So what exactly are the right rules of engagement when it comes to distributors or project financers influencing content? Indeed, should there be any in a world where distributors are so often now required to raise signficant chunks of a budget? Could we at Raydar Media end up unwittingly stifling the very creativity that made the project a winner in the first place when we raise finance?
Well, you won’t be surprised to know that I have views aplenty on this thorny old subject, but first let’s ponder why this question is still being posed when the rules of engagement have shifted so much in recent years?
Back in the day when I got into the distribution business at the brilliant ITEL (sadly no longer but once a true force in distribution), I could not quite believe my luck that I had a job I didn’t even know had existed… selling TV shows. Distributors did what it said on the tin… they distributed. Talk of “shrinking budgets” and the words “multi-platform” were not even in our vocabulary, the task in hand being to head off down to MIPTV and MIPCOM, brochures in hand and VHS cassettes (please no laughter) at the ready, poised to sign deals aplenty.
They were golden days blighted not by global recessions and increasing focus on “ROI”. We were judged by our paymasters on our ability to sell shows for good license fees, and it was very clear that we were required to “stick to the knitting” and do what we did well. We were almost always handed completed shows, and even if we had to pre-sell them or seek co-production finance for them, we were mindful not to wander outside of our natural habitat too much… we were, after all, sales people.
Many still see the role of the distributor in this traditional sense and believe it still isn’t our role to offer up too many views on the creative. There is an understandable anxiety after all that should we do this, the project will be sabotaged and the essence of what it set out to be will become either – quelle horreur – a “europudding” or a “paint by numbers” format. Lines have since blurred, however, over the past decade, and our roles have evolved to the point where our views can be critical to unlocking a major part of a production budget’s finance.
The impact of the bitter global recession of 2008 combined with the rise and rise of OTT platforms has forced all of us to compete more voraciously than ever to make bigger, better and more impactful television. Television that is memorable and that secures loyalty. This bigger and better content comes with a hefty price tag and one that one sole broadcaster or platform can’t always afford to foot 100% of the bill for. So who better than a Distributor with a global Black Book of Buyer, Financiers and Commissioner contacts to help stitch deficits together? Makes sense, doesn’t it? But not if the end result is just unwatchable.
There is however a happy ending to this thorny subject. Like any happy marriage, the creative and commercial team behind a show should with due care, a bit of sensitivity and a bit of psychology (always sensible to understand what each key stakeholder in a show wants from Day 1 and what influence each should be allowed to have), to be able to produce a brilliant lovechild. OK, getting there might make for a bumpy ride and sparks will most probably fly, but the end result will most definitely be must-watch TV.
Alison Rayson is one of our pre-MIPCOM MIPBlog Ambassadors, who are coordinated by consultant Debbie Macdonald. Check out all of their posts to date here!