Danny Fenton, CEO, Zig Zag Productions

A modern TV conundrum: get hitched or enjoy the single life?

After 10 years of being independent, like most production companies the time came for us to consider getting hitched. But are you necessarily better off being married than remaining single?

Marriage is not for everyone, but if you decide to take the plunge, you will arguably never make a bigger commitment in your life. The same rule applies when deciding on your partner in television. Just over 18 months ago, we were courted by an interested party. They charmed and wooed us and convinced us that entering into wedlock with them would make us both happy, with the promise of spiritual and financial reward an attractive incentive. 

More an arranged marriage than love at first sight, we accepted the proposal and went through a year-long engagement convincing ourselves it was time to relinquish the single indie life, grow up and seriously think about becoming part of a bigger family.

The advantages seemed obvious – being the only UK and US entity in an international group of production companies seemed exciting. In addition, we were promised the chance to see our formats travel abroad and to receive wedding gifts of formats from other territories, which we could sell into the UK.

After a year of courting and negotiating, we set a date. However, six weeks before the big day, the strains on the relationship were showing, as the pre-wedding doubts and jitters crept in. Were we marrying the right people for the right reasons? Did we want to lose our independent status? Would other people still look at us in the same way?
The problem was the invites had gone out, the reception was booked and costs had been incurred.
Then MIP TV came around. There we stepped out with our new partner for the first time. It felt different attending as part of a family and spending more time with your relatives than friends. Some people we had been friendly with before no longer could, or would, want to meet with us. Others cast envious looks.
It was also at this time that we found out we were not to be the only partner in America and effectively the marriage vows were null and void.

Annulment proceedings began a  few weeks into the marriage, with both parties very reasonable and amicable in recognising that the fit was wrong.
All in all it was a very good learning experience, but done the hard way. Spiritually and financially we were better off coming out of the marriage than we went into it, but the lesson we learnt was to choose your bedfellows carefully!

I know many other companies who have had overtures and either walked away or been jilted at the altar. An equal amount have gone ahead with the marriage only to exit shortly afterwards, but with a good settlement due to their pre-nuptial agreement.
One thing I can say for sure is that many people of my generation entered TV firstly for creative reasons and then learnt the commercial aspects as they went. These two factors are as important when looking to exit as they are to enter. It is important to plan your exit strategy and what an ideal partner would look like.
In other industries, being a serial entrepreneur is seen as something to admire, but going through too many marriages too quickly in our business can make you appear a commitment phobe.
There is no doubt that super indies offer infrastructure and support and the ability to transfer your formats and content more quickly and efficiently. However, that only applies if the fit is right; and the beauty of the TV industry is that it is idea-driven and the best ideas can come from the smallest companies. In that sense TV is a meritocracy. There is also a theory that creativity can sometimes be crushed within a multinational conglomerate where homogenised product is preferred to risk-taking and innovation.
Personally, having now seen both sides of the equation, I can say that with the right partners it is possible to grow your business exponentially as part of a group. Nevertheless, you need to have the right synergy and mentality to make it work.
Many producers who have captained their own ships for an extended period of time find it hard to adapt to a corporate mentality and struggle to take orders from a new boss. It’s often this clash of personalities that undermines the success of acquisitions.
For the last few years, the aspiration of many a producer has been to find a buyer, but I think that the future trend may also be for companies of a similar size and philosophy to merge or even for one to acquire the other as opposed to joining a larger group.
When you’re standing at the altar about to take your marriage vows, it’s important to remember marriage is a major commitment. Failure can be costly to both parties and, ultimately, we are all in this business because of our love and commitment for it.

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