Your role signalled a significant shift as distributors became commissioners, how is that trend likely to change over the next 12 months?
Editorial talent within distributors is a trend that’s likely to continue. Just recently we’ve seen Rachel Job join All3Media and Leila Monks land at Off The Fence. As distributors continue to become more involved further upstream they will need executives who speak the same language as producers, who can develop ideas and form strong editorial collaborations with broadcasters. This doesn’t replace but instead complements the increasingly complex commercial skills also required within a distributor.
What is the major challenge in getting factual shows off the ground and how are you looking to work around it?
Squeezed budgets at broadcasters are a real issue. I’ve noticed a decline in the values attributed and contributions made to factual projects in the last 10 years. The middle ground is seriously challenged when it comes to programme making. At TCB, by commissioning our own programmes we ensure a steady pipeline for our catalogue, which is not solely reliant on third party content, as well as then being able to provide broadcasters quality content at an affordable tariff.
What types of factual shows do you expect to become of most interest to broadcasters/streamers over the next year?
As competition continues to heat up, ambition will also rise. I expect to see lots of big and bold bets placed on programming that disrupts and cuts through with either talent, format or subject. Now the streamers with their giant commissioning budgets are not just fending off linear TV but each other as well the sky really is the limit. At the same time there is safety in the familiar, so I foresee the trend for reboots continuing.
How will streamers affect the factual and factual entertainment biz in 2020?
The most positive change that the streamers have had on the factual TV business is to show us that the niche, the feature doc and the difficult topics are not just for the festival circuit, they can bring an audience to TV. They have given the production community freedom to cultivate and create ideas, which 10 years ago – maybe even five years ago – would have been rejected. I can see this trend continuing into 2020 and beyond, giving traditional broadcasters scope to experiment more with subject and form. I really don’t think there’s a better time to be working in factual television.
How is consolidation affecting your part of the business and how do you expect that to change in the coming year?
As more big mergers are finalised you may think smaller distributors would therefore be increasingly challenged with third party content getting thinner on the ground. However, consolidation can be a positive thing for us, with producers wary of their content being lost amongst the shiny scripted jewels that will form the shop window of so many of the new mega companies. Working with a smaller distributor ensures their content gets the due attention and promotion it deserves. Consolidation also challenges all of us working within distribution to continue to find innovative ways to finance programming and build deeper and more collaborative relationships with producers. That can only be a positive.
What show of the past year has most impressed you and why?
The Abused, by Brinkworth Films for Channel 5 in the UK. It was impressive on many levels but first and foremost was a fantastic piece of film making with incredible access at its heart, shining a spotlight on domestic abuse, a subject many would shy away from. They took a risk with the form, following two ‘live’ cases from police call-out all the way to the courts with no indication of where each would lead. Credit is also due to Channel 5 who commissioned it and aired the resulting 90-minute feature documentary in primetime, giving it the exposure it deserved and building on their reputation as a serious player in the UK terrestrial factual landscape.
Have streamers been a positive or negative for the distribution business over the past 12 months?
The arrival of streamers have been more beneficial as we’re seeing more shows commissioned. Streamers play a significant role in a distributor getting its shows produced and distributed. They can also help to reduce or address the deficit and can be a good partner to the traditional broadcaster relationships. While we remain platform-agnostic and seek out the best distribution plan per project, streamers have also generated more opportunities for creative deal-making and global pacts.
How do you predict the commissioning behaviour of streamers and their attitude to rights will change over the next 12 months?
As the number of global streamers increase, the demand for the best shows will increase. The initial first phase of streamers had limited competition. The advent of competition means they may need to be a little more flexible on the most sought after projects.
Which do you expect to grow faster over the next 12 months: scripted or unscripted? And how are you planning to capitalise on this?
There will be growth in both scripted and unscripted. We’ve been building our teams internationally as well as our catalogue as we’re confident that growth will materialize on both sides.
Which show not in your catalogue did you watch and wish you’d had?
You operate an array of streamers, from thriller-skewing Shudder to UK-drama focused Acorn TV. With the launch of catch-all services such as HBO Max, do you think your streamers could be combined?
People will go to our options and choose to exit and enter as they will. There is more capacity for more options that are curated, and that’s what we have with Acorn and Shudder, they are services that are truly curated by people who know and love those genres, and creating that package of content is very attractive to people. There is plenty of room for growth and it’s a good strategy that aligns with our strengths.
Attention inevitably turns to streamers impacting incumbent broadcasters, but how do you see the linear business developing?
Channels are still vital and they are doing well, but of course that isn’t to say SVOD and direct-to-consumer isn’t looming. But linear is pretty strong in the rest of world, still. It’s about focusing on what we do well – and that is distinctive quality programming that is on brand. We need to push that against the various and sundry platforms coming.