Summit ’19: The evolving world of coproductions

NEW ORLEANS – Coproductions will remain a vital business model for content creators as production budgets continue to be impacted by a global industry tightening its belt, and as more global ...
February 1, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – Coproductions will remain a vital business model for content creators as production budgets continue to be impacted by a global industry tightening its belt, and as more global platforms ramp up their need for content, said a panel of broadcasters and producers during a discussion on Wednesday (Jan. 30) at the 2019 Realscreen Summit.

Leading a lively discussion about the copro space was Edward Hersh, principal and CCO of StoryCentric. Featured on the panel were Tom Brisley, creative director for Arrow Media; Julie Chang, VP of international co-production for Blue Ant Media; Joseph Maxwell, head of documentaries at SBS International; David Royle, chief programming officer & EVP of production for Smithsonian Channel; and Charles Tremayne, president of Cineflix Productions.

For Chang, copros will have a strong future across borders as licensing and commissioning fees decline and there is an increasing demand for content.

Although content creators coproduce with one another for financial reasons, it’s also important that they gel and share a creative vision.

“It’s a real juggling act of different personalities, of cultures, and different creative fingerprints that make up the production itself,” Chang said.

She added that creative control can be an issue with multiple partners on a project but it is not something you can “codify”. In her perspective, the person who created the concept and fleshed it out tends to lead the coproduction.

“Finding a partner who shares in that vision is tough – it’s not as easy as you think – but when it works, it works,” Chang said.

Doing the research and knowing what broadcasters are looking for is vital, said Maxwell, noting that copros can be attractive as a broadcaster’s default position is to acquire the project at a cheaper price. Approximately 90% of SBS’ content in Australia is acquired. 

He said that when producers approach a broadcaster about joining a copro they need to offer a clear reason as to why the network should step up and back a project.

Using market intelligence and understanding what idea to bring to each broadcaster is critical in the coproduction world, according to Tom Brisley. It’s not just about having the right partner. Brisley said Arrow Media made a program for UK pubcaster Channel 4 and Smithsonian Channel a few years ago that was slightly tweaked to meet the preferences of each network.

“It worked well because we did the front-end engineering,” Brisley said.

While some in the industry might see copros as a necessary evil, Royle said Smithsonian Channel depended on the collaboration of international creators when they launched, as they didn’t have the deep pockets of the more established nets.

“It has allowed us to bring a lot of diverse voices from all over the globe to our channel,” he added.

One recent Smithsonian copro, Life of Earth from Space, brought together London-based factual prodco Talesmith and India-headquartered Zee Entertainment. Royle said most people “haven’t broadened their horizons” to consider regions outside of traditional copro countries.

When it comes to SVODs, they seemingly have the capacity to swoop in on any project for their own platform. But Royle said what producers won’t necessarily get from these platforms is the data and feedback regarding who is watching their content. “It will go into a black hole,” he said.

With broadcasters that also have their own SVOD strategies, Royle said producers can trust that their programs will be promoted and seen.

Tremayne offered a piece of advice to producers: go to international markets and pitch to a variety of people. He said you’ll get a clear idea of what territories would be interested in your project and from there you can put a creative coalition together.

In his opinion, coproductions will continue to be important for high-end premium projects as they can be difficult to finance. But the interest in that content is only increasing as deep pocketed SVODs continue to make inroads in the originals space.

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