David Frank, pioneering television industry executive and founder of UK prodco RDF Media Group, has passed away at the age of 63.
His sudden passing at his home over the weekend was confirmed to Realscreen by his brother and longtime business partner, Matthew Frank.
Born in Kenya, Frank came to television after a stint in investment banking, joining the BBC in 1989 as an on-air reporter.
In 1993, he founded RDF Media. With Matthew joining the company shortly afterward and Stephen Lambert coming on board as director of programs in 1998, the company grew from strength to strength, with formats like Wife Swap, Faking It and Secret Millionaire running for multiple seasons in the UK and around the world.
In 2006, RDF Media launched RDF USA, with Chris Coelen – now founder and CEO of Kinetic Content — at the helm. The American office brought RDF staples like Secret Millionaire, Wife Swap and Don’t Forget the Lyrics to major broadcasters like ABC and Fox.
In the summer of 2010, Paris-headquartered Zodiak Entertainment, owned by Italy’s De Agostini Group, acquired RDF Media Group. The deal created what was at the time one of the UK’s largest production and distribution companies. David Frank was named Zodiak’s CEO (later to be branded as Zodiak Media Group), overseeing annual sales for the group that, at the time, exceeded €500 million. Frank said via a statement at the time: “In my opinion to succeed you need two things — brilliant creative executives and scale. This deal delivers both and I am confident that the Zodiak management team can build a world-beating company.”
In 2013, he stepped down from his post as Zodiak Media CEO. He said in a statement at the time: “I haven’t decided yet exactly what I’ll do next but I’m excited by the prospect of a fresh challenge.”
That challenge came in the form of Dial Square 86, founded in 2014 by the Frank brothers. Originally formed to acquire forward-thinking operations with a focus on “content origination, enhancement and exploitation,” in 2015, the sole focus of the company shifted to a pioneering online distribution and rights management platform, The RightsXChange, or TRX as it came to be known. The idea was that buyers and sellers of television and online content would be able to conduct transactions through a one-stop shop, which would facilitate content viewing, establish terms of a deal, and ultimately, payment and delivery.
The tool was also designed to offer distributors and other rights holders the ability to monetize back catalog, while also giving smaller buyers, including those from emerging markets, more of a level playing field to access content. Investors included Channel 4 and Sky.
In January, the Frank brothers launched the distribution outfit Rocket Rights. Billing the company as a “next generation, multi-genre distributor that works hand-in-hand with producers and rights-holders to identify valuable IP to take to the worldwide market,” in speaking with Realscreen, David Frank said the company would use the tech developed for TRX in order to “re-imagine and reorganize the whole way that distribution is done.”
In true forward-thinking style, Frank summed up the aim for the company in that interview: “Our strategy is that we believe in the next three years or so we can become a highly disruptive force in TV distribution.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
Former colleague Natalka Znak, who joined RDF USA in 2010 as an EVP and subsequently went on to serve as CEO for Zodiak USA before departing to head up her own shop, Znak & Co., offered her memories of working with Frank to Realscreen.
“My memories of David fall into two categories — boozy business dinners, and massive but good-natured business arguments,” she said. “David was a tower of a man who not only changed the TV industry but he massively changed my career and my life by offering me my dream job in LA. He was impossible not to love as a man and to admire as a businessman. I’m so grateful for the time I got to spend with him and learn from him. My thoughts are with his family.”
Grant Mansfield, founder and CEO of Bristol-headquartered Plimsoll Productions, also headed up Zodiak USA for several years following the departure of Chris Coelen from what was then RDF USA at the end of 2009, and was Znak’s predecessor in the role. Having joined RDF in 2002, just before he moved to the U.S., he’d served as group director of factual, entertainment and comedy. In a statement supplied to Realscreen, he said: “David Frank was a visionary creative leader who saw, faster than just about anyone else, the opportunity to transform the U.K. indie sector from lifestyle companies to sustainable commercial businesses: a true trailblazer and superindie pioneer.”