Whose rights are they anyway?

Position:Production and finance - Mammoth Productions
 
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As the business of financing content becomes ever more expensive and complicated, it becomes necessary to involve ever more partners. But the more partners a producer involves, the more rights they each have to give away. Holding on to enough to make the whole exercise financially meaningful can be a tricky business. VideoAge investigates.

For Justin Bodle, chairman and CEO of U.K.-based Power Corp, producers of Flood Ice, and the new NBC Sam Neill vehicle, Crusoe, the question of rights retention is a story with a very simple plot line. "The bigger the percentage of the budget not paid for by the broadcaster," asserted Bodle, "the more rights they have to give up to cover the shortfall." That seems to be a no-brainer, and is an assertion supported by Australia-based Southern Star International's chief executive Catherine Payne, who noted, "The key factor is the producer's ability to complete the financing of the production through a combination of other broadcaster pre-sales, investment against distribution rights and accessing subsidies and other forms of investment."

The mood of unanimity appears to be continued by Michele Buck, joint managing director of Mammoth Productions, a new British indie, 25 percent owned by ITV and responsible for the recent BBC primetime drama, Bonekickers, and ITV'S Lost in Austen. "Obviously," observed Buck, "if you are looking at co-productions then, by definition, you cannot keep all rights outside your territory, as you have to give something to other partners in return for their investment." But the unanimity starts to thin, as Buck continued, "however, if you are making a parochial drama it is still reasonably common for the commissioning broadcaster to fund the show 100 percent, and then, of course, you are able to keep everything."

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Power's Bodle, by contrast, believes that, "in the case of drama, it is now very hard to make a decent hour of primetime drama on the budgets any one country can afford to offer," he said. "Over and above that, if you want to make something appealing to the international market, then you will certainly need several broadcasters contributing to the pot."

They also appear to diverge over the relative ease of holding rights for projects with high-end budgets. For Buck, "once you get into high-end budgets then holding on to rights does become a lot more difficult, as this will mean that you are almost certainly talking co-production, and, as I intimated earlier, once...

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