Next week's Mipcom programme market isn't just attended by the global giants of the TV business, but by hundreds of smaller production companies. Here five companies, based out of Pact's UK Indies stand, give their top tips for the making the most of the market.
Tim Sparke, Mercury Media Why do you go to Mipcom? Because it is the best place to have focussed meetings with clients eager to license Mecury's films and series. What are you selling? 15 new documentary films from award-winning directors, a weekly series about trends on the internet and in social media which starts in Jan 2012, a three part series in production for the BBC about Edinburgh Castle. Our catalogue of 80+ films, and our new state of the art VOD/Connected platform technology. Who are you meeting? We have 120 appointments with buyers from all the top public service and commercial broadcasters. What do you hope to achieve at Mipcom? Our 2012 revenue budget, a re-positioned brand. How much does the trip cost? Less than £10k for four attendees all in. What are your top tips for making the most of the market? Prepare each meeting beforehand and listen to what your client is saying. Be unique - don't get drunk, sleep with anyone, or buy a round of drinks in the Grand. The consequences of each can be costly, taken together they can be ruinous. Go to bed early, get up early and take a meditative walk along the Croisette each day - the exercise will help you perform at your best. Don't be pushy, rude or obnoxious, you're a guest, not a tourist, and remember at least once a day especially when someone around you is losing it, what a privilege it is to be working in our industry. Favourite restaurant? La Cave - it's a wine-shop with a restaurant attached. Best place to do business? On the terrace of Lerins Hall looking out onto the harbour at the end of the day. Where do you stay? In a clean cheerful 2-star five mins from the Palais.
Rod Rodrigo, IMC Vision What do you hope to achieve at Mipcom? With almost daily jitters in the financial markets today, the palette of territories from which you draw your sales has become very unstable. Some territories which may have performed in the past are taking a back seat while other territories step up to the mark. Mipcom this year is about keep abreast of these trends. We are also looking for more content. How much does the trip cost? Too much! Our market spend is a substantial amount of money for what could be an apparently non tangible benefit especially if deals are not closed at the market itself. The question is, can we achieve the same with one to one client meetings in their own territories rather than at a market like Mipcom. The jury is still out. What are your top tips for making the most of the market? Planning, planning, planning. Most buyers’ schedules get pretty full up early on and leaving it for a “drop by” or “passing trade” these days is a risk you shouldn’t take. Also, networking ROCKS! Even if you hate late nights and slightly warm Cote de Provence at extortionate prices, stay up. Be seen. You need to build your personal profile so that people know who you are. If that means playing the piano at the Grand Hotel bar at 3.00am then that’s what you have to do! The old saying “people buy people” is so true. And wear comfortable shoes. Favourite restaurant? Jardin Bambou – probably the greatest Chinese in Europe. If you want to impress? The old town. Best place to do business? Grand Hotel Bar. 7.30pm or later. You will be amazed at what gets talked about at night. But I guess the signing is always done on stand in the Palais, so I would have to say your stand should be your home sweet home for the week! Where do you stay? Le Flea Pit. I guess if your room has running water and a bed, you are lucky in Cannes. This is one of my greatest bug bears. I would be quite happy with a Premier Inn standard room... at Premier Inn prices. The problem is that Cannes has got a captive market and they don’t really live in the real world. We have thought about staying out of Cannes, which is considerably cheaper, but then if you are entertaining and networking, it becomes very inconvenient and expensive in cab fares...
Christian Baute, Headline Pictures Why do you go to Mipcom? Mipcom is the best place to meet international producers and production companies under one roof. It’s always so much better to meet people face to face. Some of our most fruitful professional relationships were born and blossomed in the Palais. What are you selling/pitching/buying there? This year we will be looking for partners for our returning drama series The Drivers, a story set on and around the European racetracks of the 1950s, written by Michael Hirst (The Tudors, Camelot) and co-produced with Scott Free and Sennet Entertainment. We are also looking for partners for a series adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s wonderful alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle, written by Howard Brenton (Spooks) and developed with the BBC and Scott Free. Who are you meeting? This year we are meeting AMC, TCM, RTL Television, ProSieben Sat1, Bavaria, Telepool, TF1, M6 and Sky Italia amongst others. What do you hope to achieve at Mipcom? We hope to strengthen relationships with our existing international contacts, and of course make many new ones! How much does the trip cost? This year we expect it to cost around £6,200. What are your top tips for making the most of the market? Before heading to France we make sure we read all the international trades – Televisual, C21, the Hollywood Reporter etc – to see what other companies have got in the works. We don’t arrange meetings just for the sake of it, and we try and make sure we’re meeting the most appropriate contact at each company. It’s also a good idea to leave half an hour between meetings to avoid rushing.
Favourite restaurant? Coquillages Brun, Angle 2 rue Louis Blanc et 27 rue Félix Faure, Cannes. Best place to do business? Hotel Majestic, 10 La Croisette. Where do you stay? We usually rent a villa in Le Cannet for some peace and quiet!
Olivier Lauchenauer, Pogo Films Why do you go to Mipcom? To sell our Stereo 3D Broadcast and Blu-ray/VOD content for the world market. What are you selling/pitching/buying there? We have about 12 hours of Stereo 3d broadcast content. Although Electric Sky represent us and are out there with their own stand we find additional contacts and meet content distributors to have a better feel of the market and its needs. Who are you meeting? As 3d is still in its infancy it's any 3d broadcaster. What do you hope to achieve at Mipcom? Sell our content to the worldwide market and develop relationships with broadcasters and content producers. How much does the trip cost? Between £3-4k. What are your top tips for making the most of the market? Don't just make one trip, it takes time to develop contacts and relationships. Favourite restaurant? The Splendid by the railway station. Cheap and cheerful. Best place to do business? On the stand. Where do you stay? In a rented flat.
Colin Williams, Sixteen South Why do you go to Mipcom? We go to pitch our new properties to international broadcasters and to meet potential co-production partners and financiers from all over the world. We work in children’s – and it’s one of the two major markets every year where everyone we want to meet are in the same place! What are you selling/pitching/buying there? We’re at Mip this year to pitch two new pre-school properties for the international marketplace – a mixed media animation called Driftwood Bay and an innovative outdoors puppet show called WonderWoods. Who are you meeting? We’re pitching to broadcasters from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, France, UAE, China and Ireland. We are also meeting with potential co-production partners from all these countries. And lots of old friends and partners too! What do you hope to achieve at Mipcom? Our goal is to sell our shows to broadcasters. However we’re also building new relationships and strengthening our existing relationships too. We want to continue to promote SixteenSouth as not just a creator of high quality content but also a potential co-producer. We’re on the look out too for exciting new projects that we could get involved in - last year’s Mip was where we began our discussions to co-produce Big and Small season 3 for CBeebies and Pajanimals with The Jim Henson Company for Sprout. How much does the trip cost? We will spend around £7k. What are your top tips for making the most of the market?
- Make sure you have a great pitch and bible.
- Plan your meetings well in advance.
- Be strategic about who you meet and research their work.
- Be open to discovering new opportunities you may not have thought about.
- If you plan on any leave behinds after a meeting use a USB key rather than paper – less likely to get left behind in the hotel! Favourite restaurant? Cookies and Coffee for Breakfast La Pizza for Dinner. Best place to do business? The networking lounge is good but make sure you book a table. We love meetings in Café Roma and the many bars and lobbies along the Croisette. Where do you stay? We usually book an apartment close to the palais.
In Televisual's survey of the leading independent television production companies, the Production 100, we also asked those same indies to name their favourite distribution partners...
Indie producers now rely more heavily than ever on distributors, both to plug programme budget shortfalls with distribution advances and to bolster income with international sales of completed shows. As this year's Production 100 reveals, the average indie derived 11.6% of its total turnover from rights exploitation.
Most of the larger superindies have their own inhouse distribution outfits to sell their programmes around the world and to secondary UK broadcasters. But mid-sized and smaller indies tend to work with a variety of distributors. As part of the Production 100, we asked indies which distributors they used – and also to tell us which companies they rated and to explain their thinking.
Once again, BBC Worldwide came out top in both cases – it gets the highest number of "most used" and "rated" votes. The corporation's commercial division is rated for its "strong marketing and acquisition teams" and for being "collaborative". Indies like the fact that it has "global reach and sales offices in territories." Moreover, BBC Worldwide is regarded as "willing to contribute to budgets and find co-production partners". Says one producer: "They put in hefty advances for the right project and they do bring in the money." Another indie backs this comment up, saying BBC Worldwide offers the "best advances/investment in projects that require it." BBC Worldwide is also "especially good for sales on UK secondary windows and other BBC satellite channels."
Next up is Zodiak, formerly known as RDF Rights. Factual producers particularly like the distributor, with one citing its "strong grasp of the factual market and its truly global reach." Zodiak "knows the market well and is genuinely excited about factual," says one indie, with another adding: "Zodiak Rights is keen, hardworking and responsive - it works with producers to make shows happen." Several indies are impressed by Zodiak's "clear reporting feedback on projects and market intelligence". The distributor, says one producer, offers "regular reporting and a good online system to check on the progress of sales."
ITV Studios Global Entertainment comes third in the most used distributor rankings. "ITV Global has a strong hold of the market and they get the most value for finished tape sales," reports one producer. Another values the distributor for being "truly international, its attention to client contact and its involvement from the early stages of a project."
Outright Distribution, now part of Warner Bros International TV Production, is next. According to one indie, it gives "a very good service in programme sales and is always eager to communicate its market knowledge and to hear what we have coming up in our pipeline", while another producer mentions the "impressive team of Chris Bonney, Claudia Danser and Andy Zein means great strategic communication with indies, aggressive and dynamic sales and they feel like a real part of the team."
Fifth place is shared by Passion Distribution, DRG and Target Entertainment. Passion Distribution is picked out for "really knowing how to make programmes stand out in the market place" with its chief executive Sally Miles cited by several indies. One says: "Sally Miles is an outstanding figure in the industry working hard and passionately for the production companies she represents."
DRG, meanwhile is rated for being "independent from any production companies" and it has a "responsive, fast and great sales team". Another indie adds: "We have a genuine relationship with them."
And Target Entertainment is picked out for being "professional and efficient at placing our programmes around the world."
Three companies share eighth place: DCD Rights, Endemol Worldwide Distribution and Fremantle Media Enterprises. Indie feedback on the three companies is as follows: DCD Rights is "proactive and works hard for us"; Endemol Worldwide Distribution is "astute and delivers with the right properties"; and Fremantle Media Enterprises has a "good sales team" and "moves fast in the international market."
Other distributors, notably All3Media and Cineflix, score highly in the 'most rated' categories. All3Media, for example, is "proactive, commercial, enthusiastic and responsive" and has a "precise, clear and clever leader in Louise Pedersen." And Cineflix "has been very good at following up on smaller territories and getting back rights to redistribute to a new market", according to one indie, with another saying it "knows the market well and is genuinely excited about factual programming."
After three years of downturn, many indies say business has improved dramatically over the last 12 months. But with clouds gathering again over the global economy, can this brief revival of fortunes last?
The headline theme to emerge from Televisual’s 18th annual Production 100 survey is, for a change, rather positive: after three years of enduring the TV downturn that followed the credit crunch of 2008, many indies say that business has improved over the last 12 months.
Of course, business remains tough and incredibly competitive for independent producers. Budgets are continuing to fall, even though broadcasters expect production standards to be as high as ever.
But there’s a distinct change in mood among many indies, and it’s for the better. The reason is straightforward. Broadcasters have been commissioning more shows, buoyed by improved ad revenues. Channel 4 is very much back in the market, with slots to fill post Big Brother and is working with a broader range of indies. Sky has emerged as a real production force. And Discovery, with former C4 boss Julian Bellamy at the helm, is gearing up its production ambitions in the UK.
David Granger, md of Made In Chelsea producer Monkey, believes the climate has “improved dramatically” from the year before. “There are far more commissioning opportunities across all channels,” he says.
Debbie Vertue, general manager of Sherlock producer Hartswood Films, points to a rush of work in recent months: “It’s been slow, but it feels as if there has been a real surge now in production and commissions. C4, ITV and Sky all now seem to have money to spend, or so they say, in comedy and drama.”
Indies have also diversified their businesses in recent years, out of necessity becoming less reliant on the UK market. A strategy of pushing into international markets has paid off for many, while others have become adept at taking advantage of new opportunities in areas such as AFP and digital production.
The figures underline this story of cautious growth in the market. The top 100 indies turned over £1.9bn from the UK market in 2010-11, up slightly from last year’s £1.75bn. “Tough but ultimately rewarding,” is how Sophie Walker, head of production at Country House Rescue indie Betty, describes the past year. Thomas Benski, chief executive of Pineapple Dance Studios producer Pulse Films, also sums up the mood of many indies. “The climate has been very positive and we definitely feel that people are open for business, but budgets are challenging. We are also starting to see a steady rise in digital and brand associated opportunities as well.”
Melanie Leach, md of The Hotel Inspector producer Twofour, says the past few months have been the busiest she can remember in terms of new projects going into paid development and production. The indie has picked up new commissions from multiple broadcasters, as well as two sizeable ad funded projects for C4.
At the same time, it’s important to stress the sense of caution running through this year’s Production 100. Some indies may be buoyant, but it’s hard to detect the go-go optimism of the pre-2008 years when the sector truly boomed.
David Green, chief executive of Penn&Teller: Fool Us producer DCD Media describes the UK sector as “stable and static”. He doesn’t think the sector will expand greatly in the years ahead. “The reality is that we will never return to the pre-2008 power of the production sector.”
What’s more, this year’s Production 100 survey was conducted before the European debt crisis and the downgrade of the US economy’s AAA rating, which caused stock markets to plunge violently in early August. This is likely to have an impact on the production market in 2012, amid predictions that advertising revenues will continue falling next year as a result (ad revenues are already down about 3% in July and August).
Even before the events of August, ITV’s chief executive Adam Crozier said the broadcaster was “cautious” about the advertising market and the economy. Speaking shortly after the big stock market falls, DCD’s Green comments: “My feeling is that we might just start to feel some of the problems from last week in 2012.” He added that October’s Mipcom programme market would be a telling barometer for the year ahead, with many concerned that broadcast buyers could start to rein in their spend on acquired shows.
There’s been a spate of deal-making and consolidation in the indie sector over the past year, but far from the levels seen before 2008. A key trend has been the increasing presence of the US studios in the UK market, with NBC Universal (Carnival/Monkey), Warner Bros. (Shed Media), News Corp (Shine) and Sony (Gogglebox) now owning a significant share of the sector thanks to a spate of acquisitions.
In fact, Shine’s sale to News Corp for £415m in February ranks as the year’s biggest deal. This could be supplanted by All3Media, the UK’s biggest indie, which is currently for sale with a price tag of up to £750m – US studios are among the rumoured suitors. Meanwhile, Zodiak bought Inbetweeners producer Bwark in July. And Welsh superindie Tinopolis has been particularly active, making two significant acquisitions in the US – Base Productions and A Smith & Co – in the space of two months.
Leopard Films and Remedy Productions teamed up in May, with the ambition of creating a new superindie group under the banner Argonon Group. And Boomerang Plus acquired Meerkats Manor producer Oxford Scientific Films in June.
But one of the most interesting developments in the Production 100 has been the emergence of a second tier of mid-sized indies that have come out of the last 12 months in a much stronger position. Companies such as start up The Garden (24 Hours in A&E), Renegade Pictures (Heston’s Mission Impossible), Love Productions (The Great British Bake Off), Raw TV (Banged Up Abroad), Keo Films (Hugh’s Fish Fight), Windfall (Inside Nature’s Giants), Blast! (Coppers) and Firecracker (My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding) have all had a strong year and remain, for now, very much independent. “If there is going to be another rush of consolidation, you can see that there are five or six companies that have emerged over the last 12 months who look very interesting,” notes Twofour’s Leach.
Superindie vs small
To some extent, mid sized and smaller indies have benefited over the last year as broadcasters, notably C4, have attempted to work with a wider range of suppliers. Truly independent producers report that broadcasters are sometimes nervous about doing business with consolidated indies because ‘there is a worry over where the money is going’. Says one indie: “Is it going upstairs to feed the big beast that owns it rather than onscreen?”
Nevertheless, smaller sized producers say business remains challenging for them. “We do not have the economies of scale or the resources of the larger indies and superindies who are able to invest in substantial development teams and sophisticated taster tapes and have the resources to pitch more widely,” says Claire Nicholls, finance director of Candy Cabs producer Splash Media. “However, broadcasters are realising that they are best served with a wider supplier base.”
Smaller indies say that the downward pressure on budgets has a particular effect on them, as it plays into the hands of larger indies that benefit from economies of scale. Clare Byrne, director of Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones producer Modern Television says broadcasters are expecting the same production values for a 25-35% cut in production tariffs from recent years. “Our margins are being squeezed and squeezed which is why there is a trend towards indies biting the bullet and being bought by the larger players.”
A similar point is made by Leonardo indie Kindle Entertainment: “We were the Bafta kids production company of the year in 2010, and yet the climate has never felt tougher. Licence fees are being squeezed and the work of securing funding from other sources becomes increasingly onerous. A lot of time is spent building and creating new relationships in Europe, the US and Australia. As a small truly independent producer with no big corporate brother to shield us, we’re vunerable in tough negotiations with various commercial/broadcast partners.”
Falling budgets emerge, once again, as a key theme in the Production 100. In fact, 63% of respondents say that broadcaster budgets have fallen over the past year, while 28% say they have stayed the same. Only 10% think they have risen. “Broadcaster tariffs have been reduced substantially and the ability to negotiate with broadcasters is more or less non-existent on issues of price,” says Simon Gray, finance director of The Alan Titchmarsh Show indie Spun Gold. “Our cost base has continued to rise as we have little negotiating power given the size of the company.”
Hardcash md David Henshaw adds that his indie has never been busier, but says work is a “constant struggle because of tighter budgets, lengthier negotiations and delayed cashflow from broadcasters.”
In particular, indies talk of cash flow issues with Channel 5 since its takeover by Richard Desmond and “Channel 4 commissioning on E4 budgets but expecting the same level of production.”
Although ad revenues have risen substantially since the downturn, many producers say that broadcasters continue to pay as if they are still in recession. As a result there’s an increasing need to top up budgets. Factual indie Brook Lapping says that although commissioners and broadcasters are very supportive and the genre is buoyant, “there’s an increasing need to supplement UK tariffs with overseas pre-sales and distribution deals to make certain projects viable.”
It’s a point echoed by Glyn Middleton, creative director of Dick ‘n’ Dom Go Wild indie True North. “Production budgets are still under enormous pressure and we are fortunate to have a strong and viable post production department and excellent secondary sales to provide a firm foundation for the company’s growth.”
At the same time, producers say rights are becoming ever more difficult to retain. “The pressure on commercial channels for increased revenues makes it tougher for indies to retain control of their IP and talent,” says Laura Marshall, md of River Monsters indie Icon Films. Hanging on to rights in an increasingly aggressive post terms of trade broadcast culture is shaping up to be a major battle for independent producers.
And there are complaints that broadcasters remain slow in their decision making. “There’s always uncertainty to deal with but delayed decisions seem more than ever,” says David Strachan, md of Wildlife Patrol maker Tern Television.”
Of course, many of the concerns of indie producers about budgets and delayed decision making crop up year after year in the Production 100. What is different this year is that they are tempered by a real sense that business is busier for many than at any time in the last three years. The words ‘improving’, ‘buoyant’, ‘busy’ and ‘positive’ – which have been completely absent in survey forms for so long – are widespread in indie feedback. Many independent production companies have effectively rebuilt their businesses over the last 12 months. The big question is, how long can this buoyant period last given the dark clouds that are once again gathering over the global economy?
For full Production 100 survey, see Televisual's September issue
All3Media once again takes pole position in the Production 100 rankings, Televisual’s annual survey of the UK’s independent sector.
It’s All3’s fourth year at the top of the Production 100, with the superindie increasing its UK annual revenues from £231m to £260m.
The top 10 is also similar to last year’s rankings, with many of the larger organisations consolidating their position in the market.
But there are significant risers in the mid-table this year, including drama producer Left Bank Pictures, which has picked up a raft of new commissions. Also on the up are indies such as Rondo, Raw TV, Nutopia, Big Talk, Icon Films, Atlantic, Spun Gold, Firecracker, Love Productions and Sixteen South.
New entrants include Argonon (formed from the merger of Leopard Films and Remedy Productions), Rival Media, Magnum Media, Nerd TV, Bungalow Town and Blue-Zoo.
It has been a rebound year for many producers, with indies reporting a major pick-up in commissions in the first six months of 2011.
The Production 100 rankings are based on UK turnover.
For full details, see Televisual’s September issue
3. Talkback Thames
4. Hit entertainment
5. Shine Group
6. Zodiak UK
7. Shed Media
10. DCD media
12. Left Bank
14. Hat Trick
17. Ten Alps
22. Raw TV
23. Zig Zag
24. Pulse Films
25. Input Media
26=. Big Talk
28. Fresh One
31. Spun Gold
33. So Television
34. Mammoth Screen
35. Somethin’ Else
36. Love Productions
40. Cwmni Da Cyf
42. Magnum Media
43. Keo Films
44. Baby Cow
45. Electric Sky
46. Off the Fence
47. October Films
49. Wag TV
50. True North
53= Sixteen South
53= Tern TV
58. Green Inc
61. Thumbs Up
62. Walsh Bros.
67. Blast! Films
69. Blue Zoo
71=. Great Meadow
74. Novel Entertainment
75. Oxford Scientific
77=. Hibbert Ralph
77=. Seventh Art
80. True Vision
83. HCA Entertainment
87. Raw Cut
97. Red Planet
99. Bungalow Town