Producers urged to get closer with distributors
Screen producers need to work more closely with distributors than ever before as audiences continue to fragment.
Scripted drama will remain a key part of the business but some smaller producers may be squeezed out as consolidation among international companies continues.
And traditional windows may become obsolete, forcing producers to be creative in deficit-financing their shows.
Those are among the key points that emerged from interviews with 25 Australian, US and UK screen industry executives published in Swinburne Institute for Social Research’s new report TV 2025: Reconsidering small screen media in Australia.
ITV Studios Australia MD Anita Jacoby said, “In the current climate we simply can’t afford to have independent producers and distributors not working together. Production companies, particularly like ours, [will] become one because the economic model will force you to become one, and I can’t see how that will change. All the smaller players will be absorbed by the bigger players, or they’ll just cease to exist.
“Equally, distributors will become part of the production chain because you need to have your business case together. To me, it’s going to be one big production house with a distribution arm and a business arm.”
SAFC CEO Annabelle Sheehan urged producers to engage with their distributors and distributors to engage with their producers to identify the target audience.
“Distributors might have said producers needed to be more market-oriented in the past, and distributors have tried to understand the creation of content, “ she said. “They’re really required to understand each other now, so they completely redefine why they're creating and supporting the content they are producing.”
Nine Network programming production executive Courtney Gibson observed, “More producers are paying more attention to their distribution, and thinking like distributors as they maximise and protect their rights. And more distributors are diversifying into producing content.
"An interesting thing about the Australian market: our producers have to work both ends of the room – they’re in the writers room developing the series, and they’re driving the financing, negotiating windows and cost reporting at the other end of the business. That’s unique – running the creative and the business ends – and it gives our producers a competitive advantage overseas.”
As an aside, Gibson remarked, “It's really the amateurs who pose the greatest threat to the professionals in our industry. My children and their friends spend far more time watching YouTube and making and sharing their own content, than they do watching TV.”
ABC director of television Richard Finlayson expects the major Australian TV networks will become bigger producers. “Everyone can see now that Seven’s strategy has been the right way to go,” Finlayson said.
“So, if you’re a producer, on the one hand, great, there’s always business coming down the line, but on the other hand, you’ll be thinking, well, Seven and Nine are just going to want to keep their own stuff and control their own rights.”
SevenWest Media CEO Tim Worner makes a valid point when he observes that, despite the proliferation of windows, production and acquisition budgets haven’t changed.
“Independent producers are probably thinking they’ll be able to get more money for that window and this window, but in the end, there’s only the same amount of money to pay for the show or maybe less as the revenue pie shrinks,” he said. “Everyone’s got to come to terms with that.”
Hoodlum’s Nathan Mayfield predicts, “Rights windows will be obsolete. Distribution will be far more automated. Producers will have to be resourceful in how they will deficit finance their shows; this is where brands will play a more active role in the commissioning of content.”