U.K. indies poised to merge: MBC and TVC not discussing details
Two of the U.K.’s largest independent production companies, Mentorn Barraclough Carey (MBC) and The Television Corporation (TVC) are poised to merge.
MBC is itself the result of a merger between Tom Gutteridge’s entertainment-based indie Mentorn and George Carey’s internationally renowned factual production outfit Barraclough Carey. Terry Bate’s TVC, which came into the market as a facilities house, now owns leading sports producer Sunset & Vine, which last year won the prestigious contract to produce the international cricket coverage for Channel 4.
No one at either company is discussing details of the merger until after MIPCOM, but the two companies will make a good fit. Currently they do not compete in key areas of programming but they do have complementary skills – particularly in the field of international distribution.
MBC produces a weekly entertainment magazine show which is marketed internationally. S&V produces the half-hour magazine, Gillette World of Sport, which is also turned around in a week and sold to more than 100 countries worldwide.
This ability to reach numerous markets quickly will be critical for MBC’s next big venture, E-Vision, which is being launched at MIPCOM. E-Vision, the first ever TV adaptation of The Economist Magazine, will also be produced on a weekly basis for widespread international distribution. S&V’s contacts and know-how will be an invaluable boost to that effort.
MBC also produces a weekly movie chart format for Blockbuster Video in the U.K., which it is anxious to roll out into markets where the Viacom-owned video rental chain has a strong retail presence.
Another similarity between MBC and TVC is the two companies’ emphasis on facility ownership. TVC owns one of the U.K.’s most successful independent broadcast post-production houses, Molinare. Until recently Mentorn was owner of another Soho posthouse, West-1.
While the company expands aggressively into entertainment-based programming like hi-tech format Robot Wars, Carey continues to build a strong slate of high-profile factual productions for the international market. At mipcom, for example, distribution arm Mentorn International will debut a raft of new current affairs and science programs. From the makers of The Clintons: A Marriage of Power comes Hilary – which looks at the U.S. first lady and her own political ambitions. Eamon Matthews, who made acclaimed series The Gulf War for the BBC, will now make a landmark film about Kosovo.
There are also plans for a blue-chip science series called The Deep which will use technology normally connected with space observation to explore the ocean depths. Andy Fry
Doc adds fuel to the fire over Waco: Original producers decline to work on follow-up film
As former U.S. senator John Danforth begins an investigation into whether U.S. federal authorities tried to cover up facts about the fatal end to the Waco, Texas standoff in 1993, the filmmaker behind Waco: The Rules of Engagement is getting set to release a follow-up, without the support of the original producers.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement – an Academy Award-nominated doc directed by Mike McNulty and produced by California husband and wife team Dan Gifford and Amy Sommer Gifford – has been credited with sparking a public discourse about Waco that led U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to re-open the investigation and admit the government had not told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The film purports to show evidence that the FBI fired on the Branch Davidians on the final day of a 51-day siege, sparking a blaze that killed 76. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997.
McNulty – who has been keen to feed the media storm, being featured on outlets like Nightline and Fox News with Matt Drudge – is set to release a follow-up, Waco: A New Revelation, this fall. Not wanting to depend on a theatrical audience, McNulty and producers MGA Films are opting for a home video release instead. Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival in support of her most recent doc, The Jaundiced Eye (directed by Nonny de la Pena), Amy Sommer Gifford said she and her husband had ‘respectfully declined’ an opportunity to be involved in McNulty’s follow-up. Sommer Gifford cited an inability by her husband to thoroughly fact-check A New Revelation and a concern that much of the material in the new film was not, in fact, new.
Mary Ellen Armstrong
Open your YAP… Yorkshire and Associated Producers team up
There will be a new mutt on the prowl at this year’s MIPCOM. YAP (complete with street-wise terrier logo) is a new prodco from Toronto’s Associated Producers (Hollywoodism, Lost Tribes) and Yorkshire Television in the U.K. While both companies will continue to produce independently, they now share an informal first-look agreement for each other’s factual output. Properties appealing to both companies will be pursued together under the YAP banner.
The agreement acknowledges Associated Producers’ drive towards bigger and better. According to AP principal Simcha Jacobovici, AP’s output (including YAP productions) will grow from four hours last year to 15 this year, and 24 next. The partnership will also enable ap to tackle series and even mows. Grenada, Yorkshire’s parent company, currently produces about 20 MOWs for U.S. broadcasters annually.
Jacobovici explained that the move helped to ensure that AP’s future was not tied to ‘the vagaries of Canadian funding.’ While the Canadian funding system lends a helping hand to starting producers, according to Jacobovici it’s not something on which to base long-term financial planning: ‘We see those [funding bodies] as a leg up, and that’s not how we see our business plan. There’s less and less money locally for everybody, whether you’re a U.K. producer or a Canadian. Productions are getting more expensive. The appetite has grown, but the bucks have shrunk…’. AP has managed to tackle many of their big budget projects to date (Hollywoodism, CDN$1.2 million; Lost Tribes, CDN$1.3 million), through international pre-sales. For Jacobovici, YAP is the natural conclusion to this trend.
Already completed under the new label is a 13 x 25-minute series for Animal Planet in the U.S. called O’Shea’s Big Adventure, a series featuring Mark O’Shea wrestling reptiles of all sizes and shapes. (In the spirit of science, of course…) Penn and Teller – The Illusionists is a 3 x 52-minute series for Canadian pubcaster CBC, and TLC in the U.S. The series is a big-budget (CDN$3 million) trip around the world exploring the roots of magic, from the rope trick to snake charmers. Also on the slate are Frozen Hearts (52-minutes), Planet Storm (102-minutes), and Stunt School (3 x 52-minutes).
While the first six hours of Scandal! Then and Now is an AP production, it is likely the next seven will come under the YAP label. Produced for History Television in Canada, the series parallels a scandal from the present with a similar one from the past. Included are the original child murderers Leopold and Loeb, and the first media evangelist, Amy Simple McPherson. AP is currently on the hunt for a U.S. broadcaster for the first six episodes.
Jacobovici says the partnership is more than just financial. ‘My partner, Elliott Halpern, likes to say that he sometimes feels like he’s in a cartoon [during pitch sessions], when their eyes gloss over and you can see the dollar bills. As a Canadian production company, they don’t see the films we’ve made or the awards we’ve won, all they see is Canadian tax dollars. With Yorkshire, it was different. They looked at us and not our wallet.’ Brendan Christie
Docs Down Under: A copro program leads the AIDC
With the aim of encouraging possible coproduction deals, Toronto’s Hot Docs documentary festival and Adelaide’s Australian International Documentary Conference, are offering an exchange program for Canadian and Australian doc-makers. The program, which will allow 12 Canadian doc-makers to fly to Adelaide to attend the four-day aidc (Nov. 2-6), will also allow 12 Australian doc-makers to attend Hot Docs (May 1-7, 2000).
The exchange is a boon for the AIDC, which was established in 1987 and features acclaimed directors Michael Apted (7 Up) and Albert Maysles (Gimme Shelter) as special guests at this year’s conference. Exploring the three principal themes of Globalization (Nov. 3), Ethics (Nov. 4) and Creativity and Digital Futures (Nov. 5), the AIDC will be offering a pitching competition among its many other events. Aptly labeled ‘Pitch `n’ Punt,’ the session’s prize – given for an emerging project – will be a development deal of up to $10,000. According to the aidc, various coproduction networks ‘will devise the parameters for a project and call for expressions of interest and concepts.’ Commissioning editors involved in ‘Pitch `n’ Punt’ at press time are: Jeremy Gibson (the BBC); Jacquie Lawrence (Channel 4); Chris Haws (Discovery); and Manny Ayala (Discovery Asia).
Also part of the conference again this year will be Documart (Nov. 5), an opportunity for filmmakers to pitch their doc proposals to a panel of up to ten potential investors, including commissioning editors, distributors and financiers.
Confirmed docs for this year’s AIDC are: Battu’s Bioscope (directed by Andzej Fidyk), What Happened to Mbuyisa? (directed by Feizel Mamdoo) and An American Love Story (directed by Jennifer Fox). Christine Cowern
ZDF, Katharina Trebitsch launch new prodco: doc.station to coproduce with select partners
ZDF Enterprises and German producer Katharina M. Trebitsch have joined forces to launch the production company doc.station.
Located in Hamburg, doc.station’s remit, says managing director Hartmut Klenke, is ‘to produce high-value, long-life, television documentaries covering social issues, history, society and culture.’ Klenke, whose resumé includes developing digital documentary channels for CLT-UFA and Canal+, was producer of non-fiction programming at the Trebitsch Group before taking up his new post.
ZDF’s interests are being looked after by doc.station’s head of business affairs, Armin Rabe, who is also ZDF Enterprise’s chief financial officer. From Katharina Trebitsch’s side, this is a private venture not involving the Trebitsch Group.
From the get-go, doc.station will have its eye firmly on the international market. Although refusing to get specific, Klenke says talks are already underway with potential partners for a two-parter on Wagner and Bayreuth, due to begin shooting in November. A biography of Marlene Dietrich is already filming.
In the initial phase, doc.station is looking to produce some six to ten hours a year and, while not mentioning specific budgets, it seems likely the company will target a niche below ZDF’s big budget one-offs and short series.
In the German television industry, the name Trebitsch carries some weight, and over the years Katharina Trebistch has forged connections with the likes of Discovery and The History Channel. In fact, doc.station’s strategy revolves around coproducing with a small number of select, high-profile partners.
‘But,’ says Klenke, ‘I am open anytime to outside ideas and treatments. We depend on ideas, treatments, documents, exposés, whatever. Then we can estimate their market potential, see where the other side is coming from, and decide if there is an audience for it. I’m always keen to see whatever comes across the table.’ Simon Kingsley
C4I signs output deal with Stack: similar U.S. deals in works
In a move aimed to help increase its production ventures in the U.S., London-based distrib, Channel 4 International (C4I, the sales arm of broadcaster C4), has signed a worldwide distribution deal with filmmaker Jonathan Stack of New York prodco Gabriel Films. Stack, who has worked previously with the likes of PBS, Discovery, and the BBC, received an Academy Award nomination for his gritty look at life inside a men’s penitentiary entitled The Farm: Life Inside Angola Prison, which aired on A&E.
Under the terms of the deal, C4I will hold exclusive distribution rights to projects produced and developed by Stack and his production company. C4I will also act as the distributor for Gabriel Films’ back catalog and will coproduce two of Stack’s current productions, the 5 x 60-minute series New York Justice and the 60-minute doc St. Gabriel: Women’s Prison, a follow-up to The Farm.
According to Gayle Gilman, head of coproduction at C4I and former director of documentary programming at A&E, Stack was an obvious choice for the deal, given the quality of his output and his long-standing relationship with Channel 4. ‘Jonathan certainly is one of the key American filmmakers whose work in the last year has been incredibly successful,’ she says, ‘and a lot of his films have shown either on Channel 4 or on the BBC. His work travels well and he’s an example of the kind of person that we want to work with because he makes good films, is collaborative, and works with the international market in mind.’
For Stack, the fact that the deal was left open-ended, in terms of time frame and number of projects produced, was a definite attraction, as well as the fact that he can work with other distribs if necessary. ‘It’s not like I can’t go elsewhere if it doesn’t work, or if they don’t like a film, it’s dead,’ he explains. ‘I bring them projects I want to do and if they’re interested, great, and if they’re not, I’ll go elsewhere. [The deal] provides what I like – they have the knowledge that I’m going to come to them with projects and I have the freedom to get [those projects] done.’
A calculated move on the part of C4I, the distribution contract with Stack is meant to pave the way for similar deals with other American filmmakers. Although Gilman will not identify any future hopefuls by name, she will say that she is open to talking with ‘American filmmakers in the areas of documentary, science, natural history, history, etc. – people who would be open to working in the same way as Jonathan.’ Gilman adds, ‘Documentaries are what Channel 4 is known for and what it does best, so docs will always be our primary focus [for distribution].’ Capital for future deals will come from an investment fund of several million pounds per year, allotted to C4I for the exclusive purpose of finding programs for distribution. Christine Cowern
Journalist and newspaper team up on int’l business program: Friedman venture with International Herald Tribune
International Herald Tribune journalist Alan Friedman’s London-based prodco Fact Based Communications is teaming with the newspaper and Italian pubcaster RAI to produce a weekly business program called Global Economic Review.
Friedman – who is the global economics correspondent for the IHT and creator and host of a weekly European economics program on RAI 3 – will host and produce the new series. ‘It’s very much niche-marketed,’says Friedman. ‘We’re concerned with making sure this airs on quality broadcasters.’
With the resources of the newspaper at his disposal (the IHT is not a financial partner), Friedman plans to produce 50 weekly one-hour programs for season one. The total program commitment, which Friedman says is fully-funded, is 200 shows over five years, at an approximate cost of US$10 million. RAI is supplying facilities and studio space.
The producers of the program are targeting business-to-business sponsors for specific components of the show, having already signed on ibm, A.T. Kearney and Templeton Funds.
The producers are also packaging subtitled, dubbed and re-cut versions, and constructing the series in modular segments which can be adapted for local broadcasters and advertisers. Local hosts and local segments can be dropped in. Pittard Sullivan was the consultant on the program’s broadcast design.
The series, which will be supported with the requisite on-line presence, will be launched at MIPCOM via New York City distributor International Program Associates. Friedman says four Asian broadcasters had been signed prior to the market, and he’s expecting the program to be in 22 countries by spring 2000.
An Italian-language version of the series is already being broadcast on the RAI 24 News Satellite Channel and rebroadcast on RAI 3. fbc has a multi-year coproduction agreement with RAI Radiotelvisione Italiana beyond Global Economic Review, and Friedman says more announcements are forthcoming. Mary Ellen Armstrong
La Cinq and S4C move ahead with six copros
French pubcaster La Cinquième and its Welsh counterpart, S4C, have greenlit six new projects as part of the coproduction development agreement signed (renewable annually) at MIP-TV in April.
‘Development means getting them [the projects] to full treatment level, which includes figuring out the budget,’ says Ann Julienne, La Cinq’s head of international coproductions, adding that the total amount of the fund is Fr 200,000 (US$31,500). ‘It’s to cover development costs. Once we get it ready [the projects' development], it has nothing to do with the amount that each channel is going to put into the production.’
Although Julienne says La Cinq and S4C plan to contribute roughly equal amounts to each project’s production budget, the pubcasters will seek out additional copro partners at mip. Adds Huw Walters, S4C’s head of coproductions, ‘We hope, for the ones in advanced stages of development, that we can raise sufficient coproduction funding to go into production immediately. And for the other projects on the slate, to generate sufficient coproduction interest to ensure that we can go into production in early 2000.’
The two projects furthest along are Space Tourists, a 52-minute one-off about the possibility of vacationing in space, budgeted at about US$240,000; and The Angry Seas/Colères de Mer, a 6 x 26-minute series about how people deal with both the strength and violence of the seas, budgeted at about US$80,000. La Cinq and S4C are in discussions with Cardiff-based Wild Dreams to produce Space, and Paris-based Dune for Seas.
The four others, for which the budgets have not yet been determined, are: Traitors, a 6 x 26-minute series produced by Manchester-based Precise Media; War Surgeons, a 52-minute one-off from Bristol-based John Gwyn Productions; The Tutu: All About Dance, 2 x 52-minutes from Paris-based François Roussillon and Associates; and Highways in the Sky/Les Armateurs du Ciel, 5 x 52-minutes from London-based Principal and Paris-based Ecoutez Voir.
In other La Cinq news, the pubcaster and its partner channel, arte (the two will officially merge in 2000) now own 25% of TV5′s shares, making them (collectively) the largest shareholder in the French-language international satellite and cable channel. Susan Rayman
New Canadian Specialty Channels: From business news to celeb gossip
September signaled the launch of four new TV channels in Canada, all of which promise to offer Canadian viewers programming the likes of which they haven’t seen before. Added to the cable roster will be: ROBTv (Report on Business Television), APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network), CLT (Canadian Learning Television) and Star! – The Entertainment Information Station.
Launched September 1, ROBTv is the TV version of the business section of Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper. A 24-hour business-oriented specialty service, programming on ROBTv is divided into two blocks, one which focuses on business news for the domestic and international markets, and the other which consists of broader-based business programming. It is available in approximately 3.5 million Canadian homes on cable, satellite and wireless.
APTN, which also launched September 1, bills itself as the only national television network dedicated to Aboriginal programming and is carried in between seven and eight million homes on basic cable and also on satellite and wireless. With a goal to ‘create innovative, reflective and relevant programming for Canadian viewers,’ aptn will offer a wide array of programming, including documentaries, news, drama, children’s series, and educational programs. aptn will offer programming in English and French, as well as in a variety of Aboriginal languages.
As for Star! and CLT, both are owned by Canadian media conglomerate chum, and offer light entertainment-driven programming and education-oriented programming, respectively. Star!, which is sourcing a significant amount of programming from the U.S.-based E! Channel, will feature celebrity profiles, entertainment news, and live event coverage, and will air mainly Canadian-based programming. It is available on analog, cable, digital, satellite and wireless across Canada and is starting out in 1.5 million homes. CLT, a 24-hour national learning television specialty service with a mandate to air 60% Canadian content, offers programming which will be linked to various educational institutions across Canada, as well as educational films and documentaries. It is available on cable, direct-to-home and wireless with a start-up figure of between 1.5 million and 2 million homes. Christine Cowern
People on the move
Jerry Glover, managing director of National Geographic Channel Europe, has left the company to become commercial director for Yahoo! Europe. John O’Loan, recent director of network services at STAR TV, has taken over the vacated post.
Ian McLeod will join Toronto’s CineNova in October as VP of production. Recently exec producer at CTV newsmagazine W-Five, McLeod has produced projects for Thames Television, Turner Broadcasting, and A&E.
At HIT Entertainment, former U.S. investment banker Nigel Birrell has been appointed to the newly-created position of head of mergers and acquisitions. Also at HIT, Dorian Langdon has been promoted to president of HIT Entertainment USA.
At the Banff Television Festival, there are new appointments to the management team. Gail Morrell is communications director, effective October 15. Lizbeth Smeaton has been promoted to VP, marketing.
GRB Entertainment has hired Jason Sikes as VP of development. Sikes is a former director of development (late night, daytime and alternative programming) for Fox Broadcasting Co.
Unapix International has appointed Dorothy Crompton as sales exec. Crompton was formerly at E!
U.K. indie Tiger Aspect Productions has appointed a new producer, Richard Osman. Osman comes from Hat Trick Productions where he created and produced If I Ruled the World for BBC2.
Linda Romano has been promoted to the position of executive director of global video programming at Reader’s Digest. Prior to joining RD in 1996, Romano worked as an independent producer, specializing in natural history and travel programming.
Doris Weitzel has joined Paris-based distrib Point du Jour International as head of sales and development. Weitzel replaces Adrienne Frejacques, who left the company for arte this summer.
Petra Fioravanti, former director of corporate communications, has been promoted to head of the communications division at Discovery Networks International. Fioravanti has been with Discovery since 1993. Carmen Hiers has been named director of communications at Discovery Latin America/Iberia. Hiers previously headed her own international marketing and communications company, The Solmar Group.
National Geographic Channel has appointed Bryan Smith as the new director of production and on-air for all the channel ventures in Europe. Smith will continue his role as gm for Australia and New Zealand, but will be based out of the London office. At National Geographic Channels Worldwide, Massimo Marchiori has been hired as controller, overseeing strategic financial operations at ngcw. Marchiori comes from Oncor Inc., a biotech company in Maryland.
ESPN International has named Bernard Stewart as vice president and general manager of ESPN Asia Pacific. Stewart was formerly VP of programming and development at ESPN International.
Changes abound at CBC International Sales. Christina Hajek takes over as director of international coproductions, sales and acquisitions. Hajek has been with the CBC since 1981, and recently served as deputy director of sales.
Dina Vangelisti has become head of sales and new business development for CBC International’s office in Los Angeles. Vangelisti has been with the sales division since 1992.
Sandra Sarciada-Naughton has joined international sales in Los Angeles, as sales executive for Latin America.
Helen Ambrose joins CBCI as manager of marketing and creative services while Emily Donaldson is on maternity leave. Ambrose has spent 11 years in this capacity with the Ontario Ministry of Health.
Cheryl Mills has joined Oxygen Media as senior VP of corporate policy and programming. Mills, who is deputy White House counsel, will work with Oxygen editor-in-chief Geraldine Laybourne to develop legal and political programming.
For the Record
ZDF Enterprises and The Flebbe Group have formed a 50-50 joint venture to develop a ZDF Mediapark in Mainz, Germany. * Mysteries of Egypt, National Geographic’s first large-format film release, has grossed over US$33 million in its first 11 weeks. * Oxygen Media has signed a content deal with Wink Media to provide the broadcaster with enhanced cable programming and e-commerce ads. * National Geographic launched in Bulgaria in September. * MIPCOM will see the debut of John Adams Television, a prodco formed by one half of Adams Wooding Television, based in London and Chicago. * The Greenpeace video catalog is now available on the Web at greenpeaceimages.org. The database was developed and is hosted by footage.net. * The Extreme Sports Channel, which launched on May 1, has cleared all of its content for use on the Internet. * N.Y.-based Hot Shots Cool Cuts has become the exclusive supplier of the work of industrial and documentary filmmaker Henry Strauss. * The History Channel has partnered with UNESCO to launch an international campaign called Save Our History. Scheduled to debut on the channels worldwide in November, the PSAs (and accompanying websites) will highlight endangered historic sites. * Pearson Television International has been appointed by September Films as sole agent for footage sales from the entire September collection.
Viacom and CBS merge
Last month, Viacom Inc. and the CBS Corporation agreed to a US$80 billion merger, touted by the trades as the largest media transaction in history. Pending government approval, the new entity will begin acting under the Viacom banner, and will have extensive holdings in broadcast and cable television, feature films, radio, outdoor media, and Internet ventures. Some of Viacom’s current holdings include MTV, VH1, CMT, TNN, Nickelodeon and the Sundance Channel. Besides their news properties, CBS is also in the process of acquiring King World Productions Inc.
AAB brings Health to Canada
The Health Channel, represented in Canada by Alliance Atlantis Broadcasting, is being broadcast for the first time nationally via Bell ExpressVu. Launched in 1993, The Health Network offers viewers a visual guide to health and recently documented the first live televised birth, broadcast simultaneously on the network and over the Internet. The Health Network is now available to more than 280,000 subscribers on ExpressVu’s direct-to-home service. (From Playback) (For more on Health Programming, see pg. 44)
Channel 4 launches new factual strand
U.K.’s Channel 4 is preparing to launch a new, post-watershed Friday night `factual laboratory’ named Future TV. Intended particularly for `new and emerging talent,’ according to director of programs Tim Gardam, the strand will be open to all indies and will include commissions for single films and short series. The 30-minute slot is budgeted at around £40,000-£50,000 (US$60,000-$75,000). Some individual programs could develop into longer series. (Courtesy docos.com)
Granada ties with the Times
Granada Media, one of the largest U.K. commercial broadcasters, has entered a joint venture with The New York Times (NYT) for the production of documentaries for the u.s. and international markets. Granada Media International will distribute resulting projects internationally. A first commission is expected within weeks from A&E Networks for its new, daily 9:00 p.m. slot Investigative Reports. (Courtesy docos.com)
Down with DVD
National Geographic Television’s international video and dvd department has entered into a license agreement with GTV-UK and their U.K. distribution company, Quadrant Video, for U.S. retail and direct response distribution. Titles will be in stores for the holiday season.
California-based e-Realbiz is building its specialty DVD library with five more reality titles: America’s Funniest Home Videos: Uncensored, AFHV: Animal Antics, AFHV: Family Follies, Celebrities: Caught on Camera! and Hollywood: Wild in the Streets! e-Realbiz has previously released Jerry Springer: Too Hot for TV 2000 – Welcome to the Hellennium.
London’s Duke Video has committed to release 16 Sony titles on DVD over the next 18 months. Initial releases this winter include a 4-hour 50th Anniversary Ferrari DVD.