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Big labels look to small screen

Record labels turn their attention towards television production

The television and music industries have always been closely connected, but with record companies launching fully fledged production arms, TBI looks at the effect on music programming

The Rolling Stones’ lead singer Mick Jagger had his own sitcom, Elton John is set to present his own primetime variety show and The Osbournes are the model for a raft of character-based reality shows.

Music programmes featuring well known artists have moved on the days of merely showing rock stars live in concert. New music-related format ideas are creating much buzz internationally and have prompted the major record companies, notably Universal Music and Warner Music, into creating new divisions tasked with turning their artists into multifaceted superstars.

Universal’s Globe Productions launched last year and has spent the last six to nine months developing ideas that take programming beyond the traditional band-in-a-studio-with-fancy-lights setting. General manager Iain Funnell says that it is looking at new ways to present its artist’s career, following the demise of series such as Top of the Pops and Popworld.

"Everybody sees the future with music-related comedy and drama. We could look at ideas that link comedy and music," he says. The opportunity to link stars to certain shows would, for instance, allow the label to take advantage of an Amy Winehouse appearance in a sitcom in a way it wasn’t able to when Jon Bon Jovi appeared in Ally McBeal five years ago.

Warner Music Group’s US operation has also created its own production unit, Den of Thieves. Fronted by former MTV executive Jesse Ignjatovic – who is responsible for mtvICON and Meet the Barkers – the group’s first commission is for episodes of Diary for the Country Music Television (CMT) network. It will also focus on scripted programming.

Interscope Records, home to artists such as Eminem and Marilyn Manson, has also been working on TV ventures. The latest is in conjunction with Hollywood studio CBS Paramount to coproduce big budget drama Cane. The label’s boss Jimmy Iovine, and senior exec Polly Anthony, are executive producers on the show, which stars Jimmy Smits, and includes music from the label in the show.

Anthony says: "I was in a foreign land but I realised you can take this executive in the music business and this TV exec and [interchange] them. We can take our music and give the show a vibrancy."

But not everyone is convinced that the major labels are cut out for TV production. Terry Shands, chief executive of Eagle Rock, which produces around 60 music shows a year says that the major labels are not equipped to make the specialist shows that the business is hinged upon and which accounts for most of the music spots. "The major record companies continue to play in this field but it’s a niche business and they’re not great at niche business. They tend to spend too much money and find out six months down the line it hasn’t really worked out. They’re always going to keep their platinum selling artists, but drilling down we can be quicker off the mark," he says.

Following a management buy back, staff now own 60% of Eagle Rock. "We’re one of the best kept secrets – in most years we do US$8-10million in broadcast sales, which is more than a lot of small distributors," he adds.

While the record labels will be prioritising artist opportunities, these divisions must also make independent revenues. "Advertisers are desperate to reach the 15-35 demographic and the channels keep telling us that they want music shows," says Funnell. "But kids are turning off traditional TV and the online world has become a huge thing. The next big show could be something that starts online and then goes to the TV as a second window."

Indie producer and distributor 3DD is also lining up a number of new series that it hopes will appeal to the Myspace generation. Director of music and acquisitions Lara von Ahlefeldt says: "We’re looking at part scripted, part reality. There are some brilliant formats out there in a development stage that are very exciting ideas." 3DD produces shows such as the Album Chart Show, which it sells internationally as London Live, and co-produces Later with Jools Holland. It also distributes the documentary I Trust You To Kill Me, which follows 24 star Kiefer Sutherland as he tour manages his band Rocco DeLuca and the Burden, exactly the kind of hook, many music based programmers are looking for.