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The talk of Mipcom: from Cowell to millennials

The weather in Cannes alternated between heavy downpours and bright skies, perfectly reflecting the mood among many participants at this year’s Mipcom.

On the one hand, TV executives gathering at the annual programme sales market were in an optimstic mood.

Demand for content is booming around the world, fuelled by an increasing number of channels as well as the growth of OTT players like Netflix and Amazon.

Figures released by producers' alliance Pact during the market showed that UK television exports rose 5% in 2013/14.

Sony Pictures president of television Steve Mosko summed up the mood of confidence: “Because of the digital explosion we have pretty much doubled the buyers we have around the world,” he said.

Sony was talking up its new superhero drama Powers, which it is releasing on its PlayStation platform. Meanwhile, Netflix was pushing its new big budget drama Marco Polo which chief creative officer Ted Sarandos said was of the same scale as Game of Thrones.

The importance of the international market was also underlined by the presence of high profile keynote Mipcom speakers such as of 21st Century Fox co-chief operating officer James Murdoch and The X Factor creator Simon Cowell.

Cowell’s production outfit Syco was one of many companies to throw lavish parties on the Cannes beach front to highlight their success in the TV business – in Cowell’s case the fact that the UK version of The X Factor has swept the world and is now shown in 147 territories worldwide.

Yet below the surface, there was a sense of anxiety about this Mipcom. In particular it centered on the viewing habits of millennials, who represent the future of the industry.

Millennials, those born since the turn of the millennium, are watching less linear television than previous generations as they find an increasing array of other things to do with their time – social media, gaming and watching short form content.

Former Endemol boss Ynon Kreitz, who now runs the Disney-owned online video platform Maker Studios, took to the stage at Mipcom to claim that millennials were watching one third less linear television than adults aged 25-49, and less than half of what adults 50-65 watch. “It’s not that they watch more as they grow older, but that they watch less as they grow younger,” said Kreitz.

“There’s a massive shift from linear to online video – short form in particular,” said Kreitz.

Many, of course, question the ability of the likes Maker to be able to effectively monetise this surge in online viewing by the millenials.

And few think that traditional TV is on its way out. Instead, it’s widely recognised that people are now consuming lots of TV content but in different ways — in particular via OTT networks that can be watched on the web, mobile apps, streaming devices and gaming consoles.

Consultancy group PWC predicts that internet advertising is poised to overtake TV as the largest advertising segment by 2018. But it thinks that TV revenues will still continue to grow, just not as fast as digital.

Marcel Fenez, global leader of PWC’s entertainment & media practice, said: “We are not saying TV is declining – the fact that it is losing its number one spot doesn’t mean that revenues are declining.”

But the new money and real growth is in digital, he said.

Which is perhaps why Simon Cowell revealed at Mipcom that the next project Syco makes will likely be released digitally instead of with a broadcaster.  He said he was developing a High School Musical-style scripted series.

And, it was interesting to hear James Murdoch describe his company in the following terms: “The business at the end of the day is a digital video business.”

It spoke volumes about how he sees the direction of travel for the TV industry in the next few years.

Traditional broadcasters, facing increased competition from digtial disruptors, look set for a difficult period. And the winners are likely to be agile, internationally focused content producers with their eye firmly on the evolving digital landscape.

Posted 16 October 2014 by Tim Dams

C5 owner Viacom to boost UK content spend

Viacom is to invest more money in UK programming and content.

That was the message today from Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman, who is visiting the company’s operations in the UK this week.

Viacom completed its £450m acquisition of Channel 5 last month, and today Dauman announced the launch of new channel Spike, which will roll out on Freeview next Spring.

Dauman said Viacom – whose TV brands include Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, VET, VH1 and Paramount Channel – viewed the UK as its second home and “a hub for international expansion.”

Speaking to the Broadcast Press Guild this morning, Dauman said that 10% of Viacom’s employees now reside and work in the UK - 1,100 in total. “The vast majority are in New York, LA and London. London is in our top three cities.”

Dauman said Viacom’s UK networks spend £300m on programming, with almost half that figure on original UK commissions.

“The topline number will continue to grow, and the UK commissioning part of it will continue to grow faster. We think that is the way to go in today’s world, where our viewers want more original fresh content.

“We believe that the UK is a great creative hub…that content we are producing for the UK will also be an important part of what our viewers watch in the rest of the world, including the US.”

Dauman said that Channel 5 “has a lot of room to grow” and that Viacom would continue to invest in the channel.

Asked if one of his ambitions was to see Channel 5 overtake Channel 4, Dauman commented: “That is the first step. We do not have bounds on our ambitions. But we are also not arrogant about our intentions. We know this is a very competitive business, and we respect our competitors. Competition makes you stronger.”

Channel 5 has closed the gap on Channel 4 in terms of ratings in recent years, largely thanks to the acquisition of Big Brother.

“We think Channel 5 has made great progress over the last few years from where it was, it has a long way to go and we will climb up the ranks.”

He said he would leave programming decisions to the commissioning team at C5, but said he would like the average age of the C5 viewer to fall – which would put the broadcaster in closer contention for the 16-34 demographic favoured by C4.

“We do think there is an opportunity to create programming that will bring the average age of the Channel 5 viewer down a bit than it is today. We do think there is an opportunity to target younger audiences on the Channel 5 group.”

Unlike other US studio groups, Dauman ruled out Viacom making a major acquisition of a UK content production company.

Rather, he said Viacom was focused on organic growth through investment in its existing brands and companies.

“We are now a scale player in the UK, we are a major media company in the UK and we want to be bigger. And we are going to be bigger by growing the business.”

Dauman is holding a ‘town hall’ meeting with Viacom’s UK staff this afternoon.

He has also visited Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, who he said welcomed Viacom’s investment into the UK.

Dauman comments follow hard on the heels of Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham’s MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival in August, in which he voiced fears about the takeover of the British TV industry by US media firms.

Referring to the speech, Dauman said: “I can understand how some people are afraid of competition, and strong competition, but we are here to compete, we are here to win more viewership and we will be focused on providing great content on every platform that people want to use.”

Posted 08 October 2014 by Tim Dams

British talent takes centre stage at London Film Festival

The London Film Festival (8-19 Oct) is always a strong platform for British films, but it’s more so than ever this year. Some 39 British films are in the festival’s main programme of 245 features, 10 more than last year.

They include this week's festival opener The Imitation Game, which has already established itself as the Oscar front runner after winning top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. The biopic about gay code-breaker Alan Turing who pioneered the Enigma is a UK/US production directed by Norway’s Morten Tyldum with British stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

James Kent’s Testament of Youth (pictured below), based on Vera Brittain’s memoir of World War I and starring Kit Harington and Alicia Vikander, world premieres at the LFF with a gala screening. Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall as the legendary artist J.M.W. Turner, also has a gala screening.

Meanwhile, there are two British films in official competition – Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, a dark melodrama which follows the intense relationship between two women, and Carol Morley’s coming of age tale The Falling (pictured below).

And four British films will vie for The Sutherland Award, the LFF’s First Feature competition. They are Yann Demange’s Troubles-set drama ’71 that premiered at Berlin; Daniel Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy, which first played in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight; Guy Myhill’s The Goob, a social realist drama set in Norfolk which debuted at Venice; and Second Coming, the feature debut of playwright Debbie Tucker Green (pictured below).

“This year feels very exciting in terms of the volume of new and emerging talent that is breaking through in the programme,” says festival director Clare Stewart. It’s the third year that Stewart, an Australian, has led the LFF.

“One of the things that profoundly stands out is that the UK industry has both a culture and an industrial framework that supports real risk taking which we are seeing across the board in both the bigger, more populist-orientated productions through to independent filmmaking.”

She describes official competition directors Strickland and Morley as “two visionary filmmakers” who are “really being supported by the industry.” The four British films competing for the Sutherland Award are, she adds, risk taking both in terms of their story and the way that have been made.

There are clear threads of British social realist cinematic traditions running through the UK selections, such as in Duane Hopkins’ Bypass and Wolfe’s Catch Me Daddy (pictured below). “In both cases, there is no way you would describe them as having a gritty realist approach. They are taking a lot more stylistic risks than that,” says Stewart.

The selection also emphasises the British fondness for adaptations and war focused stories, notably Testament of Youth. But within them, says Stewart, there is “really fresh and inventive storytelling and performances.”

Stewart also points to real festival discoveries like Rebecca Johnson’s Honey Trap and Simon Baker’s Nightbus, which both world premiere at the LFF.

“We’ve been greatly impressed at the volume of truly independent work that is coming through…and they seem to come through very much with the vision of the filmmaker intact. That is a very defining aspect of British production.”

Stewart says the festival has changed its programming process in the past two years, bringing in new deputy head of festivals Tricia Tuttle from Bafta and introducing programme advisors over each of its nine strands. “What that means is more active curatorial research going on…I do feel that the increase in British work represented is in part because we have a confluence of new influences, ideas and voices in the programming team. And of course, it’s reflective of the work itself in that we have more that we wanted to champion.”

Peter Ho-Sun Chan, DEAREST
Peter Strickland, THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (European Premiere)
Carol Morley, THE FALLING (World Premiere)
Céline Sciamma, GIRLHOOD
Daniel Barber, THE KEEPING ROOM (European Premiere)
Andrey Zvyagintsev, LEVIATHAN
Christian Petzold, PHOENIX
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, THE PRESIDENT
Julius Avery, SON OF A GUN (European Premiere)
Abderrahmane Sissako, TIMBUKTU

Yann Demange,‘71
Josephine Decker, BUTTER ON THE LATCH
Daniel Wolfe, Matthew Wolfe, CATCH ME DADDY
Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, DIFRET
Franco Lolli, GENTE DE BIEN
Guy Myhill, THE GOOB
Adityavikram Sengupta, LABOUR OF LOVE
Sudabeh Mortezai, MACONDO
Debbie Tucker Green, SECOND COMING
Ester Martin Bergsmark, SOMETHING MUST BREAK
Naji Abu Nowar, THEEB
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, THE TRIBE

Posted 06 October 2014 by Tim Dams

The Production 100 is now online

Televisual’s 2014 survey of the independent TV production sector – the Production 100 - is now available to read in full in the Reports & Surveys section of

The Production 100, which Televisual has published annually since 1993, ranks and profiles the top 100 indie TV producers in the UK, based on turnover.

And it unpicks the key 10 trends that are driving the fast changing indie sector, from international growth through to consolidation, talent inflation and budget challenges.

There are also sections that list the key superindie groups in the UK, as well as the top true indie companies.

Meanwhile, the Peer Poll showcases the indies that are held in highest regard by their fellow producers.

The survey also reveals producers’ thoughts – good and bad - about their broadcaster clients, and reveals which distributors they rate.

The Production 100 was published in the September issue of Televisual.

You can make sure you are the first to receive Televisual's exclusive reports and surveys - including the Production 100, Facilities 50, Film 40, Commercials 30, Corporate 50, Salary Survey, Production Technology Survey and Top Ten Camera Survey - by subscribing to Televisual.

Posted 02 October 2014 by Tim Dams

The most important doc on C4 this year

Channel 4 is to air The Paedophile Hunter on Wednesday evening, a one off film that head of documentaries Nick Mirsky calls “the most important single documentary we’ve got on the channel this year.”

Directed by Dan Reed (Terror in Mumbai), the observational documentary is a frank, disturbing and eye-opening look at the dangers faced by children in the online world.

It follows controversial online vigilante Stinson Hunter and his associates, who pose as underage children on social networking sites to entrap suspected paedophiles.

They engage men in conversation online and lure them into a meeting, where they are confronted by Hunter. The meeting, and all the evidence leading up to the entrapment is then posted online and handed to the police. The police have secured ten convictions on the basis of Hunter’s work.

To date, Hunter has caught up to 70 people. His exploits in unmasking suspected paedophiles already have a large following online, and his site has over 130,000 followers on Facebook.

However, his work is controversial. One man has committed suicide after being captured and outed online by Hunter.

In the film, which was over a year in the making, Reed captures the ‘catches’, from Hunter’s initial introductions through to the final confrontations.

Mirsky said the documentary was “full of complexities”, both legal and logistic. “At every stage of the process we have had to think very carefully about decisions made.”

He said that the stories of the people featured in the programme are already in the public domain.

Said Mirsky: “It’s clearly a very challenging subject. But I think it is important that you see what is happening, how easy it is for sexual predators to groom children, how it is very, very easy for that to happen on the net.”

Reed said he had been personally shocked by how widespread the problem is.

He said the one of the hopes in making the film was that the police would be better resourced to tackle the problem. Lack of police funding to tackle on online grooming and exploitation is cited as one of the reasons that vigilantes like Hunter have stepped in. “You’d hope there would be injection of funding so they can expand their activities in this area,” said Reed.

The Paedophile Hunter was filmed, produced and directed by Dan Reed through Amos Pictures. The head of production was Rachel Naughton, and it was commissioned by Anna Miralis at Channel 4.

Posted 30 September 2014 by Tim Dams

Production Technology Survey 2014 is now online

Televisual’s annual Production Technology Survey 2014 is now available to read in full in the Reports and Surveys section of our website.

The survey reveals the production and post production kit the industry is using and what producers think of it.

Amidst a sea of competing new products, we’ve sought 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.

We’ve done this by asking 100 senior production execs for their views about the technology they use in production.

We have focused on a number of key areas. We take the temperature of the rapidly evolving camera market, revealing the most popular manufacturers and models.

Next, we focus on post production, specifically editing, compositing and grading.

We also look at the use of cloud technology and digital workflows in production. Finally, there’s also a whole section of findings on the take up and future of 4K.

Posted 15 August 2014 by Tim Dams

Sound alert for television drama

There has been a swathe of complaints about the sound quality of British dramas in recent weeks. BBC1’s Jamaica Inn drew 2,200 complaints over inaudibility, with critics rounding on the performance of lead actor Sean Harris. This was followed up a few weeks later with further complaints about Quirke.

TV sound has shot up the production agenda as a result. BBC director of TV Danny Cohen said last month that audibility issues on dramas like Quirke and Jamaica Inn are “a great source of frustration.”

Production experts point to a number of causes. Mumbling by actors is identified as the big issue, particularly by actors taking on regional accents.

Fraser Barber, head of sound recording at the NFTS and a production sound mixer with credits including The Tunnel, House of Saddam and Silent Witness, says Jamaica Inn actor Sean Harris “didn’t deliver a performance that anybody could have recorded in an intelligible way.”

Barber adds that he is surprised that director Philippa Lowthorpe let it pass. “She is one of the best directors I have ever worked with from a sound point of view. She will often ask the sound recordist if he is happy before she will ask the cameraman…so I am absolutely stunned that she decided to make those artistic decision on Jamaica Inn. She obviously thought it was very real. But maybe it was too real.”

LipSync Post md Peter Hamden says producers and directors “should try to balance the quest for authenticity in drama with the needs of the viewer sitting at home in a domestic environment. TV doesn’t have the benefit of a captive audience like cinema. Having said that, nobody wants to return to the days of received pronunciation…”

A bigger budget for voice coaching, and longer preparation time for actors, could help tackle the issue, says Fraser Barber. He says actors who have to adopt different accents often do not have enough voice coach training. “Someone like Meryl Streep would work for months with a voice coach before taking on a character in a film. But on a TV drama they probably get a few hours with a good voice coach. The actors are not confident with their accent, so worry about speaking up.”

Barber says difficulties can also arise because programme makers are so familiar with the script, they don’t realise there is a problem with audibility. He recommends that sound recordists watch rehearsals without the script. “That flags up to me if there is a problem with someone’s diction or if they’re too quiet.”

Barber also worries that budget cuts are putting increasing pressure on sound departments. A good drama requires a production sound mixer, a boom operator, a sound assistant and, ideally, a trainee. He says that the reality now is that the assistant is offered trainee money, which means it is very hard to get the right level of expertise. 

Skimping on sound budgets can often prove to be a bad move warns Liam Laminman, md of Trickbox TV. “There’s security and value in having the right people and resources working on a production. There’s always that time when you need to cut a few corners and shave some money off the budget – but sound shouldn’t be the first compromise.”

Sound problems, of course, can be fixed in post – but only to a certain extent. ADR can be used to help sort out unclear dialogue. But, notes, Matt Skilton, senior dubbing mixer at Envy, some actors dislike ADR and it’s often difficult to ADR some scenes convincingly. “If in the mix the ADR is ‘standing out’ and ruining the scene, everyone will reluctantly agree to go back to the original mumbled dialogue for the sake of the whole scene.”

Skilton says it’s also good practice to check a sound mix on a normal TV. After all, it might sound “absolutely fine and all the dialogue as clear as possible when it is monitored in the dubbing theatre on a good sound system with very little or no background noise.”

He adds: “Music at too high or low a level can be a problem and a very subtle mix in the studio can often go unheard on a domestic monitor.”

After all, the sound quality of newer flat screen TVs can be appalling as there is less room for speakers than in the old CRT TVs. On such TVs, a dynamic mix, with large swells in music or effects followed by quiet periods of dialogue, while popular with directors, can be an issue for viewers. Variations in volume are the single biggest cause of viewer complaints, according to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which in 2012 published its standard for broadcasters to normalise audio, R128.

This R128 recommendation will be fully adopted in the UK by October, part of the requirements for delivering digital files to broadcasters agreed by the Digital Production Partnership (DPP). All shows will then have the same relative loudness levels.

The Farm’s Nigel Edwards says: “The new broadcast standard of R128 from the DPP will help to alleviate the dynamic range on TV. It will bring up the quiet mixes and bring down the loud mixes.” In effect, it means viewers won’t have to reach for their remote control so often to adjust the volume to deal with variations in sound.

Taking a step back, Barber urges a degree of perspective on the sound issue though. There have been a few glitches recently, he admits. But, he adds: “I don’t think that there are many problems on TV drama. Particularly in the UK, the standard of sound of TV drama is really, really high.”

This article was taken from the July issue of Televisual.

Posted 24 July 2014 by Tim Dams

Glasgow 2014: producing the opening ceremony

A rather large shadow, in the form of London 2012, looms over the organisers of this month’s Glasgow Commonweatlh Games opening ceremony.

Danny Boyle’s bravura, exuberant Olympic Games opener set a new benchmark for the genre. Russia responded to the challenge earlier this year by spending a fortune on the Sochi ceremony.

Glasgow, meanwhile, has far less money to spend: £21m on its opening and closing events, compared to the £80m London spent across the four Olympic and Paralympic ceremonies.

It presents a daunting challenge to the team behind the Glasgow ceremonies, which are being produced by Jack Morton Worldwide. All the more so because there’s an added layer of complexity for Glasgow: each ceremony will be staged at a different venue, Celtic Park and Hampden Park, which means prepping two locations.

However, Jack Morton has form in the genre, staging ceremonies at two previous Commonwealth Games, as well as the South Africa World Cup, the Athens Olympics and consulting for Beijing.

This track record is one of the reasons that Jack Morton won the Glasgow tender, says head of ceremonies and artistic director David Zolkwer (pictured, above right). However, it also won, he feels, because they “embraced the challenge” of producing ceremonies which will inevitably be compared to London and Sochi.

Their response is to attempt to do things differently.  There’s a danger Glasgow would somehow fall short if it aped a conventional ceremony, Zolkwer says. “We neither have the resources nor, being in Glasgow, the inclination to play the shock and awe card,” he says.

It’s meant respectfully reassessing what ceremonies have become, says Zolkwer. “Are they actually as generous in spirit as they purport to be, are budgets escalating beyond reason, are they being done to places rather than by places, who owns the output?”

He notes that, wonderful as London was, it’s known as Danny Boyle’s Opening Ceremony. “Our goal is to create Glasgow’s ceremonies so you won’t hear any of our names flying around, despite this conversation.”

The objective, Zolkwer says is “to be authentic”, and to find the seed of the ceremony’s story from within the character of the city and its people. A key theme of the ceremony is about Glasgow being a generous host. “Glasgow is the most social, hospitable city – it’s extraordinary,” says Zolkwer.

It means viewers shouldn’t expect to see too much in the way of synchronized moves from a massed cast of volunteers. “We’re more interested in celebrating individuality. As far as being a generous host is concerned, we are not going to invite the world into our home, shut the door and then tell them how fantastic we are. (We have done our fair share of that in the past.) Glasgow and Scotland are interested in engaging with the rest of the world and the Commonwealth, more interested in celebrating what we have in common than what makes us different.”

The full content of the ceremonies is being kept under wraps. Details released so far include the installation of a huge 97x10m screen, the biggest ever seen in Europe, that will run along the south stand of Celtic Park. Thousands of volunteers have also been recruited to take part. Controversial plans to demolish Glasgow’s Red Road tower blocks live during the ceremony have been scrapped, though.

Games ceremonies are an odd hybrid for producers – part theatre (with a cast of thousands), part OB television spectacular (airing to up to 1bn people) and part ceremonial (the format includes the arrival of The Queen and the Parade of Nations). As in theatre or film, the challenge is coming up with the story, casting, rehearsing and staging it, says Zolkwer. Then, there are the technical and operational challenges of staging the event. “In effect,” says David Proctor, head of production (pictured above, left), “we are, along with our colleagues at SVGTV (the host broadcaster), creating a large studio with a massive studio audience for global broadcast.”

Glenn Bolton, head of technical (pictured above, centre), says his team will be on site at Celtic Park for 66 days before the ceremony. The equivalent of 7,678 man days of labour are required to build the theatre infrastructure required. The screen weighs 48 tons alone, and needs a 120 ton support structure. The stage, meanwhile, weighs in at 45 tons and there’s 55 tons of equipment in the roof.

Adding to the complexity, points out Proctor, is that there are also multiple stakeholders to work and collaborate with. These include the organising committee, Glasgow 2014, the Commonwealth Games Federation and Glasgow Life, as well as sponsors and local creative and social communities.

Zolkwer speaks of a “very close, friendly, mutually supportive relationship” with the organising committee, their key client. “We are very keen not to come to Glasgow and ‘do’ the ceremony to the City, and the OC is very keen on that as well…Our job is to make Glasgow and Scotland shine and it will best do that by being allowed to speak for itself.”

Posted 21 July 2014 by Tim Dams
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