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Paul Heaney on distribution

Developments In the world of distribution

Paul Heaney, founder, TCB Media Rights


What does scale mean? Is it the snake-like covering that people used to, or maybe still, say distributors have around their bodies? You hear it a lot and you can’t compete in the distribution world unless you have it, apparently. It’s probably true.

Scale is size and it buys you a lot. It’s a currency. You trade with it, and it’s not readily available to others. It’s a vital oil that lubricates the wheels of business.

Scale drives rights leverage and retention, gives companies a better bargaining position, possibly better licence fees, possibly even more attractive content and definitely an increased profile, achieved sales targets and happy investors.

Scale, however, and the quest for scale, can drive operators in the rights exploitation world out of business. Businesses can become so obsessed with growth that it can overtake all other considerations and make you lose focus.

The ‘super distributors’ talks to all of their customers all of the time about everything, the best ones can be in the vanguard of innovation, can challenge old models and move the industry forward. Their ‘must-have’, primetime hit makes them the people to see if you are launching a new platform, device or idea.

Spider-Man has been quoted a lot recently but as he so sagely said ‘With great power comes great responsibility’.

Is there an alternative? Yes there is.

New businesses in the tier below the scaled-up operators have many advantages, that if they are playing the cashflow game in the right way, can help them thrive. They can enjoy ALL of the benefits above by being one thing: relevant. If you can attract content that is reasonably mainstream but extremely valued, in an area in which you can offer extreme expertise, relevance is paramount.

When you launch a business you start to obsess about ‘gaps in the market’ a bit like like Haley Joel Osment did about dead people in Sixth Sense. I see it everywhere, honest!

But is there enough relevant content out there to go around?

Yes there most definitely is for the right operator in the right place. For every one indie that is consumed into a super indie, or merged, another strikes up on its own, and another emerges from an expired deal.

This isn’t enough however. To enable your business to muscle in and thrive you need cash to compete. Otherwise you risk solely organic growth, and once you’re out there in the shop window, your new content has to come in thick and fast. Cash allows you oxygen to breathe in the higher altitudes where the best content is available to be acquired, rather than remaining in the foothills.

Do all of the indies want a big lunged beast with deep pockets?

Yes sometimes, if they feel it’s collaborative and their business will grow with the profile it will give them. ‘No’ can easily be the answer too. The indies may feel they are merely numbers towards a target number of acquired content in a fiscal year.

Continuing the analogy, being Sherpa like, nimble and fleet of foot ,allows you to steal a march over rivals in areas some producers are really hankering after these days, being able to cofinance and presell shows, and work with them at the earliest possible stage.

In my recent experience, indies are resolutely ambitious, wherever they are and crave growth and success.

The old models of representation are almost over. There have been too many casulaties. Time to call a truce and inspect the carnage. As a rights exploiter starting now you need to be staring down the same content pipeline as your potential clients. Working with them at an early stage is essential, but you have to move towards being a scaled-up operation. From here will come the innovation, selling content at early stages, or to emerging platforms, that will attract more like-minded indies.

If you are helping production companies greenlight quicker, if you can help them develop a format and sell it, if you can work with them from development, you are growing both businesses. If they are not already linked to a content pipeline through ownership, new emerging companies need to find a way for that to happen.

Only by having some form of ownership of the content itself can operators thrive in rights exploitation, but they have to earn the right.

New distributors must use their nimble powers not just by working at the earliest possible stage on IP, but by looking at the big players and their innovations and experiments involving advertisers, and revenue stream developments.

There is more than enough content to go around, but the best IP, that which commissioners jump at, that is relevant and from producers who make stuff that rates, is much rarer, but still there all the same.