July 2013
Volume 33 No. 5

October 2013
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What Irks TV Executives About the Industry

We all know what we love about this business — that’s why we’re here in Cannes, right? (And we do all love Cannes, especially at MIPCOM, don’t we?!).

So, it takes a particularly brave person to come out and say what he or she doesn’t like about this business. VideoAge spoke with a few of these courageous folks. Others, possibly because of the large number of dislikes that come up, ultimately “didn’t feel comfortable talking” about any of them.

American-born Don Taffner Jr. grew up in this business — his father was a pioneer and legend of the early international television business (even though he didn’t like VideoAge, erroneously thinking that it caused the demise of the old-timers’ favorite TV/RadioAge) — and so the chairman of the U.K.’s DLT Raydar Rights has seen it develop over a long period of time. And he wasn’t shy about sharing: “The thing I dislike about the modern business is the way it is now all about numbers; creative people are being replaced by widget sellers. Once people running the channels were all creative; people who had grown up making programs.” Taffner lamented the fact that “now, channels are increasingly run by people who have grown up counting the cost of making programs.”

He also believes that, “this change can be seen at markets such as MIP and MIPCOM. In the 1980s you would have meetings that lasted, possibly, up to an hour. And, more importantly, people made decisions — they agreed to deals. Now meetings are much shorter and the best you can hope for is that the buyer will go home and ask Business Affairs if they can do the deal they want to.”

Paul Heaney, managing director of the U.K.’s TCB Rights, also shared this observation. “So much of what you hear at a market like MIPCOM is just talk. You come out of a meeting thinking you have a deal and weeks later you discover that you don’t — and you never did,” Heaney noted. He also said, “knowing what is for real and what isn’t is down to the sales person, their understanding of the market, their instinct and their personal relationship with the buyer. But the truth is that a lot of people wearing ‘buyers’ badges’ are really just squirrels — all they really do is run around collecting nuggets of information on what is available and on what sort of terms.”

Like Taffner, Heaney also sees negative consequences to these developments. “For one thing, channels will increasingly buy shows for the wrong reasons — because they have the right number of episodes or the deal is better — rather than doing as they should and just buying the best show.”

Heaney believes that these observations are, “just another way of saying that, in common with many other businesses, this is a business that is becoming increasingly risk averse.” And while he readily understands that, “if you are spending a lot of someone else’s money then you want to make as sure as possible that you are going to make the right decision,” like Taffner, he also sees long-term consequences for the business.

For Heaney another problem is, “a real narrowing of the product range.” As he observed, “there was a time when you could say that certain programs would sell well in certain parts of the world and not in others. Now, once a format is successful everyone wants the same thing.”
Someone whose job it is to produce “the next big thing” — in children’s programming at least — is Russell Dever, managing director of 1461 Productions, whose big pet peeve comes in the form of “people who are set in positions above us mere mortals, and yet hold our livelihoods in their often inexperienced hands.”

Dever has spent the last 16 years executive producing kids’ animation, having previously worked in children’s publishing, and, as he said, “it takes a lot of guts, and no small amount of skill, to look at a project, say yes ‘This is the one. This has a chance in the Wild World of International Television. Is it cynical, but not too sugar coated either? It is playful, but educative; silly and yet compulsive and does it have the very best of slapstick set in the heart of great drama? The writer wants to take it one way, the storyboard artist another. You tell yourself ‘this is studio life’ and you carry on. You lavish the time and the money needed to develop the project to the point at which it is ready to be presented to the international television market.

You live and breathe nothing else for six months. You risk your home, your life, you are mortgaged beyond your nostrils, but now, finally, you have a pilot to take to a broadcaster. You show them a wonderful clip of extraordinary CGI animation in glorious technicolor, leading into the full episode in storyboard form and they say…‘the colored bit is lovely, but I really didn’t like that bit in black and white — but if you decide to do it in color, bring it back and I’ll see what business affairs has to say.’”

Moving to North America, one concern on the minds of Canadian execs is that foreign-owned OTT services such as Netflix earn large revenues in this market, while making no contribution to the Canadian broadcasting system. Broadcasters warn that Netflix and similar unregulated online services erode their customer base, while they are still required to air and invest in Canadian programming.

For independent cable and other services, there is a concern that a vertically integrated company such as Bell, which recently acquired Astral Media, might pay a premium for all rights for a title — from pay up and down, for an exclusive and lengthy period, in effect taking it out of the market.

For Steve Arroyave of Toronto-based Arrow Entertainment, “there are too many movies being produced and too many people that should not be making movies.” Arroyave also doesn’t like the fact that “studios control 80 percent of the market.”

Moving south, Emilia Nuccio of Echo Bridge Entertainment lamented “the amount of time that is wasted in the process of selling,” and those who tend to “dump their whole catalog at the buyers’ feet, instead of presenting what they really could need.”

Susan Bender of Bender Media Services Corp. dislikes “the arrogance of the 22-23-year-olds coming into the industry thinking they know everything, when in fact they know very little.”
For John Cuddihy of NPN Media, the most annoying aspect of this industry is “the way international buyers are monopolized by the U.S. studios.”

From Los Angeles, newly appointed EVP and general manager for Lightning Entertainment Ken DuBow said that “traveling is the miserable thing about this industry” and the fact that some “buyers stretch the acquisition process from market to market.” Similarly, traveling is also the most annoying aspect for Herb Lazarus, president of Carsey-Werner International.

A studio executive confessed that the most annoying aspect of this industry is the lawyer who will do anything to slow down the sale process. At times, said the executive, especially when they fully trust the buyers, they complete the sale without involving the legal department, which could be problematic when the audits come in. But it’s an unavoidable problem.

Consultant and former studio executive Gary Marenzi considers the “complexity of today’s contracts,” one of the aspects of the industry that he dislikes. The other is “the changing definition of rights.”

Gary Lico of CABLEready said one relatively small thing that irks him is the tendency of market participants to ignore the need for personal space. “I’m not OCD, I’m not a germaphobe. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a hugging guy, but I think so many people these days aren’t aware of their personal space. Sometimes I’ll turn to the person I’m talking to when someone walks into me and ask ‘When did I become invisible?’ I’ve lost some weight, but I’m not invisible yet.”

Lico said he’s learned not to get annoyed when people are no-shows for market appointments. “In this day and age you can get a lot done while you’re sitting and waiting.”
But there’s one thing that still annoys him. “If they have bad bourbon at the bar — that irks me.”