Beers on formats: “We have to make a living too”

Producers' rights to selling formats overseas was one of the hot-button topics discussed during Going Global, an animated panel session at the Realscreen Summit.
February 3, 2011

Original Productions CEO Thom Beers locked horns with execs from AETN, Scripps and Discovery Networks at the Realscreen Summit, during an animated panel session about producing content that can click globally. 

The discussion, billed as Going Global, touched on the tension between producers and broadcasters over producers’ rights to selling formats overseas. Beers – the man behind factual entertainment hits such as Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch – argued that if U.S. networks were no longer prepared to fully fund productions, they should not get to complain about secondary sales.

His comments came after AETN International’s VP of programming and production Michael Katz said there needed to be “more cooperation” from producers when it came to formats.

“You’re out selling the formats when we’re selling the finished product,” said Katz. “We can’t be investing close to $1 million an episode for a History-branded production and then have the producer selling the format to Nat Geo in another territory.”

However, Beers quickly shot back: “But that’s exactly what we do, because we have to make a living too.” He added that if networks were only funding half or two-thirds of a production’s budget, they had no recourse to complain about not having all rights.

Elsewhere in the discussion, Zodiak Rights’ London-based MD Jane Millichip – who was chairing the session – argued that distributors such as hers were becoming increasingly marginalized as networks such as Discovery and Scripps rolled out their channels internationally, removing opportunities to sell titles overseas that had originally aired on those nets in the U.S. and UK.

“All the networks – broadcast and cable – are moving in the same direction at the moment,” she said, adding: “It’s going to be harder to window in future because there is no distinction now between terrestrial and cable in a lot of territories.”

Also taking part in the discussion were Greg Moyer, president of Scripps Networks International; Steve Burns, EVP of global content for National Geographic Channel. and Luis Silberwasser, EVP and chief content officer for Discovery Networks International.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.