Viewpoint: Cracking the copro code

Lilla Hurst, joint managing director of London-based copro and financing firm Drive, examines the new challenges in store for those in need of coproduction coin.
April 6, 2015

The demand for copro funding is spanning across genres, and the need for new financing models is getting greater. Here, Lilla Hurst, joint managing director of London-based copro and financing firm Drive, examines the new challenges in store for those in need of coproduction coin.

Coproduction has been my world for nearly two decades. At first it felt like a lonely, slightly nerdy place where I spent much time explaining to people what exactly coproduction meant, usually followed by looks of pity and comments such as, “Wow, that sounds like hard work,” or “Are you on a plane a lot?”

But these days it’s de rigueur and it’s almost impossible to read a page of any industry mag without “copro” popping up. Of course, this new-found understanding is based on financial necessity and I suppose most people, weirdos such as myself aside, would still prefer to be back in the heady days of making shows for one broadcaster and grabbing a healthy profit on the international sales.

There’s no doubt that putting together copros often feels a little like the Eurovision Song Contest, where you’re constantly searching for that one universal gem that is going to win everyone’s hearts. Sadly, unlike Eurovision, in TV it’s rarely in the shape of an Austrian drag queen.

Traditionally, the hardy perennials that lend themselves to coproduction in the factual world tend to fall into these categories: ambitious specials (think Walking With Dinosaurs, Blue Planet, The Real Noah’s Ark, Stonehenge Empire); iconic anniversaries (WWI & II, the death of JFK, the sinking of the Titanic); extraordinary access (Terror In The Mall, Tree Man); and recent disasters (for example, missing Malaysian Air flight MH370, the 2004 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina).

While the appetite globally for coproduction has grown, the challenges that we face in finding the right partners have also increased and we are needing to create new funding models and approaches quicker than you can say “Canadian tax treaty.”

As well, the demand for coproduction funding now spans far wider than the above genres and is proving quite a challenge. While channels’ programming needs are becoming increasingly more domestic, their budgets do not match their ambitions, so very often we find ourselves in a “champagne taste, beer money” situation.

More recently, the dwindling appetite for one-off stories that do not present themselves as iconic enough outside of their own territory has also become problematic.

So how to meet these new challenges?

Start to develop an eagle eye for where the money lies and put together a strategy and finance plan for your project the minute you have some domestic interest in place. This plan, in the most complicated scenario, could involve some (or all) of the following:

Domestic broadcaster
Foreign broadcaster as coproducer
Foreign broadcaster at pre-buy stage
Treaty country tax credits
Foundation/MEDIA funding
Animation tax credits
Post-production offset
Distribution advance

The first three require you to have knowledge of what commissioners are looking for in both your domestic and the international market, but the following three require you to do a bit of reading up on the intricacies of non-broadcast finance.

The application process for each of these is complex, but can pay dividends of up to 20% of your budget. On the post-production front, some post houses are now offsetting their fees as an investment into a program and recouping from net, but be aware that this only works for them when sufficient territories are available for a distributor to exploit.

Be mindful that any distributor will make an advance based on what territories are available for them to sell into, so if they make an initial offer based on the world excluding your domestic territory, that offer is very likely to change if you then need to bring in other partners to shrink the deficit.

If you bring on board a pan-regional channel to cover some, or all, of your deficit, watch out for territory overlaps, however minor they might seem. This is a thorn in the side of many coproductions now and not the fault of the commissioners but the people upstairs who are forced to include more territories in order to secure their carriage deals.

If all of this makes you want to stay in bed all day with your head under the duvet, never fear, as there are plenty of nerds and weirdos out there like us at Drive to help you navigate your way through the myriad options… and we’re gluttons for punishment!

Lilla Hurst in joint managing director of London-based funding facilitators Drive.

  • This viewpoint feature first appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
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