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How the World Cup is being broadcast across the globe

As production challenges go, this is a big one. Over 3.5bn viewers are set to tune in to watch this month’s World Cup, and they will expect nothing short of first class coverage – whether on TV, mobiles, tablets or desktops.

Yet producing the World Cup from Brazil is far tougher than for most major events. And that’s largely down to the sheer size of the country. Brazil’s 12 host cities (up from 10 in South Africa) are spread across its 3.3m square miles, putting a huge strain on the production operation.

Driving crews and OB trucks between them is, in most cases, simply not an option. For example, it’s 3,580 miles between the Manaus and Fortaleza stadiums by road. It’s the equivalent of a journey from London to Moscow – and back. So dozens of specially chartered aircraft, as well as ships, will move kit and production staff across the globe and between the host cities to produce the coverage.

Hosting the Cup
Coverage of the World Cup is overseen by Swiss-based Host Broadcast Services (HBS), which has been appointed by FIFA as the host broadcaster responsible for providing neutral, high quality coverage to each of the tournament’s 230 rights holding broadcasters around the world, including the BBC and ITV. Set up in 1999, it’s owned by sports marketing outfit Infront Sports & Media, and has produced the host coverage for the World Cup since 2002. HBS is also the fixer for each of the rights holding broadcasters, providing production, transmission and commentary facilities that allow them to get their coverage on air.

To do this, HBS has designed, built and installed an International Broadcast Centre (IBC) on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro that’s 55,000m2 – the size of eight football pitches. 83 broadcasters have taken studio space at the IBC, from where they will host their coverage of the tournament. Others, like the BBC and ITV, have hired purpose built TV studios with views over Copacabana and the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Meanwhile, HBS is also responsible for producing the host broadcast feed at each venue, which is produced by specially selected match directors and their hand picked teams. “We’re keeping ‘the dream team’ concept, which we developed in 2002,” said HBS director of production Dan Miodownik in a speech in March. “The idea is that the match director is chosen and he then selects his dream team to work around him – he has complete control over who he chooses to have onsite.” As Televisual went to press, it’s understood that at least two British directors have been selected as match directors.

HBS is also responsible for providing the facilities for the commentary teams presenting from each venue. 120 commentary positions have been booked for the opening match, indicating the level of demand for onsite facilities.

Shooting for the world
HBS has appointed Sony as its delivery partner for the World Cup, meaning that the manufacturer is responsible for kitting out each of the 12 venues with cameras and production tools for capturing each match. Sony, in turn, has appointed seven subcontractors to create a full HD live production workflow for all 64 matches.

The subcontractors, who are supporting Sony with hardware and staff, are: Sonosvts, Presteigne Charter, Studio Berlin, CTV Outside Broadcast, Outside Broadcast, AMP Visual TV and Broadcast RF. They are providing everything from camera installations to audio and video equipment racks, air conditioning and crews. 280 technical staff will work on the production through Sony across the 12 venues. It’s the first time that Sony has worked as the technical partner on such a big event, and builds on the manufacturer’s experience of shooting the 2010 World Cup in 3D for HBS.

Shipping down the Amazon
Instead of using OB trucks, Sony has purpose built 12 studio containers, one for each of the venues, to house the technical facilities for the tournament. Each container is the size of three OB trucks and was constructed in Munich, before being shipped to Brazil to each stadium. The 50,000 mile journey takes 40-45 days by sea, with some travelling down the Amazon on their final leg.

Each of the 12 production facilities has, essentially, the same set up. It means that a director and his crew can walk into any one of the facilities at the 12 venues and quickly feel at home. 

“We moved from an OB van set up in 2006 into a flyaway fixed installation in 2010,” explained Miodownik. “We weighed up all the options and came to the conclusion that the flyaway fixed installation was by far the best.” He added: “It is significantly the best option for us, given the scale of the operation.”

Each match will have 37 cameras filming, up from 32 in 2010, including a cable system, aerial helicopter cameras and two Ultramotion cameras. The main match cameras are Sony HDC-1500 and HDC-2500s. 224 have been booked in total, as well as 64 Super-slow motion camera chains.

Meanwhile, three of the matches – including the final – will be shot in 4k Ultra HD as part of a bid to promote the growth of 4K content. Sony has chosen Brazilian OB outfit Globosat to provide the on-the-ground technical facilities for the 4K broadcast, while the UK’s Telegenic, which worked on the Confederations Cup 4K trial last year, will provide technical expertise and experience. The PMW-F55 is being used to shoot the 4K matches.

Mark Grinyer, programme manager World Cup 2014 at Sony Professional Solutions Europe, says there are three important factors to ensure when working on such a major event. Firstly, trust between all the partners is crucial.

There’s no room for prima donnas, or ego scoring on such a big project, he says. “It has to be a partnership.” Secondly, it’s crucial to keep the energy going in the project. Sony has been working on the World Cup project for three years, which has involved a huge amount of forward planning, so it’s been important to ensure that deadlines are consistently hit over this long period. And thirdly, it’s vital to focus on the small details. Says Grinyer: “This is the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s important to keep yourself focused on doing the little things – crossing the i’s and dotting the t’s – and not letting the project overawe us.”

BBC versus ITV coverage
In the UK, the rights to the World Cup are split between the BBC and ITV. Both are covering the event from studios in Rio that are provided by Fifa, via HBS. With space at a huge premium, their studios are in the same building that overlooks Copacabana, with the BBC in the top right hand side, and ITV in the bottom left.

ITV will air the first game of the tournament on 12 June, between Brazil and Croatia. The BBC’s first game is the following day between Spain and the Netherlands, and the corporation also airs England’s first match, against Italy, at 11pm on 14 June. ITV has the rest of the England games in its qualifying group. During the knockout stages, the split of the games will depend on England’s progression. The BBC will take the first pick of the round of 16, ITV the first pick of the quarter final matches and the BBC will take the first pick of the semi-finals. Both the BBC and ITV will show the World Cup final. In all, the BBC is showing 31 live matches, and ITV 34.

Both broadcasters stress the technical challenges of covering the tournament. The BBC is taking 272 staff, compared to 295 for South Africa. Because of the huge distances involved, it’s deploying 12 separate commentary teams – one for each host city.

The first 24/7 World Cup
The BBC’s director of sport, Barbara Slater, says that the coverage “will be our most ambitious, most comprehensive ever.” With live matches shown on BBC1, the BBC Sport website, BBC3 and the red button, she says that coverage across the channels adds up to 160 hours of TV – over 50% more than from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Picking up from many of the lessons learnt at London 2012, she says “the aspiration is to make this the first 24/7 World Cup for all audiences, on all platforms at any time of day or night.” She says each major sporting event, from South Africa 2010 to London 2012, has set new benchmarks in terms of audience numbers using the multimedia services – and that she expects the same at Brazil 2014.

She says that first thing in the morning there is a surge to the BBC’s mobile offering, with people waking up and turning on their mobiles to check the news. Lunchtime is the next big spike, and then as commuters return home.  The BBC also reports plenty of access via desktops during the day as workers check-in to the sports site, while tablet usage surges during the evening.

Digital highlights include live text commentary, real-time stats streamed to devices and, for the first tim, real-time voting via the second screen.

Mark Cole, lead executive at BBC Football, says he expects a surge in viewing from tablet devices, anticipating that many viewers will watch the 11pm games on tablets in bed. It’s led observers to predict that this will be the first ‘tablet World Cup’.

ITV’s coverage, meanwhile, is fronted by Adrian Chiles, with teams criss-crossing the country to present from the stadia. ITV has commissioned Gearhouse Broadcast to deliver additional facilities in the IBC, including a production office, master control room and transmission gallery. Gearhouse has also set up ITV’s facilities in its Copacabana beach, and are providing on site support.

Like the BBC, ITV is also pushing the multimedia aspect of its coverage. Live matches will air on ITV and ITV4, and on the ITV Player on while the website will bring the competition to life for mobile and tablet users, and will include highlight packages of all 64 matches, in-match video clips as well as news and analysis.

Whatever the audience figures, it’s clear that Brazil 2014 is going to be a truly digital World Cup.

Posted 11 June 2014 by Tim Dams

The great indie takeover

Is the takeover of the UK production sector by foreign, largely US, buyers a good thing for British creative businesses?

It has been a seismic few months for the indie TV sector in the UK. A spate of deals has seen many of the largest players change ownership, with American and international buyers investing heavily in the market. The three largest superindies – All3Media, Endemol and Shine – are in the process of changing hands, with Discovery and Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox emerging as key players in the sector. The dealmaking follows hard on the heels of another US buyer, Viacom, acquiring Channel 5.

The talk is that ITV might now emerge as the next major target for US buyers, which would leave the BBC and Channel 4 as the last significant broadcasting entities that are wholly UK owned.

So how do British broadcasters and producers view this new landscape? There was a political furore when US drugs giant Pfizer tried to takeover UK rival AstraZenica. But there has been no such comment about the takeover of the British production sector, which is now largely in foreign hands (see box below).

Some of the few remaining truly independent producers in the UK do admit to concerns. Small and medium sized indies worry they don’t have the financial resources or network of customers to be able to compete with the superindies.

“You watch from the sidelines as this consolidation takes place and don’t know the full consequences of it,” says Blink Films md Dan Chambers. He says true indies fear that broadcasters which have bought into the sector, like Discovery, may prefer to commission from their own production companies rather than go to the indie sector.

That said, Chambers points out that there is still a great diversity of buyers in the UK and the US for indies to pitch ideas to. Chambers, and fellow indie md Richard Farmborough of Reef Television, also say that deals like the All3Media takeover could be good news for true indies.

All3Media producers will no longer qualify for official indie status, now they are owned by a broadcaster. It means that All3Media companies will not qualify for the official quota of 25% of programmes that the BBC has to commission from indies. The corporation may instead be forced to look to other indie suppliers to ensure it hits the quota mark. “Quite a few indies are looking on thinking this will be a benefit,” says Farmborough.

Many observers say the presence of foreign investors in the UK production sector should be welcomed. The deal-making is part of a structural shift that’s seeing media conglomerates position themselves for the global market, points out Pact chief executive John McVay. And they are attracted to the UK because of its strong creative reputation. “It’s really interesting for the UK market that this is all happening here. We could be sitting in a market where it is not happening at all. We are firmly in the game.”

Besides, he adds, it’s up to each entrepreneurial indie owner to sell whichever company he wants to. “That is their right,” says McVay.

Others point out that UK producers are also very active in the US market, either buying US producers themselves or selling in shows like The X Factor, Downton Abbey and Supernanny. ITV, for example, has acquired a swathe of producers in the US and now claims to be the largest independent unscripted producer in the country.

Tom Manwaring, MD of advisory group About Corporate Finance, says his company has brokered the sale of six independent production companies this year. Four of those six deals involved European companies buying up US producers, including ITV’s purchase of Leftfield, Tinopolis’s acquisition of Magical Elves and Fremantle’s purchase of Jersey Shore producer 495 Productions.

“Traffic is going both ways,” says Manwaring. “There are lots of transatlantic deals.”

Broadcasters have, so far, been watching from the sidelines amid all the corporate activity amongst their producer suppliers. The implications of all the deal-making is still being absorbed and debated, says Channel 4 chief executive David Abraham.

“There isn’t any cause for panic. We are not feeling that,” Abraham says, while pointing out that the debate about foreign ownership is likely to play out over the summer.

Abraham adds: “A Tory led coalition is never likely going to have the instinct to want to intervene in markets and block foreign ownership. Conversely they will be sensitive to this issue of indigenous culture. Who knows, we may only be one step away from ITV being bought by an American company. When that happens, politicians will really wake up. Then you would only have two broadcasters [C4 and the BBC] who are not foreign owned or controlled.”

Arguably this underlines the vital cultural and economic importance of both these broadcasters, particularly at a time when the BBC Charter is soon set for review.

Abraham adds that the indie sector has always been in a state of flux, with new companies emerging all the time. “The good news is that this business constantly replenishes itself.” C4 is backing some of them too via its £20m indie growth fund, with the first deals set to be announced this summer.

Moreover, he says that broadcasters and producers have to accept that they are now operating in a truly global market, where there is international competition for the best ideas and financing. This view was reinforced by a recent trade mission to China that Abraham went on, organised by Pact. “One can’t put one’s head in the sand in terms of the economics of how programmes are made and invested in and exploited,” he says.

Abraham also believes there are “many upsides to globalisation for Channel 4”. If the broadcaster commissions a show that ends up being a hit in America, like Studio Lambert’s Undercover Boss, it shares some of the back end revenue. And, as non-qualifying indies do not benefit from the terms of trade, Channel 4 will be able to keep a larger share of the back end from shows commissioned from broadcaster-owned indies like All3Media.

For its part, All3Media chief executive Farah Ramzan Golan says the deal is a good one for the company and the sector. She insists All3Media indies will not simply take their best ideas to Discovery, but will interact with the market as usual. To do otherwise, she adds, “would be counterproductive because it would constrain our future growth.”

Moreover, she says, the deal will lead to greater investment. “These are trade buyers with long term horizons, so now we will make long term bets with the kind of IP we develop."

The acquisition, she says, is a good one for Britain – as are the other media deals being done in the UK. “I would be the first to be extremely protectionist about our culture and creativity. I think you should ask the question, is this happening because the terms of these deals are showing a significant desire to protect and nourish these companies, to put investment in, to put resources in, to put R&D in? And Ramzan Golant clearly thinks they are.

Foreign owners of UK indies

21st Century Fox/Apollo Global Management
Indies Remarkable, Initial, Tiger Aspect, Zeppotron, Darlow Smithson, Tigress, Shine TV, Princess, Kudos, Dragonfly, Lovely Day, Brown Eyed Boy, Shine Pictures Key shows Big Brother, MasterChef, Deal or No Deal, Million Pound Drop, Broadchurch and Bad Education

Discovery/Liberty Global
Indies Bentley, Company Pictures, Lime, Lion, Maverick, North One, Objective, One Potato Two Potato, Optomen, Studio Lambert. Discovery bought Raw TV in March, and owns Betty TV Key shows Hollyoaks, Gogglebox, Undercover Boss, Wild at Heart, Peep Show, Midsomer Murders, Horrible Histories

RTL/FremantleMedia UK
Indies Thames, Talkback, Boundless, Retort and Newman Street Key shows The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Grand Designs

William Morris Endeavour/Silver Lake

Indie IMG Productions Key shows C4 Horseracing, Football League Show

Warner Bros
Indies Shed, Wall to Wall, Ricochet, Renegade, Yalli, Twenty Twenty and Watershed Key shows Who Do You Think You Are?, New Tricks, The Choir

Sony Pictures (UK)
Indies Silver River, Victory Television, Left Bank and Gogglebox Key shows Strike Back, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Wallander

NBC Universal
Indies Carnival, Monkey Kingdom, Chocolate Media Key shows Downton Abbey, Whitechapel

DeAgostini/Zodiak UK
Indies RDF TV, IWC, Touchpaper, Comedy Unit, Bwark, Foundation, Bullseye, Lucky Day Key shows Being Human, Secret Millionaire, Dickinson’s Real Deals

Indies Red Production Key shows Scott & Bailey, Last Tango in Halifax

ProSiebenSat.1/Red Arrow
Indies CPL Productions, Endor, Mob Film Key shows A League of their Own, All Star Mr and Mrs

Posted 09 June 2014 by Tim Dams

Film 40: the top film producers in the UK

The Film 40, Televisual’s annual survey of the UK film industry, is now available to read online in full.

Now in its third year, the Film 40 survey profiles the behind the scenes companies that underpin the success of Britain’s £1bn film production sector.

There’s a showcase of the UK’s top 40 film production companies, responsible for lauded British-made films such as Gravity, Philomena and Rush.

We pick out the UK’s leading film DoPs, who have shot features of the calibre of Captain Phillips, The Invisible Woman and Mike Leigh’s Cannes contender Mr Turner.

We also focus on the UK’s top studios, which are hosting a slew of big budget Hollywood films this year such as the new Star Wars and Joe Wright’s Peter Pan film.

And we shine a spotlight on the films that have been graded in Soho, such as the Coen Brothers’ Being Llewyn Davis and Justin Chadwick’s Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom.

Last but not least, we look at the best examples of British vfx on tentpole features such as 300: Rise of an Empire, White House Down and Gravity.

Posted 02 June 2014 by Tim Dams

C5: another bit of UK TV industry snapped up by global investors

Viacom’s £450m takeover of Channel 5 this week has been greeted by the production community as a positive move, likely to lead to an upturn in spend on new content at the broadcaster.

This expected increased in investment in the British creative industries should, of course, be welcomed.

Viacom, which owns MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and film studio Paramount Pictures, said the deal would allow the company to tap new ideas from the UK’s highly regarded production sector to play on its channels around the world.

The deal, however, marks the latest in a long line of acquisitions in the UK broadcasting and production sector by international investors.

It is the first time that a US company will control a public service broadcaster in the competitive UK market.

Yet, in the same week that US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s attempted takeover of the UK’s AstraZeneca has raised a slew of political concerns, Viacom’s acquisition of Britain’s fifth biggest channel has barely raised an eyebrow amongst commentators.

Indeed, it’s largely led to speculation that ITV might now be the next takeover target for US players such as CBS or Comcast.

Very few of the leading TV production companies are actually British owned, as Televisual reported in its Production 100 survey. The majority – from the producers of Downton Abbey through to the makers of Who Do You Think You Are? - are owned by the likes of Sony, NBC, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, RTL and De Agostini which all have major stakes in UK indies.

Furthermore, the UK’s biggest independent production group, All3Media, is now said to be in takeover talks with Discovery, which has hugely expanded its presence in the UK market in recent years. Digital firms such as Netlfix and Amazon are growing their presence significantly in the OTT sector. 21st Century Fox has a controlling stake in the country’s biggest pay-TV operator, BSkyB. Scripps, meanwhile, owns half of UKTV along with BBC Worldwide.

It leaves British run outfits such as the BBC, C4, ITV and BT looking like a rather dwindling part of the UK television landscape.

Posted 02 May 2014 by Tim Dams

Salary Survey 2014: the results

Televisual’s 19th annual salary survey is now available to read in full in the Reports and Surveys section of our website.

The survey paints a mixed picture of pay rates in broadcasting and production. 

On the plus side, the majority of respondents (46%) say their salaries have risen over the past year – compared to 17.5% who report that their pay has fallen and the 36.4% who say it has stayed the same.

The survey, based on feedback from hundreds of Televisual readers, reveals the weekly and daily rates for key jobs in the industry, as well as information about pay by sector, region, age and gender.

Click here for the full report

Posted 23 April 2014 by Tim Dams

Interview: Henry Normal, Baby Cow

In fifteen years, Baby Cow has become one of the UK’s top comedy indies. Co-founder Henry Normal explains all

Henry Normal set up Baby Cow with Steve Coogan in 1999, and since then the indie has been home to some of the most distinctive scripted comedy to come out of the UK: Gavin and Stacey, The Mighty Boosh, The Trip, Hunderby, Marion and Geoff, Ideal and, of course, Alan Partridge. Its film arm has enjoyed a winning streak in the last year too, producing Oscar-winning Philomena and box office hit Alpha Papa. And Baby Cow’s animation division is set to launch football fan comedy Warren United ahead of the World Cup.

Not bad for a company that was originally set up in Brighton so that Normal and Coogan could spend more time in the city with their young families. The indie’s first series, Human Remains, was made there. But they moved the company out for their second, Dr.Terrible, because of the cost of filming in a seaside town.

Ever since, Normal has been commuting to Baby Cow’s London office in Fitzrovia, home to 18 staff. It has grown to become one of the few remaining independent, mid-sized producers in the industry (BBC Worldwide took a 25% stake in 2008) – one that regularly turns over around £10-15m a year.

Normal, who was the co-writer of The Mrs Merton Show, The Royle Family and Coogan’s Run, started out as a performance poet and stand-up after a short spell as an insurance broker. He says Baby Cow sought to stay comedy focused from the very beginning, rather than diversifying like its more established competitors Hat Trick, Tiger Aspect and Talkback. “Steve and I set off wanting to make programmes that we would want to watch, and that was fundamentally comedy. I think if you have a level of expertise you should go with that. You don’t think of somebody like Picasso for his car maintenance, or James Hunt for his painting.”

Normal puts Baby Cow’s success down to everybody there being a comedy enthusiast. “People work all sorts of hours, very often six and seven days a week...It’s not so much work as a vocation.”

He adds: “We talk to lots of people, read lots of scripts. We like to think there is a certain style we go for and therefore we get that style sent to us. So we do a lot of working class, single camera, naturalistic stuff.”
Normal also says that the one defining factor about Baby Cow’s output is that it strives not to produce anything “too obvious.”

And new animation Warren United fits into this category. Normal says that, as far as he is aware, nobody has ever produced a series about a football fan. Set to launch on ITV4, it’s a family friendly show that’s the brainchild of exec producer Bill Freedman who has spent eight years bringing it to the screen.

New animated narrative series are rare in the UK. Warren United was written in the UK by Simon Nye, David Quantick and Dominic Holland. The animation was done in Canada – which offers generous tax breaks – by animation house Smiley Guy. “It’s very family orientated. It’s got a guy at the centre who has a wife and kids, so it’s not unlike the American animations. Except this has a new flavour to it that they haven’t got. We have tried to keep it as generically everyman as we can.” He calls Warren “sort of aspiring working class, at best lower middle class” who comes from the fictional town of Brainsford. “It’s not too far north, nor too far south – and looks a little bit like Peterborough.”

Normal is responsible for day-to-day business at Baby Cow, while Coogan is involved in various projects (he is writing a new film with Philomena’s Jeff Pope and is filming some more Alan Partridge this year). Many of Baby Cow’s staff have grown with the indie. For example, deputy Lindsay Hughes has been with Baby Cow since it began, and was originally Coogan’s PA, while Alan Partridge producer and director Dave Lambert started as a runner 12 years ago.

Normal says he is a business person “by default”, who wants to make creative programmes. He exec produces all Baby Cow shows, reading scripts and sitting in the edit. He doesn’t go to the shoots though – he says he finds them too slow. “There’s nothing for me to do and we have great producers who can handle that.”

Asked about the future of Baby Cow, he says there’s no great plan – and never has been. “I don’t think we started with a plan other than lets make some television we want to watch.” That said, he points out there are now more channels such as Sky, Comedy Central and Dave looking for content as well as digital outlets. “We are talking to Hulu, Amazon, Xbox…we’ve got productions with channels we haven’t made stuff for before which we will be announcing soon.”

Normal doesn’t sound unduly worried by the planned conversion of BBC3 to an online only channel. BBC3 backed Baby Cow’s most recent hit, Uncle. “The whole industry is in flux. We can’t really predict what will happen in the next two or three years. It might be a very astute move by the BBC...who knows, in five or ten years all TV might be online.”

Henry Normal CV
“Originally, I was a little baby. Then I went to a very bad school. Then I was an insurance broker. Then I decided to go on a little adventure. I was doing stand-up comedy and poetry all around the country. I toured everything from schools to prisons, any venue that would pay me.

“Then I had a TV series called Packet of Three and a radio show, but I realised I wasn’t as funny as other people I knew, especially Steve and Caroline Aherne. So I wrote The Mrs Merton Show and The Royle Family with Caroline and Craig (Cash), and Paul Calf, Tony Ferrino and Coogan’s Run with Steve Coogan.

“Then, when I was writing The Parole Officer with Steve we decided to set up a company...”

Warren United starts on Tuesday 22nd April at 10pm on ITV4.

Posted 16 April 2014 by Tim Dams

Hinterland: anyone for Celtic noir?

British TV audiences have embraced foreign language drama thanks to BBC4’s airing of acclaimed Scandi thrillers such as The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge. So the producers and backers of Welsh thriller Hinterland have high hopes that it will find a receptive audience when it airs on BBC4 later this month.

And it deserves to. Hinterland blows out of the water any preconceptions a viewer might have about a Welsh-language drama. Taught, spare and beautifully shot, it’s filmed in and around the remote hills and seascapes of North West Wales, which lend a real sense of grandeur and authenticity to the drama.

Hinterland has already aired to strong audiences on S4C and BBC Wales, but its BBC4 outing will be the first for non-Welsh viewers. “It should satisfy fans of Scandi noir, but we’re hoping that they will also see that it is original and far from being a copy,” says S4C drama commissioner Gwawr Martha Lloyd.

Cardiff indie Fiction Factory originally pitched Hinterland to S4C with a straightforward premise, recalls exec producer and co-creator Ed Thomas. “We knew S4C hadn’t had a detective series for many years. So we went in with a simple pitch that every grown up channel should have a detective they can call their own. ”

After S4C committed to back the series, Fiction Factory went out to find co-production partners to meet the £4.2m budget. From the start, the idea was to shoot two versions: one in Welsh for the home market, the other in English for the international market.

Usually, it would be a tough call to raise co-pro money for a Welsh drama. But Fiction Factory’s timing was good. “What helped us along the way was the success of the Scandinavian dramas – Wallander when we started off, and after that The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge,” says Thomas. Backers responded to the idea of a European drama with scale and a non-metropolitan aesthetic set in landscape that is “tough and sinewy and a little bit mythical.” Into this authentic landscape, the writers placed the usual trope of a detective with a troubled past to investigate terrible crimes.

Distributor All3Media responded early on, committing 25% of the budget. BBC Cymru Wales also emerged as a backer, and further funds were raised from the MEDIA fund, the Welsh Assembly Government and from Tinopolis, which Fiction Factory is affiliated to. “It was more akin to raising money for a film than a TV series,” notes Thomas. Early international buyers included Danish broadcaster DR Denmark, makers of The Killing.

The shoot ran from November 2011 until June 2012, with 30-35 days allotted for each of the four 120-min films. The 100 crew and cast were based in and around Aberystwyth for the duration. This not only had a significant impact on the local economy, thinks Thomas, but also meant the team could build relations with the local authorities – which helped the shoot. The drama’s police station was, for example, fashioned out of one of the University’s agricultural buildings, while the council opened up their old law courts. “The wisest thing we did was to take the cast and crew up there for seven months,” says Thomas.

And once there, the landscape radically affected the way the film was shot. The drama’s budget meant that the producers knew they couldn’t compete with the pace, urban locations and interiors of shows like Luther. “Our excursions into the police station were as little as we could get away with,” says Thomas. So more time was spent getting out into the landscape. The actors were dressed accordingly – styled to look like outdoor types rather than typical onscreen detectives in suits.

The production was blessed with a very harsh, almost arctic winter. There was plenty of low, clear sun which was perfect for shooting on an Alexa. “The DoP (Hubert Taczanowski) was Polish. He came from the old school, Soviet era. What he could do with low light on the Alexa was extraordinary. He’d never been to Wales before, and got off on the fact that it is a big little country, with almost a mid-Western, Sam Shepherd-like landscape.”

The Welsh and English language versions were both shot scene by scene by the same actors. They would rehearse in one language, shoot in it, then do the same shot in the second language.

It’s not yet clear which version BBC4 will air. But Thomas says one of the big surprises has been the way the Welsh version has been received by non-Welsh speakers so far. “They say watching it through the prism of Welsh adds to its sense of worldliness and place.” After all, he adds: “Middle England now feels very comfortable watching dramas in another language.”            

Set in and around Aberystwyth, Hinterland comprises 4x120-min films which each centre around a murder investigation led by DCI Tom Mathias, a detective with a troubled past.
Produced by
Fiction Factory in association with S4C, Tinopolis, BBC Cymru Wales, the S4C Co-Production Fund and All3Media International
Richard Harrington, Mali Harries, Alex Harries, Hannah Daniel, Aneirin Hughes
Executive producer Ed Thomas
Producers Ed Talfan, Gethin Scourfield
Created by Ed Talfan and Ed Thomas
Directors Marc Evans, Gareth Bryn, Rhys Powys, Ed Thomas
DoP Hubert Taczanowski  (Ep 1&2), Richard Stoddard (Ep 3&4)
Line producers Kathy Nettleship, Meinir Stoutt
Production designer Eryl Ellis
Art director Gerwyn Lloyd
Editor Mali Evans (Ep 1&3), Kevin Jones (Ep 2&4)
Colourist Gareth Bryn, Matt Mullins   
Camera Alexa

Hinterland is set to air on BBC4 at the end of this month

Posted 11 April 2014 by Tim Dams

Q&A: Sy Lau, president of China's Tencent Online Media

China is becoming an increasingly important market for UK producers, with British formats and shows such as Sherlock, Gogglebox, Supernanny and Secret Millionaire all selling to the country.

And one of the big players in China is Tencent, one of the country's largest internet companies, which has struck deals with the likes of BBC Worldwide and ITV Studios to import shows for its service.

Here's a brief Q&A interview with Sy Lau, the president of Tencent Online Media Group, China, where he spells out why the company is a fan of British programming.

Tell us about Tencent? Tencent is the largest Internet company in Asia and the world’s fourth largest Internet company by market capitalisation. Tencent launched its online video service Tencent Video in 2011 and it is now the leading online video platform in China. For a 30 RMB membership fee per month (around £3), the audience gets exclusive access to certain popular Hollywood films as well as some other member rights.

What kind of British content is available? In June 2013, Tencent Video announced an agreement with six UK-based production houses including BBC Worldwide and launched its British Drama Channel. In 2013, 40 drama series were broadcast on the channel in total.

What is the most popular kind of content?
On the international content front, over 40% of Chinese Netizens voted Sherlock, Downton Abbey, Black Mirror and The IT Crowd as the most popular series that are available online. The new British Drama Channel has received more than 200m impressions in total since it was launched in June 2013.
Why is British drama proving popular? The top two reasons British drama has become so popular in China is that the content is so interesting and how elaborate the execution of those ideas is. According to analysts from EntGroup, mini-series like Black Mirror and Sherlock were viewed like mini-films rather than TV series, considering the different content in each episode; they were viewed as being great for people who are pushed for time. Merlin and Downton Abbey were viewed as combining British myths and traditional culture into great programming in a very natural way. The IT Crowd brought over British humour while Skins revealed some of the social challenges. These kinds of content and approach are not frequently seen in Chinese 
dramas. Learning English was also a big draw: 59.7% Netizens claimed this as a big motivation to watch British dramas.

Which UK producers does Tencent deal with? Tencent Video signed agreement with six production houses including BBC Worldwide, ITV Studios, Fremantle Media, All3Media International and Endemol to import British dramas in June 2013.

Are you looking to increase your business with UK producers? The user base for British drama within China is expected to reach 160m within the next 2-3 years. Tencent is always striving to introduce the finest premium content. We have introduced a variety of American TV series, and plan to introduce more British drama this year.

Posted 10 April 2014 by Tim Dams
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