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Viewpoint: The challenge in going global

Arrow Media creative director John Smithson weighs in on the pros and cons of exploring coproduction opportunities in emerging markets.
November 28, 2014

As producers we are constantly looking for new ways to finance our shows and there are plenty of tempting opportunities. In the last year, I’ve been to Korea to look at the prospects of working with a country intensely focused on growing its international content creation, and my co-creative director at Arrow, Tom Brisley, was part of a big UK delegation to explore what’s on offer in China.

China has always been the country you feel is simply too big to ignore. Lots of indies and broadcasters have been building relationships for some time. The feedback I’ve heard seems to reflect a mixed bag of experiences.

It’s not only China – there’s potential opportunity in lots of the other fast-emerging and content-hungry nations such as Brazil, Russia, Mexico and so on.

But here’s the challenge. Do you blaze a trail, go in early to build key relationships with government officials, broadcasters, local producers and evolve to become a favored key supplier? Or do you play a waiting game, wait for others to do the learning, see how it all pans out and, if sustainable, then get on the plane?

Building these new relationships takes substantial time and money. It’s a long way removed from the well-trodden realities of dealing with the big international factual players. Also, you can never underestimate the challenges of dealing with a fundamentally different political, legal and business culture.

A key question facing any indie is, do you just work in your own domestic market, or do you widen to the key territories in Europe and North America? Or do you choose to play globally?

There’s no right answer. Across the indie sector you hear of companies who have made a total success out of any one of these three routes. There are also the stories you hear less about – the companies that spend massive time, money and effort to crack the global market and yet are left with nothing to show for all their work.

It’s certainly easier for the big sales and distribution companies that have the resources and focus to spend real time building these global links. Some smart producers piggyback on their experience. For indies, you simply cannot waste time and lose focus – you’ve got to keep churning out the hours.

Ultimately, taking the global plunge is all about weighing time, risk and reward, which is something every indie does, every single day.

John Smithson is creative director of Arrow Media, an indie he co-founded in 2011. Previously he was chief executive at Darlow Smithson Productions. This viewpoint is excerpted from the November/December edition of his regular column in Realscreen magazine, “Pointed Arrow.”

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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