TROUBLE ABOUNDS AT EC’s MEDIA II PROGRAMME AND EMDA
Amidst rumblings that the London-based European Media Development Agency (EMDA) is in serious financial crisis, there are growing concerns about the effectiveness of its parent organization, the European Commission’s Brussels-based Media II Programme.
Media II is responsible for, among other things, providing financial support for the development of docs, fiction, animation and multimedia projects. It will hand out Euro$76 million (US$78,814,000) in soft loans over its five year run, through its current Project Development Fund.
Sources close to Media, however, have called into question the Fund’s effectiveness in the wake of EMDA’s current cash flow problems and complaints from some indie prodcos in Europe that tactics taken by Media II’s collection agency in recalling loans – and Media’s general lack of knowledge about film industry practises – has resulted in financial crises for a number of prodcos involved in the program.
According to the head of one U.K. doc prodco, who preferred to remain anonymous, the problem stems from the bureaucracy associated with such a large ec organization and the lack of understanding on the part of Media about the costs of putting projects together: ‘The problem is that, on one hand, it’s good that Media puts money into film, but on the other hand, they need to understand more of the film process. . . . There needs to be a clear audit trail and the rules can’t keep changing.’
One such rule causing problems for a number of producers is a clause which states loans must be paid back upon commencement of principal photography. According to Bertrand Moullier, head of European Affairs for London’s Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television (PACT), this creates a fundamental problem for producers who take part in the Fund: ‘[The rule] breaks away from what’s been established in the field of development in the industry. No money is normally owed back until you manage to bring your project into production. We think it’s ridiculous. It makes [the program] less effective.’ Later he adds, ‘We told [Brussels], `Do not penalize people while they are in development because it defeats the purpose of you being there at all.”
Although a spokesman at emda concedes that the loan repayment process is sometimes difficult, they stress there is room for negotiation: ‘[Producers] can also always come back and negotiate [their contract]. . . in relation to their filming and working schedule. If [a producer] suggests a repayment schedule and it goes back to Brussels and they approve it, then okay.’
All of this has been exacerbated by current problems at emda, the intermediary organization contracted by Media II to be responsible for project development. The financial difficulties, which emda has partially blamed on the strength of the British pound against the Euro, thereby increasing the fixed costs in the London office upon exchange, has resulted in the stepping down of David Kavanagh as emda’s director, and the firing of several of its accountants.
If emda’s financial problems continue and their contract with the Media Programme is not re-negotiated for the end of the current Media II’s five year term, then the result could be the closing of the Media Programme before its scheduled completion in 2001. An alternative is moving the powers of the consultancy from London to Paris – a move which insiders say would satisfy Media II’s long term goal of centralizing power under French-language territories. According to Moullier, this is not a welcome option: ‘We would look with great concern to the formula that would take the agency away from London and into a centralized bureaucracy.’
With a suggested budget of Euro$140 million (US$145,166,000) on the table for the EC’s upcoming Media III Programme, which will commence in 2001, independent producers and the European film industry are hoping Media II’s problems will be ironed out in the near future. Christine Cowern
MARSEILLES DOC FEST MARKS TENTH ANNIVERSARY: Sunny Side overshadowed by Banff
Marseilles’ annual documentary market, Sunny Side of the Doc (June 16-19), fizzled rather than sizzled, despite promotion of the event’s tenth anniversary. Several attendees described this year’s market as slower and quieter than in previous years, an impression supported by low attendance figures. The event drew 1,118 participants from 34 countries, including 213 buyers and commissioning editors – Sunny Side’s lowest overall attendance since its second year, in 1991.
Olivier-René Veillon, managing director of TV France International, says Sunny Side is a good place to establish relationships with commissioning editors and talk about coproduction deals, but adds that ‘the buyers are not there.’ In Veillon’s opinion, organizers should make the market more buyer-friendly, for example by booking them into hotels closer to the site. ‘You want it to make it easier [for the buyers].’
Still, Veillon considers Sunny Side a must-attend. TVFI (an umbrella organization for French broadcasters, producers and distributors) has sponsored an umbrella booth at Sunny Side every year since 1995 (the year after TVFI was founded). This year, TVFI took the opportunity to announce an updated version of its website (www.tvfi.com), which will showcase 10,000 hours of French programming available to buyers by the end of the year.
Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of Sunny Side’s relaxed pace is the chance to exchange information in more detail than at the larger markets, making it an ideal place to get your feet wet. For example, the recently formed Italian Documentary Association, DOC/IT, chose Sunny Side as its first official outing on the circuit of markets and festivals.
Producer Manuel Catteau, of Paris-based Zoo Ethnological Documentary, also experienced the up-side of the Marseilles market. Catteau successfully closed pre-acquisition deals with Canal+ Scandinavia, Canal+ Poland, Canal+ Belgium and NRK Norway for a one-hour one-off titled My Son Varan. ‘Not so many buyers screened our demo because not so many buyers were attending the market. But basically, the film has been pitched by 90% of the buyers that screened it.’ His US$300,000 program will be ready to air in September.
Some market attendees speculated that this year’s decline in Sunny Side’s popularity was the result of head-to-head competition with Canada’s Banff Television Festival (June 13-19). Several top level people chose Banff over Sunny Side, such as Ann Julienne, La Cinquième’s head of international coproductions, who participated on a number of panels at Banff. ‘Because Banff held an `education’ day, I made the decision to go there. It is, I think, a shame that the two events were simultaneous,’ she says. ‘I don’t see them as rivals, and I hope that next year they will collaborate with each other.’
During Sunny Side, RealScreen organized a day of seminars on the U.S. market aimed at European producers. Susan Rayman
STUDIOS USA DROPS FREE SPEECH: BNN reality series was poised for primetime syndication
Studios USA’s decision to drop syndication efforts for Broadcast News Network’s Free Speech has kicked the soap box out from under the feet of the producers. The announcement, which effectively killed the chance for BNN’s viewer-generated content show to air on primetime TV this fall, is unusual in its timing, coming after Studios USA cleared 85% of U.S. markets for Free Speech.
Lonnie Burstein, the senior vp programming and development at Studios USA who green-lit the project last year, suggested that upon viewing the Free Speech pilot and season line-up the studio determined that the financial risk outweighed the advantages. ‘We never lost our enthusiasm over what Free Speech could have been, but we hadn’t seen enough to this point that, combined with a tough economic model, made sense.’
The daily half-hour proposed to turn the camera around on America’s tv audience to let the huddled masses tell their own stories. Free Speech’s pilot was a culled sample of newsworthy stories selected from more than 20,000 responses to New York-based BNN’s 1-800 number and email address. News items included a teen who shamed his hometown into fighting against environmental damage and a woman whose wish to keep a squirrel as a house pet lead her to wage battle against wildlife agents.
Commenting on Studios USA’s decision, Steven Rosenbaum, president and executive producer at bnn, offered: ‘People talk a lot about taking risks on television, but then you switch the tv on and…everything looks the same.’
He adds, ‘Studios USA were very good at distributing the show, they worked very hard to get the markets cleared, but they kept coming back to me saying there wasn’t going to be enough content generated by the audience.’
Has the window passed on the chance for viewer-generated non-fiction to become a primetime staple? Definitely not, says Rosenbaum. ‘The Internet is growing everyday – broadband is just around the corner,’ adding that BNN is currently discussing venues for Free Speech with a network and cable station as well as an Internet partner.
Asked if a re-jigged Free Speech would interest Studios USA, Burstein thought not. ‘It’s very hard to bring the same show to the marketplace again. It’s one of the frustrating things about development.’ He adds, ‘It’s a shame because Free Speech – whether it’s with Steve or with somebody else – is going to work. Someone’s going to figure it out. It is, I think, a great idea.’
On that point, the two men agree. ‘For me, the rightness of the idea for the time is so apparent’ says Rosenbaum. ‘We believe we’ll be successful or die trying.’ Nancy Hughes
NCTA WRAP: soaring ratings and fat upfront season make for good mood at U.S. cable confab
It went by so fast you could have easily missed it. But yes, the word ‘documentary’ actually got mentioned at the biggest roundtable general session of Cable ’99, the National Cable Television Association’s (NCTA) annual confab held June 13-16 in Chicago.
And it emanated from no less a personage than Gerald Levin, chair & CEO of Time Warner, during a panel with industry titans like Viacom’s Sumner Redstone and billionaire computer magnate and new cable investor, Paul Allen. Speaking to an overflow audience of several thousand, he recalled the television universe in the early ’70s – three broadcast networks and a nascent cable industry.
‘There was a very small prism through which any creative idea could pass,’ said Levin. ‘I submit to you today that one of the reasons cable is doing so well is not just because of its distribution but because of original programming. Every program format that has either been abandoned by network television or has gotten pushed off to the side, whether it’s documentaries or even series…is thriving. The creative talent is being applied in cable.’
It was a fleeting mention but, nevertheless, documentaries do deserve considerable credit for cable’s climb. This past season, which ended with the May sweep, basic cable ratings soared 10% over last year while the broadcast networks tumbled another 5%. Cable nets already heavy with documentaries, like a&e and Discovery, have been joined by less likely candidates discovering newfound success with non-fiction programming like VH1 (Behind the Music, Legends) and E! (The E! True Hollywood Story). As the convention concluded cable was racking up its biggest upfront advertising season (US$3.8 billion, up $1 billion over last year) on Madison Avenue ever.
Cable ’99 even devoted a panel session to docs – ‘Nonfiction Programming: Cable Documents Worldwide Success,’ co-sponsored by natpe and hosted by Chicago’s own Bill Kurtis. Panelists included Craig Haffner of Greystone Communications, Jon Helmrich of E! Networks, Pat Mitchell of CNN Productions, Horst Mueller of ZDF Enterprises and Michael Quattrone of Discovery.
The panelists touched on a variety of familiar documentary issues, including music, ratings and websites. Re-enactments touched off some spirited debate, with Quattrone raising the issue of double standards. ‘Talk about an artist taking creative license,’ he said. ‘I never understood that it was accepted documentary practise, if you wanted to show a battle, to pan a painting very slowly when that painting may have been done 200 years after the fact.’
CNN’s Mitchell noted her company had bent a rule on re-enactments when undertaking a 10-hour project on the millennium. ‘I took into account that there are no photographs, film, video tape or eyewitnesses for 900 of those years,’ she explained, adding that Turner’s shift of docs from tbs to cnn has proven a successful strategy. ‘Documentaries have an impact that fiction often doesn’t have. Now the effort is to build appointment viewing in a place where, when there isn’t a hot [news] story going, people have another reason to come to you.’
Many people did come to Cable ’99 – 29,510, to be exact, all negotiating the cavernous McCormick Place and its 344,200 square foot exhibition floor. There, as in many of the panel sessions, attention focused largely on new digital technologies promising to bring more channels and more services, like high-speed Internet access, into consumers’ homes via hybrid coaxial cable/fiber optic systems.
‘There’s an unstoppable march to giving consumers more choice,’ said Brian Roberts, president of Comcast, one of the U.S.’s largest MSOs (multi-system operators). ‘My sense is this is the single most exciting time to be in the cable business.’ Harvey Solomon
BANFF TELEVISION FESTIVAL: production alliances announced
by Brendan Christie (with files from Mary Ellen Armstrong)
Breaking attendance records yet again, the mood was upbeat at the 20th edition of the Banff Television Festival, June 13-19.
Despite resistance in the past towards turning the event into a formal marketplace, this year’s BTVF included a ‘Canadian Showcase’ exhibition for Canadian distributors and a conference strand called ‘Selling the World’ wherein Canadian distribs pitched a captive group of international buyers. The initiative was presented by the Department of Canadian Heritage and co-sponsored by RealScreen’s sister publication, Playback. RealScreen played host to the documentary edition of ‘Selling the World.’
On the announcement front, Studio City-based GRB used the event as a platform to launch a new Canadian partnership. Great North Communications of Alberta, Canada, and GRB (which recently sold a majority share to Axel Springer in Germany), have joined to launch a new production entity, GRB Great North Entertainment. The two companies have worked together previously on 13 one-hour episodes of Storm Warning for Discovery U.S., and 15 half-hours of Inferno, for Discovery U.S. and Life Network in Canada.
The new entity will be based in Canada, and will produce a minimum of 25 hours of factual annually. Distribution will be handled by Great North in North America, and internationally by grb.
Toronto-prodco Sleeping Giant (Horse Tales, Great Speeches) announced that CHUM Television has acquired a 40% minority share. The production company, which seemed to be the name on everyone’s lips at last MIPDOC, has 86 hours of new programming on this year’s slate.
‘We’ll increase carefully,’ explains ceo and exec producer Jim Hanley. ‘You could expand exponentially to the point that you get yourself in trouble. That’s what we don’t want to happen. That’s one of the reasons we wanted a company like chum on board, to help us manage the growth carefully.’ Part of that growth will include forays into the world of fiction.
The partnership will also help sg make inroads into the international market, as CHUM is a recognizable name thanks to well-sold shows like Fashion Television.
Economics, says Hanley, also played a part in the deal. ‘One of the things we wanted to do was to free ourselves from the chaotic tyranny of the Canadian [production] funds. It’s not that we don’t want to take advantage of those funds, but the rules change, and more and more people are lining up for them.
‘We had a lot of international partners and we tripled our volume, but we were looking for a partner that could help us fiscally. The way it goes is that the broadcasters give you the order, but they don’t give you the money, so you have to produce in advance of the actual final delivery of the program. You need bridge financing.’
Distribution of Sleeping Giant’s productions will be handled on a case-by-case basis. While the fiscal terms of the deal were not disclosed, based on annual production numbers recently supplied to Playback, the deal is worth approximately CDN$2 million.
U.S. SUPREME COURT RULING AGAINST ‘RIDE-ALONGS’: reality-based cop shows not too worried
A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has erected a road block to the alliance between `ride-along’ media crews and the law enforcement officials they accompany on duty.
In a ruling handed down in late May, Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote: ‘It is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for police to bring members of the media or other third parties into a home during the execution of a warrant’ unless the third party is directly involved in aiding the officers in this capacity.
Although the decision has created a stir of speculation around the future of reality-based cop shows, spokespeople are quick to point out that the ruling restricts media from only a narrow band of activity, namely the execution of search warrants involving private property.
John Langley, executive producer and creator of COPS, responded to the decision in a press release stating that, ‘while we do not necessarily agree with that decision, we are obligated to point out that, as a so-called `ride-along’ show, COPS routinely obtains permission when filming on private property and also obtains releases from everyone involved in the program.’ He adds, ‘we will continue doing business as usual.’ Nancy Hughes
PEOPLE ON THE MOVE
A&E has named Ed Hersh its new VP of documentary programming. Hersh, an award-winning 16-year veteran of ABC News, is moving into the newly-created position to supervise the expansion of Investigate Reports with Bill Kurtis, which has been rolled into A&E’s nightly 9:00 p.m. slot.
National Geographic has added to the responsibilities of Kirsten McConnell, director of international business development for National Geographic Channels Europe. McConnell has been named managing director of Nat Geo’s new Israeli channel, and will oversee all activity at the new service, from channel operations to programming.
Southern Star Sales has appointed a new Latin American sales executive in the form of Katherine Kaufman. Kaufman was formerly the Latin American sales executive for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Energy Film Library in Los Angeles has brought in Jim Pascale (former director of business development at Archive Films/Photos in New York), as business development executive. Pascale will work out of Energy’s New York office.
Mark Cass has been picked to fill the role of managing director of the stills division at The Image Bank in New York. Previous to this appointment, Cass ran TIB’s film operations in the U.K.
Asif Zubairy has been named head of popular and factual programming at Buena Vista Productions International. Zubairy was formerly director of programming at the Paramount Comedy Channel.
Joanna Rowley has been promoted to sales executive for Asia, Africa and the Caribbean at London’s Explore International.
National Geographic Television has named David Evans as creative director, on-air and print promotions.
Oxygen Media has named Laurie Benson as senior VP of advertising sales. Benson was formerly VP of ad sales at Home and Garden Television. Oxygen also named Tricia Melton as head of consumer marketing. Melton was formerly vp of marketing at the Food Network. Joining Oxygen from Discovery Communications, where he served as director of marketing and field relations, Michael Boyd is the new VP of distribution marketing.
Paris’ Salsa Distribution has pegged David Brower to be the new director of marketing and licensing. Brower joins Salsa from Disney Consumer Products for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where he served as international supervisor, marketing and product development.
London’s itel has appointed Frank Mooty as finance director. Mooty arrives from the BBC, where he was head of finance and investment for BBC Worldwide. Previous to that, Mooty served as financial controller of BBC Network Television and BBC Broadcast.
Discovery Asia has appointed Eric Lynge to the newly-created post of vice president, regional advertising sales. Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia has appointed three new sales executives. Berta Aleman will be the new director of sales, Discovery Television Center. Ivan Bargueiras has been installed as director of advertising sales, U.S. region. Finally, Ricardo Green has been appointed regional manager of affiliate sales and relations, Southern Cone.
Claudine Ripert-Landler has been named as vice president in charge of corporate and European affairs at the newly-formed division at the same name at Canal+ Paris. Ripert-Landler has been with Canal+ for three years, before which she was head of the U.S. audiovisual-multimedia sector at the French Trade Commission in Los Angeles.
Discovery Health Media has added two names to help with their on-line efforts. Linda Yu will serve as vice president, general manager. Mark Foulon is now the director of business development, discoveryhealth.com.
Discovery moves top dogs
In an unexpected turn, Discovery has moved Donald Wear, former president of Discovery Networks International, to the newly-created position of president of international policy. Wear will advise dci on international regulatory, political and industry trends.
In a big promotion, former senior VP and GM of Discovery Networks Latin America/Iberia, Dawn McCall, has been named as Wear’s successor. In Latin America, Henry Martinez and Rick Rodriguez will serve as co-acting general manager until McCall’s replacement is named.
In another, earlier move, Kathy Quattrone, former executive VP of programming services at PBS, made the jump to Discovery Health Media. The shift, which insiders claim was not anticipated by PBS, leaves Quattrone’s assistant, John Wilson (formerly designated VP of editorial management and program scheduling) as the acting head of programming.
NHK considering assets
Japanese national broadcaster, NHK, is aiming for 2003 for the opening of what will be the country’s largest TV program library, The Visual Archive Center. Based in the Saitama Prefecture city of Kawaguchi, just north of Tokyo, the broadcaster expects the effort will require an investment of nearly ten billion yen (US$81.9 million). The 10,000 square meter facility will have capacity for 1.8 million videotapes. NHK currently stores over 1.4 million films and videotapes at three locations around the country.
New film festival fund
A new Film Festival Fund has been established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (A.M.P.A.S.) to help support film festivals both in the U.S. and worldwide. This year, the Chicago International, New York, and Telluride Film Festivals were all hand picked by the fund to receive grants of US$50,000 each. The New York Children’s Film Festival received $10,000.
Each year, the fund expects to give approximately US$250,000 to film festivals around the world, either as general support or in the form of sponsorship for a particular element of each festival chosen. The Academy will give preference to ‘programs that make festival events more accessible to the general public. . . and those that bring the public in contact with films and filmmakers.’
Details on eligibility and application procedures are in the preliminary stages but Greg Beal, the Academy Foundation’s grants program coordinator, confirms that ‘a discussion about the direction that the program will take in the future is going to occur shortly.’
Short docs retain Oscar category
The 72nd Academy Awards will have two documentary categories after all. At the June meeting, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ board of governors reversed its earlier decision to eliminate the Oscar category for short documentaries, much to the delight of several Academy members who had lobbied for retention of a separate category. The original ruling, made in January, was to merge the separate awards for feature docs and short docs into one. The Academy has maintained two doc categories since 1943.
ITEL announces US$3M in deals
London-based itel has announced US$3 million worth of deals with U.S. partners. The deals include 21 hours of factual and fiction programming from United Productions and Wall to Wall Television. The agreement will include 12 new hours for Discovery by United Wildlife, and an hour-long special for National Geographic from Survival. The drama line-up included a deal with Boston’s WGBH for The Turn of the Screw for their Mystery strand.
National Geographic shuts office
Nat Geo shut down their Singapore office in June, laying off half of the 25-person staff. The office, less than a year old, is being closed in favor of News Corp’s, in an effort to streamline the two entities affiliate and ad sales departments.
Giddings library to Safari Network
Al Giddings, one of the principles of Mandalay Media Arts, has licensed Dallas-based Safari Network to distribute his personal footage library. The collection includes approximately 1,400 hours collected over three decades, and includes footage from Blue Whale: Largest Animal on Earth, Shark Chronicles, and Mysteries of the Sea, each of which earned an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography.
According to Kent Noble of Safari, the collection has been doing well, even without the benefit of salesmanship. ‘With virtually no marketing, the Giddings library is generating seven figure revenues from stock footage sales every three or four years.’
As an added bonus, the deal allows Giddings to free up desperately-needed space in his new studio, space which will be turned over to a new hd production facility.
Giddings non-factual credits include Hollywood films such as The Deep, For Your Eyes Only, Never Say Never Again, Titanic and many others. Giddings is currently at work on Mandalay’s 3-D imax film, Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage and a live 2-hour special for Discovery.
IDA call for entries
The International Documentary Association has issued a call for entries for the 1999 Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards, to be part of the 15th annual IDA gala on Friday, October 29th. Entries fall into five categories: feature, shorts, limited series, strand, and television magazine segment. To be eligible, films must have been completed, or had primary release between January 1, 1998, and April 30, 1999. For information, e-mail email@example.com, or check the website at www.documentary.org.
Clear membership drive
Clear, the international educational and networking organization for professional film and television researchers and clearance people, is looking to expand its membership roster. The non-profit, L.A.-based organization has close to 100 members, and recently held its first copyright seminar. Clear can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canadian Fund announces doc support
The Canadian Television Fund (a public/private partnership created by the Government of Canada and the Canadian cable industry), has announced the completion of its funding cycle, with approximately CDN$15.8 million (US$10.7 million) spent in support for doc productions. (The Fund has two complementary Programs: the License Fee Program and the Equity Investment Program.) Total funding for all genres, both from the EIP and LFP, amounted to CDN$192 million (US$130.4 million) this fiscal year. The fund will support 524 hours of programming in total.
Financing offers went to 24 returning documentary series, 34 new series and 102 one-off POV and subject-matter documentaries. In 1997-98, the Canadian Television Fund supported 330 television programs and 17 feature films, which helped bring 1,911 hours of new television programming to the air – representing more than CDN$600 million (US$407.7 million) in production.
ABCNEWS VideoSource to rep APTN library
VideoSource has signed an agreement to represent the library of Associated Press Television News, the international television arm of The Associated Press. Under this agreement, the footage from each library will be available through both VideoSource and APTN offices.
FOR THE RECORD
* The History Channel is looking for partners to help create a line of consumer products for both its The Great American History Quiz, and Hometown History projects. * ABCNEWS VideoSource has doubled the size of its floor space in the New York offices. * Discovery has entered into an agreement to take control of Knowledge TV, an adult education service which reaches 20 million subscribers. * L.A.’s TEAM Entertainment has signed a letter of intent to acquire U.K.-based Dandelion Distribution Ltd. for US$5 million in cash, and team securities. * Discovery Networks Europe and Bresnan/Aster City Cable have signed an agreement to showcase several DCI channels in Poland. Channels include: Discovery Sci-Trek, Discovery Travel and Adventure, as well as Discovery Civilization. * BBC World has increased its Russian distribution via an agreement with NTV Plus, adding 150,000 subscribers to the European service’s current 42 million. It was also recently announced that BBC World had topped the 3 million sub mark in Latin America. * Santa Monica’s GAIAM Holdings has acquired a majority interest of Healing Arts Publishing, which produces successful yoga and fitness videos and merchandise. * The WPA Film Library of Illinois has signed a distribution agreement to carry London-based Moving Image Communications’ 11,000-hour library. * National Geographic Channels Asia is now available on Singapore Cable Vision. * Animal Planet has reached an agreement with SKY and NET Brazil in order to be distributed on both analog and digital platforms. The agreement brings AP’s pull in the region to six million subs. * Discovery Germany has finally received a standard cable and satellite license.