Opinion: Who cares about your content?!

Siobhan Crawford

In the first instalment of a monthly column, Siobhan Crawford, head of sales and acquisitions at Benelux format distributor Primitives, walks through the process of partnering with a reliable distributor.

At a time when original formats are needed more than ever, we have a deluge of derivatives filling our inboxes and recommissions filling our screens.

So one exasperated day I asked myself – who actually cares about content? Are our actions reflecting that we actually care about the content or is it just business? Each month I will be shifting my focus to one group in our industry and asking – who really cares?

Let’s start with distributors – most of us are delightful. Truly. We are friends who rarely feel competition between our companies (except when commissions are announced and we believe our show was better). We all have different DNA and specialities. But we are also not all ‘good’ people for your content journey.

There are plenty of people we need to ‘choose’ in our journey to a commission and distributors usually come at the start of this journey. You must align yourself with good (content) people if you want to progress but also be informed, protected and perfected!

There can be too many sacrifices and mistakes when choosing distributors and that is because some have fallen firmly on the business side of caring. Strategic and commercial reasoning prevails over wanting to help and guide the format creators with good basic ideas that need too much TLC.

The people who care will guide you through the commercial negotiations, making you aware of industry standards and avoiding pitfalls like revenue share, loss of IP, high distribution fee, packaging costs, excessive options and inappropriate partners. Let’s be clear, 30% total or 25% +5% is the most you want to agree for distribution fees and no, you don’t pay for 1/6th of the distributors MIPTV stand!

NO to five-year terms and exclusive distribution deals. YES you can exclude territories if you have ongoing negotiations or agree a lower distribution fee if the distributor ends up closing a deal with the same client you spoke with. Ask distributors for
their strategy, don’t get distracted by advances and remember the experience of working with them. Life is nothing if not a lesson.

Money vs love

I have never paid an advance on content. Ever. What I have offered is my honest opinion, managed expectations and commitment to love your content like I love my son.

The international groups may offer you a five-figure advance (and yes, I know the value of money) and then your format launches and ratings are ok, the groups have 10,000 internal formats and after a year you are still waiting for your first sale. You become disheartened. I do not know what you were expecting? I am not opposed to the big groups, I just believe they have limits.

Media Ranch, Magnify Media, Primitives, Line-up Industries, pick a name and I promise you these superstars work harder for you than a group. It is not rocket science. They have to. They actively acquire third-party formats worldwide as their own pipelines are not guaranteed, they are independents that mostly don’t have local prodcos in territories – but they are hustlers and – importantly – format experts that can help tweak the format for international, position it correctly against and identify competition and will cherry pick partners for you based on compatible companies DNA.

Make them work for it

How a distributor works on your behalf is important. So you need to remember:

• If you are going to get in bed with a distributor, talk to another distributor friend beforehand to see if there is anything clever you can do to the contractual terms

• Investigate how many formats a distributor takes to market, large internal catalogues and exclusive catalogue deals spread companies too thin

• Ask what the strategy is for the content – is your distributor going to ask for £5k for an option to a paper format in the UK and end up putting good people off?

There are ‘good’ people who will care almost as much as you, but you need to ask around.

With 17 years in unscripted format distribution, Siobhan Crawford is a format expert who has worked at DRG, Zodiak, Banijay and is currently head of sales and acquisitions at Benelux format distributor Primitives

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