The new general manager of Australia-based Beyond Television tells TBI about changing international perceptions of the business and why he’s targeting UK broadcasters.
Michael Murphy is best known as the founder of Ireland’s Channel 6 (since bought by TV3 and rebranded 3e) and former director of programmes at TV3. He has also, since 2004, been a non-executive director of producer and distributor Beyond Television. In February he was installed as acting general manager replacing Fiona Crago after she left to pursue a veterinary qualification after 16 years at Beyond (she remains a director of Australian rights and copyright organisation Screenrights). He has now taken on the position on a permanent basis.
In a distribution world dominated by studios and super indies, Murphy says there is still room for the likes of Beyond, which has a catalogue of about 4,000 hours stretching back thirty years and employs about 200 people. “There has, for good and bad, been a lot of consolidation, but we are a strong, independent mid-sized company. There are the consolidated companies and the big studios and then Beyond comes in the category after that.”
In terms of pulling in third-party rights, Murphy says that Beyond has a couple of key advantages. One is a track record – it was created in 1984 – and the other is its financial position. “Beyond stands out because of its longevity and because we have no debt – that is attractive to producers. We have the size and clout to give visibility to their programmes and they know we can pay and pay on time.”
The company is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and with former boss Crago based in its Southern Hemisphere HQ is regarded by many as an Australian firm. Murphy is keen to change that perception.
“Look at Beyond’s structure,” Murphy says. “I’m in the Northern Hemisphere, I split my time between Dublin and London, many of our key staff are here and we work with producers from the UK, Canada and the US, not necessarily just Australia. One of my primary goals is to make us more accessible to Northern Hemisphere producers.”
Recent hits are firmly in the unscripted area with the business case for scripted hard to make for a mid-sized firm such as Beyond (although it has a library of features). “There aren’t so many opportunities in the drama field,” Murphy says. “Minimum guarantees [to producers] have gone through the roof and Beyond has stepped back. Our strength is in fact-ent and kids.”
His comments are borne out in the company’s top-performing programmes, which include Deadly Women, Monster Bug Wars, Dark Minds and Mythbusters, the popular science series that Beyond produces and distributes and which has run for a decade on Discovery.
On the acquired programming side, Highway Through Hell, which Great Pacific Media originally made for Discovery Canada, has been doing well. Beyond picked up international rights in late 2012 with another show from the Vancouver-based indie, The Mistress, in which Gordon Ramsay and Jeffrey Archer’s former mistress Sarah Symonds counsels other women caught in extra-marital affairs.
Revenue for the six months to end-2012 was A$49.8 million (US$46.5 milion), a 13% year-on-year increase and pre-tax profit of A$5.6 million was up 22%.
In terms of third-party content, Murphy is convinced there is enough out there not tied up in existing distribution deals. He says: “There is plenty of exciting programming being produced by non-affiliated producers. A lot of the larger producers have been signed up [to distribution deals or bought, but there are always good individual programmes out there and a lot of programmers like the flexibility of choosing a distributor on a programme by programme basis.”
Murphy tells TBI that the sales team has just concluded several programming deals with UK broadcasters including shopping five seasons of Motorway Patrol to pay TV operator BSkyB and another show from Kiwi producer Greenstone Pictures, Crash Investigation Unit, to digital channels group UKTV. Forging deeper links with UK producers is a top priority for the new Beyond boss, although he acknowledges it is an extremely tough market.
Accordingly, Murphy is also targeting the increasing number of producers in continental Europe with projects that have English language potential, notably those in Scandinavia and Germany.
“There are opportunities to develop relationships in those markets and with those producers that might not have previously thought of Beyond as a partner,” he says.
European sales are, meanwhile, ticking along nicely. Beyond has just sold CMJ Productions’ marriages gone wrong series Fatal Vows to A+E’s Crime & Investigation channel across the CEE, Benelux and Middle East regions and to Modern Times Group-owned Viasat in Denmark. The Viasat channel also picked up the second season of serial killer series Dark Minds, as did TV4 in Sweden and Finland.