Flame’s Fiona Gilroy on how to avoid distribution disasters

Fiona Gilroy

Flame Distribution’s Fiona Gilroy tells TBI about her top six tips to keep the sales process rolling, following her panel session at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) yesterday.

Distribution is an art form itself. To a very large extent successful distribution relies on a distributor’s knowledge of the market, their relationship with buyers and the passion they can transmit for a project.

However, there are other things that can make or break the revenue a title is capable of generating most of which are in the hands of the producer.

Unique is not always good
Having a unique way into a story or a particularly innovative approach can really help a project stand out from the pack but on the flipside, if it’s too unique it can make buyers nervous. The marketing spend to connect audiences to content is very high on top of the commissioning or acquisitions costs. Generally, fewer risks are being taken with eyeballs so hard fought for and easily lost. It’s a fine line, but if it’s crossed, finding a home for content no matter how well produced can be challenging.

Quality deliverables
Having high quality delivery materials can make or break a distributors ability to sell a program. Technical specs for sound and vision are getting more demanding as buyers move to 4K and higher. Having fully clearable underlying rights is critical for any sale and for E&O insurance, also increasingly in demand. And in order to publicise your content you must provide high quality images as a part of your press kit. Journalists aren’t that much interested in photos of the crew in action (sorry), unless they are for ‘behind the scenes’ piece. Images must tell a story and be available in colour, in both portrait and landscape. I have seen buyers pick between two similar programs based on the press kit available to support their marketing efforts, as the visuals can play a key determining factor.

What rights can we sell?
“I have this great series that’s been picked up for worldwide except for X – it’s yours if you’d like to make the sale.” Distribution is a business and while a buyer may be found, the cost of pitching, contracting and servicing the sale has to make commercial sense so most distributors will prefer to have a range of rights and territories to make the time effort required to sell a program commercially viable.

Bad timing
Anniversary and event related content can be problematic if the timing is not right. For example, Queen Elizabeth II’s jubilee saw an avalanche of content on the British royals hit the market as did the 70th anniversary of WWII. Speak to a distributor early if you are slated to create event related content to give the lead time necessary to find buyers and to get a sense of how much of this content is already in production so you’re not hitting the market at the same time as everyone else.

Neither fish nor fowl
While clever combinations of genre can make for interesting viewing, for a linear channel finding the right slot can be a challenge. Well-made and creatively considered content suffers when a buyer feels their slot is not quite right for it. Sometimes content that mixes genre is just ahead of their time. An SBS Australia series, Food Safari – which mixes cookery with travel – was almost completely alien to the program buyers when the series was first released in 2005 and then took several years to take off as the market changed around it. Ultimately, the series sold successfully worldwide. Female-skewed history content is another tricky genre. Most history slots skew older and male, so history programming on fashion, food or other more female skewing subjects can also just miss the mark. Understanding your audience and the demographics of a genre or slot is important when targeting a buyer and/or audience.

Getting that right tone

Sometimes even the most well researched and carefully crafted content can hit the wrong tone when dealing with sensitive subject matters. Content around paedophilia, violent crimes, racial or religious intolerance can be difficult for buyers who are concerned about alienating their audiences. Considering cultural differences pays off too. In the cookery space for example many buyers have audiences who are averse to seeing alcohol or pork in recipes. So, its vitally important to thoroughly understand the territories and respective audiences on a much deeper level, in order to tailor your product to the right buyer and at the right time.

Fiona Gilroy is content sales & acquisitions director at Flame Distribution. The article above is based on her recent appearance at the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC), which ran 28 February – 3 March.

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