Op-ed: Growing the grassroots of creativity

Banijay’s head of factual Emily Elisha on why supporting the UK’s production community is essential.

Applications are closing this week for the 2019 Indielab Accelerator programme, which offers 15 up-and-coming production companies a tailored consulting and investment-matching process.

Banijay has supported the initiative for the past three years, along with a range of other partners across the media sector — and for good reason. With more than 70 independent production businesses in our network, our business is built on entrepreneurialism and we’re very keen to foster this same ethos with the 100 plus third-party producers with whom we work.

Tony Hall, the BBC’s director-general, made a speech last autumn in which he cited some stark statistics. The UK’s public-service broadcasters (PSBs) — the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and regional equivalents — have cut spending on content in real terms by around £1bn since 2004.

We are set to lose another £500m out of entire UK original-commissioning budget over next five-to-10 years. And these statistics could be echoed by numerous PSBs around the world.

Yes, some of this reduction in PSB spend is being replaced by increased spend by SVODs. And yes, high-end factual and scripted businesses are experiencing a golden age financially and creatively, and this looks set to continue.

But the picture for other genres is equally clear: indies need to compete for global spend to continue to thrive in the today’s entertainment market. Our expertise in distribution, deficit funding, pre-sales, co-production and development increasingly makes the difference between ideas making it on to screen — or not.

The TV industry is changing rapidly and it’s vital that our UK sector changes too. That’s why we’re supporting Indielab in its mission to equip small indies with the knowledge and skills they need to compete and thrive in today’s market. There are significant opportunities for UK companies able to create content with global appeal.

We have a number of first-look and development deals in place which help give companies an upfront cash injection.  We’ve partnered with Minnow Films via a first-look deal for a number of years and, among many other titles, have sold their ratings-winning C4 series SAS: Who Dares Wins as finished tape across the world and the format has sold to History USA and Denmark (now in its 4th series).

We also work closely with producers to identify global opportunities that by-pass the traditional broadcaster commissioning model and instead look to fund the production budgets via pre-sales, sales advance money, or a mix of both.  We work in this way with First Look Films on the true crime series Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer.

Season one has sold well internationally which meant we were able to go into production with a second series. We recently fully-funded the Apollo 8: The Mission that Changed the World documentary produced by Touchdown Films as we believed that many channels would be looking to mark the 50th anniversary in some way.  Our investment looks set to pay off and we are looking to expand on that model with other event specials and in other genres.

Commercially, we all benefit from a strong indie community and we want to work with a diverse range of companies, so Indielab’s Accelerator programme resonates strongly with us. We want the opportunity not only to connect with new indies, but also to identify industry trends.

The opportunity to meet carefully selected indies — Indielab is committed to diversity in ownership and countrywide representation in terms of its cohort — enhances our own understanding of the UK production landscape. It helps us understand the challenges indies face and what things we can do to help them grow their companies and secure new IP that we can potentially distribute. And we all have a collective responsibility to help new voices to be heard.

As competition to secure rights becomes ever tighter, we as a sector need to create more opportunities and allow better-informed choices for those indies seeking investment or, conversely, those who want to develop more organically. Either way, only by forming more open collaborative networks can we achieve any real objectivity in good business decision-making. The entertainment industry is moving at warp speed and our creative industries need to move, mature and manoeuvre at the same pace.

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