Reality Check

Coproducing gives broadcasters editorial input and assurance that a program will be theirs to air. But, given the quality and volume of
August 1, 2004

Coproducing gives broadcasters editorial input and assurance that a program will be theirs to air. But, given the quality and volume of acquisition ready docs on the market and the squeeze on budgets, is coproducing really worth the hassle?

Richard Life

Head of coproduction,
C4 International, U.K.

U.K. broadcasters are focusing more on price against what the ratings expectation is, and that’s probably a growing picture around the world. If commissioning editors can buy a show for half the price off the shelf, I can see how some might see that as attractive. But, there is and continues to be a need for creative coproduction as a means of realizing ambition, both on the part of the independent producer and the commissioning editor.

We do around 20 to 25 coproductions a year – and when I say coproduction, I mean broadcaster to broadcaster. Particularly if Channel 4 wants to take an editorial lead, then it needs to take a financial lead. That can be, typically, £100,000 (US$184,000) to £200,000 ($368,000) an hour.

We took the financial lead for Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation [C4, Discovery Health, Discovery Canada]. It was an incredibly complicated agreement, but it has lead to something original that none of the partners could have afforded or risked doing on their own. [Coproduction] comes in and out of fashion depending on the market. There has been a move towards more format-based factual programming, and by and large they are not coproduceable. That’s overtaken considerably the amount of activity in international factual… [However], the potential sources for copros are better than ever. There are more people [interested] in the U.S., partly because the format frenzy opened peoples’ eyes to the U.K. And that’s true for Europe too.

The biggest problem is finding projects that people genuinely want to coproduce; that are original, but not so original that you can’t marry everyone’s editorial needs.

Leena Pasanen

Head of programs,
yle Teema, Finland

Whenever I have the feeling that there’s something I can’t ignore – that if I don’t take this chance my audience will miss something significant – then I do a coproduction.

My channel is focused on art, performing arts, education and science… We have documentaries every night on primetime. Most of them are acquisitions, but mainly for the very cinematic, creative documentaries we do coproductions. That’s where we really need them.

We [coproduced] Chavez: Inside the Coup [Power Pictures] and Citizen Berlusconi [Stefilm], about Berlusconi’s use of media. They are both not typical of the coproductions I do, but they were very successful for us.

We’ll definitely continue doing coproductions, but I don’t think I’ll increase the number. There have been times when I’ve thought I should do less, and give a little bit more [money] when I do. I’m becoming more careful about what I do, but many of these coproductions have won prizes, which is good for the channel.

It’s getting harder to find partners. Every country has its own audience and channels, and they have their profiles. Nowadays, in history documentaries, there’s a lot of drama parts and reenactments. This is something I don’t want, but works well for other countries. I have to find partners that still believe in the power of archives. This is the game.

My money is really small. Our acquisition price per hour averages E1,500 ($1,840) for a documentary. A pre-buy or small copro is between E5,000 ($6,100) and E10,000 ($12,300), depending how long an agreement I take and how many runs, but it’s always only TV rights.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.