Following last month’s examination of broadcasters & streamers, format expert Siobhan Crawford continues her monthly column exploring the global format business with a look at producer relationships.
Producers. I love them. I choose to work with prodcos over direct-to-broadcaster pitches any day. Why? Because they care – about acquiring the best content, perfecting that local pitch and making sure they get renewals, as it is in their interest too. So, should we stop right now and say these people care the most? Or, perhaps we should highlight some big considerations when choosing producers and explore producer behaviour.
Own content vs third party
This is the crux of the ‘caring argument’ for producers. Will they service your content if they have their own internal content? How will they prioritise it? Will they respect your material or get inspired? Will they end up burning the content in an effort to pitch fast?
This is where strategy offers are more important than option offers. We all know that €3-5k options will not change our success rate, but ensuring you select a prodco whose DNA matches the content with some experience in the genre or just a really good strategy, they are your people. But let’s not forget, many of us also rely on returning business with the same partners because of trust. I said when choosing a distributor to remember the experience. It is vital here too and it will tell you if a prodco is acquiring for the right reason or because their central team have told them to pick up a format because it is hot.
Holding on tight to talent
The drive towards talent-led programming has seen a number of prodcos attach a talent management side to their business or retain a roster of exclusive talent. This means sometimes an international format is suited specifically to a talent in a territory and therefore you only have one producer to go to.
This is the ‘own content versus third-party debate’ again but with the added factor of talent that is so important to today’s commissioning. So, you place your format with the prodco, you pray they work hard with it and don’t drop it nine months later because they decide to focus on an internal idea with their talent. Production community – let’s make you aware now, if we recognise your USP then don’t just work with our content until you develop your own (hopefully uninspired), because this will reduce our trust in you. Let’s be frank, the majority of hits don’t come from inside a company. They come from acquisitions. So don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Formats can take up to two years to commission in some territories. It is a debate every company has – when to invest in their content. However, no one and I mean no one, can turn a format into a hit without willing and proactive format owners. If you want a hit, you cannot hand someone a format and wait for the cheques. You have to give us your time too, your commitment to continually update material and invest some of those cheques in the future evolution of that format!
As a distributor, I do not want to take your content on if I will use my relationships to sell your format and then the client is disappointed because they have a 30-page bible cobbled together for their format fee and a production consultant that is too busy or non-existent.
Put your hands down
One problem I have seen is people being ‘paid’ to care – prodcos requiring incentives to work with content they did not create. We appreciate that you will never love anything as much as your own but the practice of backend shares and free options should end.
The UK and the US are particularly bad at this. And let’s look at expectations – the idea that sales may increase after your commission is announced is optimistic. Distributors usually have many pans in the fire before broadcasters finally approve a press release and, Alter Ego, you can kill a format just as quickly. If a format exists and needs to be substantially changed or a spin-off is created, then those hard working, caring folks need rewards. But otherwise, just say no.
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