For My Next Trick: Endemol Shine International’s Cathy Payne

Each day this week, in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on Friday (8 March), TBI presents its ‘For My Next Trick’ series, which finds a group of industry-leading women across production, commissioning and distribution reflecting on the advice that has shaped their career; innovation in their respective fields; diversity in TV; and the legacy of the #MeToo movement. Kicking off the week’s columns is Endemol Shine International chief exec Cathy Payne, who has led the distributor since March 2015. 

Prior to the merger of Endemol Group and Shine Group, she was chief exec of Endemol Worldwide Distribution – a role she held since June 2009 – and before that, she was chief exec of Southern Star International for nine years, growing the division to become one of the largest distributors of English-language programming outside of the Hollywood Studios. Cathy worked with Southern Star for more than 20 years, selling programming in all major international markets and forming an invaluable network of global contacts within the industry. 

What piece of programming has most influenced your career and how you do your job? 

It would be the Australian serial drama Home and Away. It was a title that everyone was saying they did not want when we became involved with the series, and which eventually went on to be the most enduring, successful property we have ever sold. For me, it reinforced the need to fully understand the value of what you are selling, including the opportunity and cost of where it could move. In my job I always start from the position that it is easy for someone to say ‘no’, so what are we going to do to counter that? Understand your product, your market, your competition and be fully prepared.

What’s something about your role that might surprise those outside the field?  

People are often surprised at how numerical I am – for a non-financial executive. It is essential for my role and financial skills have certainly helped me in my career progression. I am a good manager of cash and have the knack of annoying my CFO by being able to pick up potential discrepancies with the balance sheet from a quick glance. I thank my family of 10 siblings and my working-class parents from where the necessity of this skill evolved.

What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve received on navigating the industry?  

Many years ago, I was handling a negotiation of a significant, life-changing licence agreement for the business, on which everyone senior in the company had an opinion or would offer advice. The group chief executive, in the last hurdles of the negotiation, took me aside and reminded me that at the end of the day the person who knew what was the best result for the title and its IP owner was myself, and that the IP owner was only listening to me. He told me to trust my instinct as I had put in the hard work and I had the support of those that really mattered, and that I should always remember that the person who delivered this result was myself. The generosity of his words and actions have never left me and have shaped how I approach development of the team.

What are the most pressing challenges for international distributors in 2019?    

Financing of product is more complicated and scripted is expensive. Navigating the best route to market and evaluating a global all-territory deal as opposed to selling territory by territory.  Our industry has changed and so must distribution. Distribution has become more curated and focused within the territory.

Where are the best entry points for young women looking to work in TV? What can they do to get a foot in the door in your particular field?    

I would recommend being clear on what field you are wishing to work in – do your homework and then identify whom to approach to make that contact. It can be frustrating for distribution to recruit new talent, to be told it was a company entry-point only to move to development as soon as they could. Do not be scared of hard work and be a true grafter; take every opportunity and soak each one up like a sponge. Do not expect others to plot out your path for you – carve your own. Take advantage of mentoring programmes or approach your own mentors. However, if you do sign up with a mentor, be prepared they will expect you to take the process seriously, especially when they are giving up their time. In the distribution business, identify your field and identify people in the industry you can contact. Be brave.

Is enough being done to improve on- and off-screen representation in TV?  

While the momentum has grown, it needs to continue. At ESG we have always be proud of our diversity across all areas. It is an ongoing policy rather than this year’s initiative.

What innovation in TV – creative or otherwise – are you most excited about for the year ahead?  

Personally, I am very happy to have increased portability of services. Like everyone, I am often time-poor and the ability to access my services on the run, without the need for downloading it in advance is a real value to me. I love it when my mum talks about what can be stored in the cloud or the additional catch-up services.

What is the single greatest industry shift in 2019 that will change how business is done going ahead?  

The launch of the direct-to-consumer OTT services – to name a few – Disney, WarnerMedia, Discovery, Comcast etc. will see shifts in product distribution and supply. Much has been written around the value of licensing content that Studios will defer in order to fuel their own offerings. How a studio operates their distribution activities, when a part of their catalogue is being reserved for their own services, will change. What opportunities this then offers for non-studio distributors to supply additional content to those broadcasters and platforms is now limited.

Looking forward, what legacy will the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements leave within the world of TV? 

I hope the result will be the empowerment for all to speak out against misjustice and to have the immediate support from colleagues and the industry. Time’s Up means just that – it will not be tolerated and we will exist in a world where there is never a question that it would be tolerated.

What’s the best piece of content (that isn’t yours) you’ve seen in the last six months? 

It is just on the cusp of six months ago but I loved Killing Eve. It has a freshness to it and I loved the comedy woven into the drama. Addictive. 

‘For My Next Trick’ continues daily across the week.