If you are a factual producer these days, you are going to spend time chasing the money if you want to make landmark or primetime series on an international scale. We might complain about rising prices, higher costs and lower margins – all of which are a reality, of course – but the value of the licence fees we get from broadcasters is falling in real terms. Everyone wants more for less: we’ve all had commissioners or slate managers ask ‘Can you do it on HD for the same price as we used to put in for SD?’ As a producer, we have to be truly international now to be able to get our programs made.
In the last three years, Touch has moved from being primarily a UK-centric company with largely 100%-funded programs into one with regular coproductions from the us and elsewhere. One of our current productions, Body In Numbers, a highly visual and inventive series about the human body, is backed by Discovery Health, Virgin 1 and Network Ten in Australia. We might even have a German partner too.
We are also closely watching global trends involving the consumption of digital content. These have changed hugely in the last 18 months with the growth of secondary channels and with rights being exploited on VOD, IPTV, etc. The move towards a more convergent world is finally on its way. So for broadcasters, the challenge is to retain their position, ratings and market power. For the producer, it is about delivering great content which is able to be exploited on a wide variety of platforms.
This calls for more inventive ways of raising money and demands that we be on top of our game. We want our programs to deliver value both for the broadcaster and ourselves. Part of that equation is being inventive creatively; part of it is responding to the market’s needs – for example, we recently set up a new joint venture company to create multi-platform content with its first commissions – and part of it is having a good distributor.
We all know the nightmare scenarios that multiple coproductions or pre-sales can bring: the various versions with shifts of emphasis, of graphics, of scripts, as well as commercial breaks in different places. On the other hand, we have also experienced an enriching side; and I’m not just talking about money here. The new relationships have brought different perspectives and a much greater reach for the programs. Thankfully the programs have gone on to be successes and, as trust is built, this has made the prospect of making the next series a little bit easier.
Our relationship with our distributor has changed radically over the last three years. We discuss our development slate in detail, we sometimes work together at pitches and there’s a real sense of partnership. As we move forward to our slate in ’09 and into ’10, it’s a relationship that I can only see becoming more important.