gun store, this film explores one of the most contentious issues in America. “It’s the type of high quality, fixed rig character-led shows in demand from buyers all around the world,” says Cineflix’s Chris Bonney.

Common Sense (Entertainment)

Producer Studio Lambert
Broadcaster BBC2
Distributor All3Media International
The latest show from format kings Studio Lambert, Common Sense is comedy round up of the week’s top talking points - brought to life by ‘normal’ people in everyday situations – at work, on a tea break or relaxing in a bar.

Exodus (Factual)

Producer Keo Films
Broadcaster BBC2
Distributor Hat Trick International
BBC2’s acclaimed series captured the personal stories behind the migration crisis, giving 75 cameras to people embarking on perilous journies to Europe. Hat Trick International’s Sarah Tong calls it a series that is highly relevant for a global audience.”

Posted 12 October 2016 by Tim Dams

London Film Festival: best of British

The London Film Festival might not have the stature of A-list festivals such as Cannes, Toronto or Berlin (just 14 of its 246 features are world premieres), but it is an excellent showcase for British talent and the best of world cinema.

Some 29 British features play in the line up, from established UK directors through to first time feature directors.

Festival director Heather Stewart says the UK film industry is in good health, emphasising the “breadth of UK talent on display” at the festival. She compares Amma Asante’s ‘impassioned’ opening drama A United Kingdom with Ben Wheatley’s closing night gala Free Fire (pictured above), a ‘freewheeling, kinetic shoot-em-up’. Says Stewart: “You couldn’t find two more different films.”

Casting her eye through the programme, she picks out two films by British directors playing in the first feature competition: theatre director William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth (pictured above), an adaptation of an 1865 Russian novella about a young bride unhappily married to a wealthy mine owner, and debut writer/director Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling (below), about a young vet and her garrulous father struggling to maintain their Somerset farm. “Both of them are terrifically assured debut feature films,” says Stewart.

Elsewhere, new British talent is on display in Lone Scherfig’s gala feature Their Finest (below), which is scripted by Gaby Chiappe, who cut her teeth on EastEnders and Holby City and also has credits including Shetland and The Paradise.

The crossover between television and film is also apparent in comedy Mindhorn (below), scripted by The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt and co-writer Simon Farnaby. It’s the story of a washed up 1980s TV detective with a robotic eye that allowed him to literally ‘see the truth’.

Sightseers actress Alice Lowe also makes her directorial debut with dark comedy Prevenge (below). Lowe also takes the lead role as a pregnant serial killer – filmed while she was seven months pregnant. Lowe has a ‘unique voice’, says Stewart, noting the film’s ‘energy and inventiveness.’

Elsewhere, Garth Tunley, who previously starred In Kill List, turns director in inventive low budget Brit thriller The Ghoul; and Joseph Adesunloye also makes his debut in the cinematic White Colour Black, about a mixed heritage man exploring his Black British identity in Senegal. Stewart picks Paul Anton Smith’s first feature – Have You Seen My Movie? (below)– as one of the standouts of the festival. It’s a ‘totally brilliant’ montage of footage gleaned from hundreds of films which explores the cinema going experience.

Meanwhile, Shoola Amoo’s feature debut Moving Image (below) explores the gentrification of Brixton, and is billed as a gently probing mash up of fiction, documentary and performance art.

Fittingly, there’s a strong London theme running through the festival. Roger Mainwood’s Ethel & Ernest (below) is an animated adaptation of Raymond Brigg’s autobiographical book, while Pete Travis’ latest City of Tiny Lights is billed as modern London-noir.

Posted 06 October 2016 by Tim Dams

London Film Festival: diversity in the frame

The London Film Festival has built a reputation for promoting diversity in the film industry.

Last year, it made a splash by shining a light on films made by and starring women, opening with Suffragette and including galas for features such as Brooklyn and Carol.

This year, the big talking point at the London Film Festival is films made by and starring black talent. They take a prominent place among the 246 features from 74 countries that will unspool over the course of the 12 day event (5-16 October).

So the opening night film is Amma Asante’s Belle follow-up, A United Kingdom, a true interracial love story about the King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana) and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the government at the time.

Festival director Clare Stewart describes the film as “really powerfully directed and beautifully elegant – it is fantastic to see Amma going from strength to strength as a director.”

The star of A United Kingdom, David Oyelowo, also takes the lead in gala film Queen of Katwe (below). Directed by Mira Nair, it’s the true and empowering story of a young Ugandan chess champion from an impoverished township in Kampala.

Stewart also picks out other “really strong films” in the headline gala and competition sections that illuminate the BAME talking point – including Nate Parker’s slave revolt biopic The Birth of a Nation; Spike Lee’s hip hop musical Chi-Raq (below); Ava DuVernay’s documentary feature The 13th, about the disproportionate incarceration rates for black men in the US; and Barry Jenkins’ coming of age film Moonlight.

This focus comes as the British film industry grapples with the under-representation of BAME talent in front of and behind the camera. Creative Skillset’s most recent employment census, for example, showed that BAME employment in film production stood at just 3%, despite people from BAME groups now representing 13% of the UK population.

The issue came to a head during the #OscarsSoWhite controversy ahead of the 2016 Academy Awards.

Before that, though, the BFI had make efforts to tackle the issue. Last year it rolled out its Three Ticks model – now renamed the BFI Diversity Standards – to ensure film productions backed by the BFI Film Fund reflected the diversity of the UK.

The BFI has also organised the Black Star season, billed as the UK’s biggest ever season of film and television dedicated to the achievements of black actors in film and television. The Black Star season immediately follows the LFF, and Stewart says she wanted the festival to ‘amplify’ the Black Star programme.

The Festival’s headline industry event – the Black Star Symposium – will explore why opportunities for black actors to shine on screen in the United States and the UK remain limited, and debate what more can be done to effect change. Speakers include Oyelowo, Asante and directors Noel Clarke, Julie Dash and Barry Jenkins.

However, Stewart acknowledges that it would be a difficult talking point to sustain if there had not been enough films at the festival from black talent to help focus the debate.

Fortunately, says Stewart, “it’s a particularly strong year for black stories making it to the screen.”

Posted 05 October 2016 by Tim Dams

Drama boom spurs competition in indie sector

Talk to producers about how business is in 2016, and you’ll hear a great variety of opinions.

The majority, however, say that business is good overall, albeit ever challenging and increasingly competitive.

Among the standout trends in this year's Production 100 - Televisual's annual survey of the UK indie TV sector - is clear evidence of the drama boom that has seen broadcasters in both the UK and US turn to British indies for scripted content. Sports producer IMG Media takes poll position in the survey for the fourth year in a row. However, six out of the top ten indies in the Production 100 are predominantly drama producers (Carnival, Left Bank, Lime, Kudos, Tiger Aspect and Neal Street).

Carnival, the producer of Downton Abbey and The Last Kingdom, generated £110m in revenues over the past year, the highest ever figure for a non-sports indie taking part in the Production 100. Close behind is Left Bank Pictures on a turnover of £101m. As well as Outlander for Starz, the Sony-owned indie is producing the highly anticipated royal biopic The Crown for Netflix.

The drama surge
This drama boom has helped underpin growth in the Production 100, with the turnover of the top 100 indies rising from £1.77bn last year to £1.94bn. Kate Wilson, director of operations at veteran indie Hat Trick describes the business climate as “good, particularly in relation to high end scripted TV production.” Kudos’s chief operating officer Martin Haines adds: “It’s very competitive but we are enjoying the thriving drama market and the increased plurality of buyers.”

Haines’ comment underlines the pros and cons of the drama boom. Deep pocketed SVOD platforms Amazon and Netflix have helped to expand the small pool of drama buyers. But more and more production companies are going in search of the money that is being invested into scripted. Drama indies Sid Gentle Films and Eleventh Hour Films are two new entrants to the Production 100, both launched relatively recently to take advantage of the scripted surge. It means the UK drama market has become very crowded, notes Newman Street md Paul Marquess.

Indie launch boom
It’s not just in drama that competition has hotted up though. One of the other noticeable trends in the UK production sector over the past year has been the number of new indies to launch, often with backing from superindie groups.

Endemol, for example, backed new indies like Karen Ross’s Sidney Street and Derek Wax’s Wild Mercury, while Fremantle has taken 25% stakes in indies launched by well known execs including Laurence Bowen (The Eichmann Show), Gary Hunter (Top Gear), Justin Gorman (C4) and Colette Foster (Remarkable TV).

Elsewhere ABC has backed former Sky and BBC comedy boss Lucy Lumsden’s Yellow Door, while Kudos founders Jane Featherstone and Stephen Garrett have both launched their own new TV production vehicles, as have drama execs Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner (Doctor Who). David Heyman (Harry Potter) launched a TV operation with backing from NBC Universal and Tessa Ross (Film4) with investment from BBC Worldwide.

Competition grows

“There is an increasing amount of competition, particularly as execs leave broadcasters and set up their own companies,” says Hartswood Films’ director of operations Debbie Vertue. Illuminations md Linda Zuck says the market is increasingly overcrowded.
Indeed the spate of new indie launches has eclipsed all other deal-making in the indie sector over the past year. The consolidation that the market has witnessed over the past decade has slowed to a trickle, with All3Media’s acquisition of Indian Summers producer New Pictures the only sizeable deal since September 2015’s Production 100. 

Seeding new companies run by well-known executive talent rather than investing large sums to buy one of the dwindling number of true indies has become the new focus for the superindie groups looking to grow their UK footprint.

Commissioning chaos
Reflecting on the past year, many indies say one of the big challenges has been major personnel changes at broadcasters, particularly the BBC and ITV, following the departure of execs such as ITV director of TV Peter Fincham and BBC2 and BBC4 controller Kim Shillinglaw.

Artists Studio exec producer Patrick Irwin talks of “chaos in the UK broadcaster commissioning process”, while Blakeway director of production Andrew McKerlie says the job changes have caused “major delays in decision making and made the first six months of 2016 extremely challenging in the factual genre.” Talkback md Leon Wilson also says the changes in BBC and ITV entertainment have ‘slowed down the commissioning process for the first half of 2016.’

Slow to greenlight
In fact, many indies say that the commissioning process has become ever slower in the UK market. “Getting ideas fully commissioned and in to production feels like it is becoming harder than ever before,” says Firecracker’s chief creative officer Jes Wilkins. “We’ve had a number of ideas that have been verbally green lit with contracts agreed only for them to fall through because of personnel changes at channels, goalpost shifts or unexpected budget constraints.”

Budget pressure
Budgets are, as always, a big talking point in the Production 100. Between them, indies say that budgets have fallen an average of 2.1% over the past year. Keo Film’s financial controller Chris Day says there’s been “continued pressure on production margins as costs continue to rise but channel tariffs don’t.” Clelia Mountford, md of Catastrophe producer Merman Films says budgets are diminishing yet there’s “the same expectation for high production values from broadcasters.”

“Budget have held study for us, but due to increased creative demands, production costs and staffing costs, it seems like about a 5-10% decrease in budget levels,” says Maverick’s chief finance officer Ian Ayres.

With talent and production costs rising, producers are having to be ever more innovative to make budgets work – whether finding international co-production partners, ad funders or investing themselves into projects. “Increasingly, we find broadcasters telling us they like an idea but can’t pay for it, so we’re tasked with finding the money,” says Cactus TV head of production Lucy Eagle. Tiger Aspect’s COO Helen Wright says profit margins are decreasing as licence fees remain static or fall. “We are constantly seeking additional revenue sources and ways to bridge funding gaps.”

Development hell
Indies like Dragonfly and Remarkable say that funded development is harder to secure. It means that many producers are having to invest more themselves to generate broadcaster interest. Sundog director of production Iris Maor says the amount of unpaid development work required to get a commission often does not reflect the size of the commission. “The development process has become longer and more arduous, with expectations and deliverables higher than they have ever been,” adds Nerd’s development coordinator Jessica Hall.

Rights fights
In addition, several indies say that the secondary rights market is diminishing, as more broadcasters demand full buyout in return for a commission.  “This in turn has led to growth but uncertainty – with more work year on year, yet less IP ownership for the long term,” says Lambent Productions md Emma Wakefield.

October Films md Adam Bullmore says the business climate has been strong but there is a “constant conflict between shrinking budgets, rights retention or surrender, and escalating costs of production” which has hindered stronger growth.

Targetting UK growth
Despite these funding and development challenges, the majority of indies (72%) say that the UK is where they are seeing most growth in their business. Indeed, the average production company earns 66.5% of its revenues from UK broadcasters, up from 62.6% last year.

Many are optimistic about the outlook for the year ahead, saying that the commissioning landscape should be more stable having gone through so much personnel upheaval, as well as major one off hits such as the closure of BBC3 as a broadcast channel.

Others say that BBC charter renewal and the review of the Terms of Trade brought a chill to the indie sector, but that both have been resolved in a positively as far as producers are concerned which bodes well for 2017. “With the publication of the White Paper on the BBC and new personnel in place at ITV and now the BBC, day to day business should settled down and opportunities open up,” says Boundless md Hannah Wyatt.

Many hope that the big question mark hanging over the future of Channel 4 will also be laid to rest soon. The threat of privatisation is cited as a big issue by many indies, who worry that it would lead to a fall in programme and supplier diversity. “It would no doubt have a detrimental impact on high quality documentaries and specialist factual,” says Swan Films md Joe Evans. “If Channel 4 is privatised, the true indie community might as well shut up shop,” warns Tern creative director Harry Bell.

The Brexit effect
However, many indies say Britain’s decision to leave the EU creates new uncertainty for UK production. There is concern that Brexit may spark an economic slowdown, which would lower commercial broadcasters’ ad revenues and reduce their ability to fund new content.  But there is acknowledgement that the fall in the value of the pound has made content produced by UK indies cheaper for US and international broadcasters.

The outlook is challenging but positive, says CPL business manager Alexandra Kallis.  But, she adds, there is uncertainty about the impact of the EU referendum. Icon Films md Laura Marshall, meanwhile, speaks of a challenging outlook “with the impact of Brexit still unsure.” Arrow Media, meanwhile, says it is optimistic for the year ahead, despite Brexit.

Inhouse rivalries
Another uncertainly ahead for indies is the full launch of BBC Studios as a commercial division in April 2017. This will allow the corporation’s inhouse production arm to make shows for other channels in exchange for opening up more BBC production to competition from the indie sector. “It remains to be seen how BBC Studios coming into the market will affect business available for the independent sector,” says Dragonfly’s head of production Yvonne Bainton. Reef Television md Paul Hanrahan sees “additional opportunities” amid increased tendering to indies.

However, many indies express concern at the growth of broadcaster owned production divisions, notably BBC Studios and particularly ITV Studios. The appointment of former ITV Studios boss Kevin Lygo to run the broadcaster’s commissioning division is viewed with alarm by many, who say ITV is increasingly ordering shows from its ever growing production operation. 

“It’s tough out there – especially for a true indie. There are more companies than ever vying for fewer slots, we’re in competition with BBC Studios and ITV Studios (and all of its associated companies) and budgets get ever more challenging,” says Cactus TV’s Lucy Eagle.

True vs super indies
Not only has there been extensive superindie consolidation, but the inhouse commercial arms of the BBC, C5 and ITV are getting bigger, says Tern’s Harry Bell. “It doesn’t feel like a squeeze but a stranglehold.”

Smaller indies face inherent disadvantages compared to their superindie-owned rivals, believes Voltage md Steve Nam. “It is more difficult to be commissioned off paper alone and at a time of continued consolidation of smaller indies by big media groups with deep pockets and the ability to self-fund tape or take bigger risks, the environment can feel uncompetitive.”    

Talent quest

Indies also cite hiring and retaining skilled staff as a key challenge for their business. Indies like Bristol based Icon say it is difficult to attract creative talent to the region given the continuing dominance of “M25 companies.” Finding top talent “particularly for highly ambitious programmes” is a challenge for Nutopia, as it is for Red Planet in a drama market where competition is high.

Fellow drama indie Sid Gentle Films says there is a shortage of top class directors and heads of department, while Tiger Aspect says the drama boom has pushed up talent and crew rates.

Rough Cut commercial director Tim Sealey says: “The big challenge to our business is in attracting to and keeping talent within the company.  The business is very busy and there are not enough talented people to go around.”

And it is diverse talent – on and off camera – that many indies say they are looking to hire as they look to achieve diversity targets set by the leading broadcasters.

The full Production 100 report can be read at:

Posted 15 September 2016 by Tim Dams

IMG takes poll position in Production 100

Sports producer IMG Media tops the 2016 Production 100, Televisual’s 24th annual survey of the independent production sector.

It’s the fourth year in a row that IMG, which covers sports including Wimbledon tennis and Premier League Football, has led the Production 100 rankings. 

The stand out trend of this year’s survey is the rise of drama producers, who have taken advantage of the incredible growth in demand for scripted TV.

Six of the top ten companies in the Production 100 are drama indies; two of them, Carnival and Left Bank, posted turnovers in excess of £100m each.

The other noticeable trend is the launch of a swathe of new indies, many of them backed by superindie groups.

With fewer acquisition targets left after so much industry consolidation, the big groups are choosing to seed lots of ambitious new start-ups rather than invest heavily in existing production companies. Little wonder, therefore, that many indies say the climate is more competitive than ever.

For the full Production 100 survey, click here.

Posted 08 September 2016 by Tim Dams

Dipping into the archive business

A spate of major anniversaries, the ongoing popularity of ‘list’ shows, as well as the rise of clip-based docs like Senna, have helped to buoy the archive sector. Tim Dams reports on the business of content libraries

Archive libraries are busy preparing for the next wave of anniversaries about to hit TV screens. The 100th anniversary of the 1st World War, particularly last month’s centenary of the Battle of the Somme, has led to strong business for many historical libraries.

British Pathe’s general manager Alastair White says business is booming – up 25% year on year, thanks in part to a spate of big anniversaries. As well as The Somme, 2016 was also the centenary of Ireland’s Easter Rising. And there are plenty of big war anniversaries to come. America joined the 1st World War in 1917. There will also be plenty of docs to mark the end of the war in 1918. The following year, it’s time to mark the start of a new global conflict – the 80th anniversary of the 2nd World War.

Military history is also popular for Bridgeman Images – which represents collections for the likes of The National Army Museum and Imperial War Museum. Bridgeman marketing manager Annabel O’Connor-Fenton also reports a surge of interest ahead of next year’s 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

It’s also the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August 2017 – an event sure to spur plenty of inquiries for royalty-related archive.

Royalty is a big seller for archives. Matthew Butson, vice president of Getty Images Archive says royalty has global appeal: “Whether there is a current royal event or not, we see consistent levels of sales year in year out with this type of content.” The Queen’s 90th birthday has been a peg for many royal-themed archive sales this year.

But it’s not just royalty and war that has buoyed business in 2016. ‘Even’ years are traditionally good for archives as they are when major global events tend to take place, spurring demand for old footage. Getty’s Butson cites the European Championships, and the Rio Olympics and US Presidential elections as helping to drive growth at the archive.

The US Presidential election is a particular focus for NBC Universal Archives, which houses the oldest American TV news collection. Clara Fon-Sing, NBC’s vice president and general manager says the company has been working with producers worldwide on major background documentaries that will air this election season.

This includes historical election footage since 1948, rare clips of Donald Trump from the 70s, Hillary Clinton’s iconic soundbites over the years or a look back at Obama’s presidency.

Getty’s strategy is to curate its content – packaging it and pushing it into the market – especially around topical and newsworthy themes. “There are always a wide number of annual ‘evergreens’ we can use to package historical content – the Academy Awards, Cannes, Wimbledon etc. and with the world celebrity obsession, any number of ways we can curate celebrity content,” says Butson.

It’s not just anniversaries that are helping to drive the archive market.  Archives now have a much wider client base to sell to given the rise of digital platforms and online players – and video consumption generally.

Gordon Craig is head of sales at FremantleMedia Archive, which has up to 100,000 hours of content, housing Thames TV’s news, docs and chat show archive, through to US game shows like The Price is Right and Family Feud.

Craig says that TV list shows are still the bread and butter of the archive. He also reports a surge in interest from feature documentaries too, with the archive docs such as Senna reinvigorating the genre.

It’s a point echoed by British Pathe’s White. He says there are key new doc commissioners, including Netflix, Amazon and Sky. “They have upped the game for everyone,” says White. “Big standout feature docs that can go on all platforms are very much in fashion.” White adds that hit archive docs such as Netflix’s Making A Murderer have had a ‘transformational effect’ on the industry. “It has set a trend and others are following in its wake.”

It is tougher for archives to sell into ad agencies. “Your average creative director wants to go and shoot material and will not want to merely sit in a post suite and play around with some dusty content from the 1970s,” says Paul Maidment, director of Kite Media Consultancy and former director of BBC Motion Gallery. 

The big libraries often have ‘sweetheart’ deals with ad agency groups. Some of the new ‘disruptive’ content companies have had success in this field, says Maidment. “A client of mine Brave Bison [formerly Rightster] licenced some fairly straight forward natural history content for a big campaign for Dairy Milk chocolate.”

Education, adds Maidment, is seen as a huge area for video content. Archives such as ITN, BBC and NBC have specialist standalone businesses offering content and news stories to schools and universities. Specialist education businesses – such as Bo Clips and Twig – have also sprung up in the past five years. “The challenge with education content is that it is a real slog and very difficult to get to the decision makers in the ministries of Education in, for example, the Middle East and Asia, where the real money sits.”

Technology has also helped breath new life into archives, with key collections  digitised and easier to access online. Some have also loaded their archive onto dedicated YouTube channels, to boost the visibility of their library. FremantleMedia, for example, runs a Thames TV YouTube channel, where it loads up hand-picked clips to promote. Associated Press also has an active presence on YouTube.

British Pathe’s Alastair White says YouTube is the archive’s biggest shop window. He plays down concerns that its footage might be stolen, citing the ability to track content loaded on to YouTube. “It would be a brave producer indeed to rip our content off YouTube.”

Meanwhile, the archive market is consolidating. Getty Images, the world’s largest commercial picture library, struck a deal in January with its main rival Corbis to distribute and licence the Corbis library. Getty has also been licencing the BBC’s content for the past two and a half years.

Kite Media’s Maidment says: “The big positive with the likes of Getty is that they have a fantastic network of sales people and your content will get maximum exposure. The downside is that content goes into a vast repository – potentially never to be seen again, let alone licenced.”

Maidment says there is still a place for niche libraries offering a dedicated, boutique-style service. He cites Firehorse in Lebanon which positions itself as a one-stop shop for Middle Eastern video content.
The landscape is changing rapidly for all libraries, made all the more complex by the fact that barriers to entry are lower for companies wanting to sell library content.

Many indies are reviewing their assets to see whether they might enable new revenue streams. To do this, says Maidment, it’s essential for content to be digitised and, most importantly, for the metadata to be rich and accurate. Companies can either manage sales themselves or partner with libraries such as Getty, Shutterstock or Pond5.

Posted 19 August 2016 by Tim Dams

Televisual's Production Technology Survey, 2016

From cameras to editing, 4K and VR, Televisual’s annual Production Technology Survey reveals the kit that producers are using to make their shows and what they think of it.

Keeping on top of advances in production technology is one of the big challenges for programme makers today.

New cameras, editing kit and supporting technology are launched into the market each year, promising to enhance creative possibilities, bring down costs or boost productivity.

Televisual’s Production Technology Survey attempts to cut through this hype, asking our readers to tell us what they are using to make their shows –and which kit they rate.

The Survey seeks to establish which are the most popular technology brands and models in production today, as well as highlighting the key technology trends that are driving the market such as 4K, virtual reality and HDR.

As with previous Production Technology Surveys, we have focused on a number of key areas. On the first two pages, we take the temperature of the rapidly evolving camera market, revealing the most popular cameras  and manufacturers.

Once again, Canon’s C300 (pictured above) emerges as the most popular model – although it looks set to be eclipsed by the Sony FS7 next year.

Next we focus on the take on 4K and HDR. Despite all the talk about 4K, only 48% said they 
had shot in the format in the past year. But its uptake looks assured: the majority of respondents think it will be commonplace in the home in 3-4 years.

We also look at virtual reality. Just 13% have produced a VR project, mainly to test the technology. However, 
33% are thinking of producing a VR project, suggesting that there is growing appetite to experiment with the format.

Finally, we look post production. Avid remains the market leader in editing, with Adobe making a strong showing.

The most popular camera models
The Canon C300, used widely across factual shows, is once again the most used camera model, with 25% of respondents saying they worked with it in the past 12 months.

However, the long popularity of the C300 looks to be waning. Sony’s FS7, the second most used model in the past year, is likely to eclipse the C300 next year. It is the camera that most respondents say they hope to use in the next 12 months, with 22% of the vote versus Canon’s 12%. 

The Arri Alexa remains popular with programme makers in drama, film and commercials, with 12% saying it is their most used camera. This is up from 7% last year. It’s popularity looks set to be bolstered by the Alexa Mini next year. The Arri Amira is also making headway, largely in the docs market, with 6% saying it’s the camera they most hope to use next year.

The most popular camera brands
Sony has overtaken Canon as the most used camera brand in the 2016 Production Technology Survey.

38% of respondents said Sony is the camera brand they have used most in the past 12 months - up from 31% last year.

This 7% surge has helped the manufacturer move past Canon, which took 35% of the vote - down from last year’s 38%.

The growth in popularity of the FS7 and F5/55 has helped push Sony up the rankings. Sony also offers a wider range of cameras in the professional market, with cameas such as the PMW200 and PMW700 also popular choices.

Next year, Sony looks set to increase its lead, while Canon falls back further. 40% say Sony is the brand they most hope to use, against 17% for Canon - which is pushed back into third place by Arri on 24%.

Arri’s performance is bolstered by its popular and growing range of cameras, including the Alexa, Amira and Alexa Mini. 

In the past year, Arri has pushed ahead of Red – a manufacturer it tied with in popularity in last year’s survey.  Last year both received 7% of the vote in the most used camera brand category; now Arri is ahead on 17% while Red remains about steady with 6%.

Shooting in 4K is starting to pick up now. 48% of respondents said they had shot in the format over the past 12 months, up from 30% in last year’s survey.

Many are filming in 4K to future-proof their productions or because they want to achieve the best quality visuals possible for a high-end doc, drama, commercial or film.  Other reasons given for shooting in 4K are the greater flexibility it gives in the edit in terms of cropping, re-framing, grading and vfx.

Fewer have mastered in 4K though, choosing to downconvert to HD for post production. Only 22% say they have mastered in 4K this year.

The 4K era also seems to be getting closer. The majority think it will be 3-4 years before 4K is commonplace in the home; last year, most respondents said it would be 5-6 years. Many commentators say that HDR is more likely to take off than 4K, given the smaller bandwidth required to deliver an enhanced quality of picture.

But despite all the talk about HDR, many (42%) have not even seen it. In fact, only 7% of repsondents have been asked to deliver in HDR. Those who have worked in the format, though, are big fans and believe that it is more likely to take off in the home than 4K.

Virtual reality
Virtual reality is still very much a fledgling business, yet a surprising number of respondents (13%) say they have produced VR content.

Most, however, have done so to test the technology, particularly with short films to experiment with workflow. Real VR projects included a UN film for the Paris Climate Summit, an immersive experience for a museum and a film for Google.

An impressive 33% say they are thinking of producing in VR, with many describing it as an exciting format. Others dismiss it as a ‘fad’.

It’s important to distinguish here between true virtual reality and 360 degree shooting. Many say they have shot 360 projects, using GoPros, rather than full immersive viritual reality.

Once again, Avid emerges as the most popular editing system in production. 60% of respondents saying that Media Composer is their primary editing system - up on last year’s 48%.

Avid of course has a strong legacy of support in post production. “The best editors use this and refuse to work on any other systems,” says one. “It is the most widely available in the post houses I use,” adds another respondent.

(Note: respondents could vote for more than one editing system, so the combined totals equal more than 100%).

One of the startling aspects of last year’s survey was the rise of Adobe Premiere. Its growth seems to have levelled off, dropping back to 27% from 31% last year. However, the editing software has developed a strong market in the corporate, digital and commercials world.

Adobe Premiere’s integration with Creative Suite and After Effects is important to many, and it has now become standard at many indies.

It’s rated for its value for money and ease of workflow. One corporate producer says: “It has wide compatibility with video files and most editors now use it which makes moving projects around between freelancers easier.” Apple’s editing software, meanwhile, is used by many for short edits and home use.

The ability to edit remotely is becoming ever more possible, yet very few programme makers have either done it or even plan to. Some 44% said they had no plans to edit remotely.

However, 36% said they had not yet opted for remote editing, yet planned to in the next 12 months. Of the technologies available, the most popular to date is Adobe Anywhere, followed by Forbidden Technologies’s Forscene.

DaVinci Resolve emerges as the most used standalone grading system with 36% saying they employed it, while FilmLight Baselight followed with 25% - signficantly up on last year’s 14%.
Many respondents say they grade using plug-ins or tools within their editing systems, reflecting the move by manufacturers to add more grading tools to their editing systems.

Media recorders
Love them or loathe them, third-party media recorders have been a fact of life for professional camera users since tapeless workflows became the norm.

24% of our survey respondents said they used media recorders with their cameras.

A range of recorders are now available to support professional digital cameras. Many of these were cited, from manufacturers including Atomos (Samurai, Shogun, Ninja)  AJA, Convergent Design (Odyssey 7Q), Video Devices (PIX-E).

How it works
Televisual asked senior programme makers – executive producers, series producers, producers, heads of production, line producers and directors – for their thoughts and opinions on the technology they use to make their programmes.

We had 116 in depth responses in total.  The majority – 53% - worked in factual TV production. 15% worked in entertainment TV, 9% in drama and 5% in TV sports and events. Meanwhile, 26% were employed in corporate production, 17% in commercials and 6% in film.

All worked in senior roles in production companies. Over 50% told us they had full control over choice of technology workflows and budgets.

Posted 18 August 2016 by Tim Dams
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  • Editor Of Televisual
    Tim Dams is editor of Televisual magazine....
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