The consolidation, creativity and distribution challenge

Ed-Louwerse-Co-Founder-Lineup-IndustriesThe issue of consolidation in the television business has again come to the fore over the past months, with a collection of landmark deals being announced in quick succession.

There is a rising tide of vertically integrated, multinational juggernauts, and the future for independent companies in both distribution and production has been the subject of much speculation.

One thing to note in the midst of this analysis is that consolidation and fragmentation of any industry is a cyclical and necessary process. This current climate of consolidation, however, comes at a particularly pivotal moment in the evolution of content consumption, perhaps that is why it has provoked such widespread debate.

Consolidation offers opportunities to smaller independents, although one also needs to understand major companies in order to capitalise on the areas that they may neglect or underservice.

The realities of the market make consolidated companies and independent ones two sides of the same coin. While there are undeniable benefits for producers looking to partner with the ‘giants’ of distribution, there are also significant drawbacks unavoidable with a consolidated outfit. It is in balancing out these drawbacks with alternative options that independent distributors find their niche.

If a format is good it doesn’t matter where it comes from, as long as it’s nurtured and the execution is top class. This is fairly obvious, but the process can become more complicated in its distribution.

The links that major distributors have with sister broadcasters and producers can be appealing, however there are also pitfalls in this set up, as they are then locked in to these partnerships, and don’t have the flexibility to work with the best possible people for each individual show.

The key is finding the right company to execute the production and to exploit the brand as best as can be done, and that could be an affiliate of a huge company in one territory, a channel with an in-house production unit or an indie in another.

Creative diversity is also vital to an industry’s health, especially one which constantly competes for ever more contested audience time. Bigger companies are less likely to take creative risks, and instead focus on shows that feed their many production companies, which may be uninspired reiterations of what has been successful before.

Homogenous production rarely pays off, especially in formats where even though a concept is syndicated, its interpretation needs to be local in order to be relevant. For example, [Talpa format] The Voice, besides being a great format, has been produced by the best producers in this genre in the individual territories. This would possibly not have been the case if it was owned and controlled by a major conglomeration.

Small company size also speeds up the decision-making process and allows faster market response, which is key to success in today’s environment. The nature of independents mean they are also able to take creative risks, taking on bold programming that bigger companies might shy away from, like our recent acquisition The Bully Project from [Dutch indie producer] Skyhigh TV, which looks at restorative social justice in schools.

At Lineup Industries, our team’s own experience at major distribution companies means we have been integral to the development and roll out of hugely successful formats like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Deal or No Deal.

Each of these we handled completely differently and yet they were globally popular. It’s a matter of knowing what’s best for each property. Because we take a curatorial approach, projects aren’t immediately part of a huge and ever-expanding library, with internal competition before they’ve even reached broadcasters.

Independent companies are not without their own challenges, and not being able to put down huge advances or secure content into pre-agreed slots with broadcasters are among those. But, as is often said, nothing worthwhile was ever easy, and we see creative diversity, giving genuinely fantastic ideas a leg-up in an environment unhindered by the demands of larger companies, and making outstanding television as absolutely worth our while.

Ed Louwerse is the former Endemol and Sony Pictures Television executive who cofounded distributor Lineup Industries earlier this year