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Becoming an Enabler

As a distributor it's the question you most dread from a producer: 'Do you think we could get some coproduction for this?'
Staring you in the face is an often long and frequently futile chase for an upfront financial commitment from your buyers who have grown used to being able to buy finished programs and even paying much later for them. But when confronted with an idea on paper, they usually respond, 'I'll wait until I can see a finished episode.'
March 1, 2010

As a distributor it’s the question you most dread from a producer: ‘Do you think we could get some coproduction for this?’

Staring you in the face is an often long and frequently futile chase for an upfront financial commitment from your buyers who have grown used to being able to buy finished programs and even paying much later for them. But when confronted with an idea on paper, they usually respond, ‘I’ll wait until I can see a finished episode.’

What most distributors are used to is a straight-forward relationship with their producer suppliers. It’s simple. The producer makes the show and the distributor sells it. Often that involves an advance paid to the producer who will use it to plug a budget deficit, but after that, the distributor only gets on with the business of selling when it has the finished show.

But today, this relationship has changed. Distributors need to act not just as revenue and profit generators, but as financiers; as enablers working in partnership with producers to get shows into production.

Why? Take a look at the UK, once a territory that could afford to completely fund much of its local independent production. The prices being paid by channels over the past year have fallen way short of the budgets required to deliver. The gaps in many cases are much larger than a straight distribution advance can fill.

You’ll find the same story in many other countries as broadcasters slash budgets in the face of the global recession. The answer is coproduction…cofinance…pre-sales…Whatever you may call it, it’s getting an upfront commitment to your show from more than one broadcaster and using those combined license fees to fund the production. And that is where the ‘switched on’ distributor comes in.

Here at ITV Studios Global Entertainment we have a history of raising coproduction finance for our own in-house productions. As a result, we have strong relationships with potential coproduction partners around the globe and now we have extended that expertise to our fast-growing roster of third-party clients.

We also sit down regularly with our independent producer partners and discuss projects with a view to how best they can be financed from the earliest possible stage of development. Recently we helped fund a major BBC1 special Around the World in 60 Minutes by producer Burning Blue, advising them on coproduction deals secured from the U.S. (Planet Green) and France (France 5).

Still, we are selective about what we will take on. Only projects with significant additional sales potential above and beyond the coproduction income potential are of interest to us. And no multiple partners. If you can’t fund the show between the license fees of two or three broadcasters then it’s not worth it for us.

But when we do get involved in helping raise coproduction funds, there are other benefits for us too. It helps us generate content for our catalog and our early involvement crafts that content into more saleable programming. When we are not able to get a copro, we are often able to follow up later with a pre-sale at a higher license fee and by taking projects out to market, we are able to better judge their value, and thus invest higher advances with more confidence. On top of this it makes our company an attractive place to come for independent producers.

So if your business is international distribution, the next time a producer asks you about finding coproduction, don’t groan (not out loud, at least). Roll up your sleeves and get to work. The benefits to you are more than you may think.

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