It was March 2014 when Jane Rogerson announced that she would be departing London-headquartered broadcaster UKTV to pursue a new adventure.
Rogerson joined the network in 2007 as director of commissioning for factual and fact-ent and – following her 2009 promotion to director of commissioning for UKTV’s entire network of 10 channels – was credited with transforming the broadcaster into a significant content commissioner.
“To be honest, I didn’t expect to stay in commissioning for as long as I did,” Rogerson told realscreen. “I thought I would always go back to the production sector, but there was always something new and exciting to do at UKTV.”
But Rogerson couldn’t shake the enticement of the production sector, nor Scotland’s allure where, she said, there is room for another company of size and scale to deliver both nationally and internationally.
The end result was establishing Red Sky Productions alongside former IWC Media exec producer Ross Harper.
The Glasgow-based indie is expected to focus its short-term development slate on popular science, popular history, popular documentary and factual formats for the UK, international and digital marketplaces.
“If you take some of the documentary or entertainment narrative and some of the daytime or cable formats, you can create something that’s both a ratings winner but has loyalty,” Rogerson said. “I think loyalty to programs in the market at the moment is really important.”
“It’s not enough any more to simply inform or simply entertain,” Harper added. “You have to do both, and our combined experience means we’re confident that Red Sky will create content that is innovative, sharp and pushes boundaries in factual and factual entertainment – and build into other genres as we grow.”
After exiting from UKTV, Rogerson spent the better part of a year interrogating the right investors; the right partners; and the right broadcast opportunities to explore all available avenues and thereby help create the best path to success.
“One of the most difficult things in setting up a company is not just getting the investment, but getting the right investment,” she said. “We wanted a group who, in one way or another, could make us bigger than we could be on our own.”
As a massive wave of conglomeration sweeps through the UK, snapping up mid-sized independents left and right, maintaining control of Red Sky as a true indie was something that was important to both Rogerson and Harper. As such, the production unit sought out minority stake investments from Scottish Enterprise, Glasgow City Council and Channel 4′s Alpha Fund, as well as the business and creative expertise of FremantleMedia UK’s David Liddiment; Alex Graham, formerly of Wall to Wall Productions; and former All3Media execs Steve Morrison, Jules Burns and John Pfeil.
In addition, one of the benefits presented through the investment is that Red Sky is not tied to a distributor, enabling the Scottish shop to peruse the market for the best distribution deal – an unusual trait for a fledgling studio.
“It felt as though there was an opportunity to grow the next generation of true independents who are not controlled by a bigger entity and can depend on their own destiny,” said Rogerson.
“We’re very clear on who our broadcast targets are, we’ve assembled a really strong team [in advisor Sue Oriel and head of development Ros Homan] and that’s really important when you’re not in London because you don’t have the same capacity to pick people up on an ad hoc basis,” she concluded.
Scotland has increasingly become a hotbed of production activity with various shops opening divisions in Great Britain’s north. Most recently, Firecracker Films launched its Glasgow-based venture, housed alongside fellow Tinopolis Group prodcos Mentorn Scotland and Sunset+Vine, while the BBC has always had a presence in the region. So what’s behind the seeming increase that has enticed executives into Scotland?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one definitive factor attracting established producers to the booming territory. With costs escalating and sinking budgets, a base where the cost of production is relatively low is attractive, Harper said. The media landscape is in flux as BBC Studios alters its production structure by opening its commissions to external producers, resulting “in greater opportunities for the independent sector throughout the UK.” Channel 4, meanwhile, has also made commitments to open its commissioning to the nations and regions.
“Scotland is particularly advantaged in that context because of its traditional strengths in factual production,” he added. “But we think there’s a gap in the supply,which adds to the appeal of starting Red Sky. Politically we’re in a period of uncertainty around the world – meantime, there are demanding audiences craving brilliant TV.”