London TV Screenings Insights: Gerbrig Blanksma, SVP, international sales & partnerships, Blue Ant Media

Airborne (Source: Blue Ant Media)

As buyers flock to the UK for London TV Screenings and BBC Studios Showcase this week, TBI talks to the bosses of more than 25 distribution companies to test the temperature of the global content industry and to find out how the next 12 months are shaping up.

Here, Gerbrig Blanksma, SVP of international sales & partnerships at Blue Ant Media, discusses building producer relationships, expanding the team and streamers’ newfound rights flexibility.

What three words would you use to describe the state of the TV/streaming industry as a whole right now?

Resilient, transitional, consolidating.

What three words would you use to describe the state of the distribution sector right now?

Tenacious, creative, solutions-oriented.

With fewer shows being commissioned, how are you securing your pipeline?

We are taking multiple approaches to securing content. We have made strategic acquisitions to build our catalogue and have content across multiple genres, including: scripted, unscripted entertainment, formats, high-impact documentaries, live-action kids & family, and animation.

We also have content from our channels business. Love Nature is a destination for award-winning natural history series and documentaries available on top-tier pay-TV platforms and streamers in over 100 countries worldwide. As Love Nature grows, so does its brand equity and the scope and pedigree of the projects they commission. As the distributor of those projects, we continue to grow in scale as a result. With our expanded catalogue, we can now have different conversations with new and existing clients, enabling us to use our strengths as creative deal-makers.

Another strategy to maintain a steady flow of ratings-winning content involves building strong relationships with leading third-party producers. Our aim is to collaborate with premium content creators, providing pre-sale financing and distribution services for their content. This, in turn, helps us serve our growing number of channel clients globally. we can collaborate and leverage our insight to create a wider scope of opportunities.

And we are always looking at ways of revisiting old successful IP – it’s the 3R’s: reimagining, re-versioning and rebooting recognisable hits.

Gerbrig Blanksma (Source: Blue Ant Media)

What is the single biggest difference in the discussions you’re having with buyers today compared with 12 months ago?

The content industry is becoming more open to various deal models and flexible with terms and rights, as everyone’s need for content is increasing, resulting in innovative ways of selling.

Blue Ant is a one-stop shop with the flexibility to create bespoke deal models that help our clients secure content. Strategic windowing and a willingness to limit or share in some rights are being embraced by more platforms and channels, and our deal structures are tailored to meet the needs of our partners. We are still independent, which allows us to be agile while working with the best producers. We can also source co-production partners if a channel cannot finance a show.

We are utilising all aspects of our business, including production, distribution, and channels, to develop innovative ways to collaborate with platforms and maximise our capabilities in these three areas. For instance, we can offer our platform partners pre-packaged channel opportunities, as well as exclusive premieres for premium content. Additionally, we have a vast library of evergreen and returning series that we can provide to our partners in high volumes.

How do you expect global streamer demands for rights to change in 2024 compared with 2023?

We are seeing a lot more M&A and we are also seeing more flexibility. Clients are open to exploring new rights models and windowing strategies as a path to partnering on originals and pre-sales.

We are also seeing global streamers sharing territory rights. A great example is Davey and Jonesie’s Locker, where the series was co-financed with Hulu in the US and Amazon in Canada. Blue Ant co-financed the project and represents the series in the rest of the world.

Given the structure of Blue Ant and our access to a wide variety of business models and financing, we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this newfound flexibility.

Where does the opportunity lie for you in 2024?

In the past few months, our business has undergone a series of changes that have widened our knowledge base across various genres and territories. We have a team of experts leading all areas of our businesses in different markets worldwide. Our territory groups are clearly defined, and we are deeper in markets. These changes are key to finding opportunities globally.

Last fall, Jon Penn was announced as managing director, Asia Pacific, leading distribution sales for our owned and third-party programming, and affiliate sales for Blue Ant Media’s pay TV and FAST platforms. Jon is headquartered in Sydney, Australia, with the recently appointed VP of distribution, Jason Soh, based in Singapore; and senior director, international sales & acquisitions, Nick Solowski, resuming multi-regional content sales in China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. ATF was the first market where we have a combined channel and program distribution team operating as one unit to superserve the region.

We recently announced the appointment of Marine Ksadzhikyan to the newly-created role of VP of content sales. Her role on the team will be focused on identifying further growth opportunities across all platforms in the US. Leveraging Blue Ant Studio’s diverse and growing catalogue of over 7000 premium hours of content, Marine’s remit will include securing a wide range of partnership models with key players across both owned series and premium third-party programming. She reports to Bryan Gabourie and operates from the LA office.

As well, we have also strengthened our team in London to have more capacity. With Lilla Hurst heading up acquisition strategy, Ben Barrett focusing on pre-sales, Bryan Gabourie and myself overseeing important territory groups and teams, we’re able to give both our production partners and our licensors solutions-based service to fit all of their needs.

Tell us in no more than two sentences about the biggest problem facing the distribution industry and what needs to change so it can be overcome.

The demand for TV content is always there, but the industry has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Recently, we have observed a decrease in the number of distributors that channel partners deal with, so in order to be included in the list of preferred suppliers, it’s crucial to have strong, established relationships with them and fortunately, Blue Ant has already built strong relationships and is positioned well to continue doing so with existing and new partners.

Tell us about your top show at London Screenings & why we should buy it

During London Screenings, we are launching pre-sales for our largest budget, blue-chip natural history offering from Sky Nature and Love Nature: Airborne, a four-part series showing the unique challenges and ultimate freedom of animals that use the air to survive and thrive. Produced by Humble Bee Films, this series is full of stunning, never-before-captured footage and incredible natural storytelling that immerses audiences in the incredible point of view of animals in flight.

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