MIPDoc International Coproduction Summit: Strategic & Practical Takeaways from the Expert Roundtables

The MIPDoc International Copro Summit gathered 40+ industry leaders to discuss coproduction trends, challenges and solutions.

FORMAT:

  • The Summit kicked off with my mini-presentation on the forces that are shaping how producers and buyers are approaching copro’s in this new, high-pressure ‘Age of Netflix’.
  • A panel discussion analyzed a Case Study: Life of Earth: From Space, a co-production between Zee Entertainment, Talesmith UK, and the Smithsonian Channel.
  • Small groups responded to three big questions and shared their Takeaways.

TAKEAWAYS

Here are the key Questions and Takeaways from the group discussion:

1.Where is there space for co-productions?

How do coproductions fit into the Demand Ecosystem?

  • There is currently an excess of broadcast-quality factual programs in the pipeline.
  • Most of the time, TV network buyers prefer to wait until documentaries are completed so that they can purchase the rights economically from the catalog.
  • There is little incentive to coproduce:
    • Networks will pre-buy or coproduce only if there is a special anniversary,
    • Or if the editorial responds to intense local interest,
    • And if there is a need to share budget on a very ambitious project.

What is the frequency of copro’s?

  • There are not many coproductions per broadcaster a year because copros cost a lot, are work-intensive, and take years to develop.
  • For example, SVT Sweden coproduces 5 times a year when there is something Swedish in the project.
    • They don’t need to coproduce: they can acquire completed documentaries for a lower cost.
  • NHK Japan coproduces mainly for their own projects because they need more budget.
    • They coproduce mainly with French and German public television and PBS.
    • NHK coproduces about 50 projects a year.

Which genres are suited to copro’s?

  • Science, Space, Ancient Civilization, History, Current Affairs/Investigation.
  • Co-productions are for ambitious projects. France TV for example needs international copros for their primetime Science slot.
  • Spectacular, big story-telling is needed whatever the genre.

Which budget levels?

  • Coproduction means contributing 20% or more of the budget.
  • The range is from 100 000 to 200 000 USD/EUR and up to 1 million per hour per broadcaster, depending on the channel and the project.
  • “The minimum budget levels to justify copros are around E120,000 / hour.”

Coproduction is really co financing:

  • That means retaining rights and therefore sharing the investment, risks and rewards of developing and owning those rights.
  • It’s an opposing model to the OTTs/SVODs like Netflix that increasingly want all rights for all territories.

What are the new opportunities?

  • There are more and more big TV networks and players who want to co-produce.
    • BBC Studios for example wants to coproduce more than before.
    • There are also new opportunities in India, China and Korea.
    • “We look for people we already know, but we also look for new partners.”

India is an interesting new player

  • Zee TV says that Netflix India is relatively free from regulation, which is pushing established and new local media players to understand what global content should be.
  • The new global perspective of the locals then drives them towards finding the global partners who can help them develop and share costs on competitive programs.

Two Dimensions: from Regional to Global

  • One dimension is the regional alliance, which broadcasters are more keen on today than ever before.
    • These include established EBU alliances and a comparable cross-border network that is forming in South East Asia.
    • (ZeeTV is working a lot with Malaysian and other regional partners.)
  • The other dimension is the bridge beyond the regional to form global alliances.
    • For example, Smithsonian Networks finds ZeeTV to be a promising new partner.

The Netflix factor?

  • Netflix actually is not necessarily a competitor for the established public broadcasters and commercial networks.
  • But it has opened up both the need and the possibility to offer higher-quality programmes.
  • Now that Netflix has raised the bar for the quality and for the higher budgets that are needed, co-production is the natural solution and is more necessary than ever.
  • On the other hand, Netflix and its new SVOD/OTT competitors like BBC/Discovery buy worldwide rights. This limits the availability of their catalogs, for example for the public broadcasters who for years have co-financed BBC Studios wildlife productions. This recent shift that has not yet been fully understood.

2.How do you select coproduction partners?

Selection/deselection guidelines fall under the headings of Harmony, Communication and Trust:

  • A compelling showreel is a great way to raise interest from a network.
  • The reputation of the producer is a key, including track-record, capacity to put deals together
  • Persistence and determination are needed.
    • It takes years to develop an international coproduction.
    • 4 years is not unusual.
  • It is important to meet often at markets and congresses (MIPDoc, MIPCOM, Sunny Side, WCSFP, etc.)
  • Complementary:
    • Each co-producer has to bring something unique in the project.
  • The relationship must be Win-Win.
    • You need to make your co-producers happy.
  • You need to work on the long-term.
    • You create relationships for the future, not only for one project.
  • When there are moments of panic, you need to fix things, and so producers have to be problem solvers and should never give up. Generosity is needed.
  • Important to limit the project to 3 or maximum 4 partners.
  • You need to get on well, to have the right chemistry. You need trust and to be sincere when there are problems.

3.What are the key editorial and production processes?

How often do the partners need to meet?

  • Define at an early stage the working plan & calendar, to set up common meetings at key stages of the project  — and in any case arrange meetings every six month at international markets.
  • Regular telcoms must take place to develop a true working team.
  • It’s vital to agree decision-making timelines and production milestones so that producers can keep the momentum of production going.

Can trust overcome different interests and cultures?

  • Challenges to copros come not just from language differences but even stylistic differences, such as between European and American broadcasters.
  • It’s always a matter of weighing up advantages of copro’s with the many challenges and cost of delivering different edits. The advantages have to outnumber the challenges to make it worthwhile.
  • The principle of coproduction has been the same, though the ecosystem is rapidly changing.
  • Coproduction is a difficult business, but with TRUST we can overcome any difficulty.
  • Building the solid relationships and trust is the key, and whether or not it is hard, we have to continue coproductions in order to share costs and enrich our programming pipelines.
  • Re-versioning by each co-producer must be done most of the time.

Moderators

  • Ruth Berry, Amanda Groom, Peter Hamilton

Table Leaders

  • Paul Heaney TCB MEDIA RIGHTS
  • Sayumi Horie NHK
  • Pauline Mazenod WINDROSE
  • Bo Stehmeier RED ARROW STUDIOS INTERNATIONAL
  • Axel Arno SVT
  • Martin Pieper ZDF
  • Thomas Spencer  CJ E&M Korea

For ReedMIDEM / MIPDoc

  • Amandine Cassi
  • Lise Giuriato
  • All of the delegates expressed their gratitude to the organizers for a very well-planned and enlightening Copro Summit.

Sponsors: Antartica Films

Coproduction Case Study : Life of Earth: From Space.

My Key Slide:

Don’t Miss

Below: Prepping for the pitch session with the pitchers.