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The fine art of balancing funding equations

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Panel: Balancing Both Sides of the Funding Equation Pic courtesy: Mipcom 2005

Of late, many a kid’s show, even when greenlit by a broadcaster does not see the light of the day.

The problem? Falling short of that last 15 to 25% funding of the budget.

The Solution? Was the topic of discussion in the post lunch session on Day2 of MIPCOM Junior 2005.

The session ‘Balancing Both Sides of the Funding Equation’ was organised in partnership with KidScreen Magazine and was moderated by Kidscreen News Editor Nancy Lees.

Panelists included Cartoon Network International (UK) SVP Original Animation & Acquisitions Finn Arnesen, Moonscoop (France) V P & Executive Producer Nicolas Atlan, Kickback Media (UK) MD John Bullivant, Canal J Programme Director Pierre Belaisch, Decode Entertainment Inc (Canada) Partner Neil Court and Teletoon (Canada) Director of Original Production Madeleine L?©vesque.
Cartoon Network’s Finn Arnesen and Moonscoop’s Nicolas Atlan
Pic courtesy: Mipcom 2005

Broadcaster’s Reality:
Multiple methods for access to content has made things difficult for broadcasters. They now have to come up with more content, innovative ideas and overall better quality.

Predicting what consumers will like is also not an easy business. Which means that the executive out there in charge of commisioning shows, in order to be secure, has to lay bets on multiple options. While there is a finite pipeline that takes content to the consumer, the infinite options and the pressure to be riding the right horse create chaos and more content than can be served has already been ordered.

Producer’s Pandora:
Firstly its not easy being a content producer. One has to maintain balance between controlling creativity and thinking commerce even while astride the roller coaster of managing the production. On seeing the broadcaster’s green lamp, one thought that all had been achieved and nothing could now stop the show from coming on air and becoming the next L&M wonder. Alas, there’s still a substantial cavity in the budget that needs to be taken care of.

Now where is the root of the problem?
Kidscreen’s Nancy Lees moderated
the session
Pic courtesy: Mipcom 2005

Kickback Media’s (which creates, manages and exploits character based properties across a range of mediums with the mantra being â€?Character is King not the Mediumâ€?) John Bullivant was of the view that there was an overload of content, “Too much content being produced. So much content and so less pipeline for it to flow through” he remarked.

Sharing a broadcaster perspective, Cartoon Network’s Finn Arnesen and Teletoon’s Madeleine L?©vesque were of the view that a lot of times the producers weren’t doing their homework and needed to know more about the way the broadcast programming cycle works.

“Increase of demand has seen a lot of content being commisioned. The chaos is only becuase of lack of knowledge like Who/What/When/Where and Why” shared L?©vesque.

“Producers ought to do their homework and approach us with shows that fit into our profile” added Arnesen.

Decode Entertainment’s Neil Court emphasised that the onus was also on the broadcaster to guage the producer’s capability before saying yes to a show. Citing the example of the Canadian Broadcasting scene he pointed out, “Canadian broadcasters before commisioning a show check out the producer’s funding plans and that helps because then only projects whose producers can see through the entire production are considered”

Rising Costs
Another wind which was fueling the fires of funding problems was that of the rising costs of production. Canal J’s Pierre Belaisch pointed out,”The last 6-7 years have witnessed a lot of upscale in quality and not only a lot of content going around but production costs are sky-high and it becomes difficult even for established producers to do a full series completely on their own”

However Teletoon’s L?©vesque felt that improved technology meant more options and cost reduction opportunity.”What I see is the reducing of budgets. Huge choice of possibilities in terms of design and technology”

“Technology can bring costs down but one still has to pay a good amount for good story/ voice over and pre production” shared Arnesen.

Decode Entertainment’s Neil Court
and Canal J’s Pierre Belaisch
Pic courtesy: Mipcom 2005

Multiple Partnership Co-Productions
Decode’s (which has been doing a lot of Co-Productions) Court said,”In co productions it is very important that everyone in the partnership knows the deliverables and benefits for each. There has to be total transparency otherwise the project gets nowhere. We all have to agree together, finally the producer’s choice to select”

Quite often in co-produced shows in Canada and France, there is a good share from the funds provided by the respective Governments. Kickback’s Bullivant remarked,”France & Canada have decided to protect their culture and invest in cultural shows. No incentives to do anything in UK. No tax credits, no government support. The money that you get is in the sales you make”

Producers!”Get Financially savvy” / Broadcasters! “If you have to say no, say it soon”
Kickback Media (UK) MD, John Bullivant
Pic courtesy: Mipcom 2005

Was that the balancing mantra being sought? Maybe.

Cartoon Network’s Arnesen elaborated,”I am lucky to have a development fund. We can get scripts and Bibles etc. But finally budgets have to be in place. A lot of the great pilots made over two years get commisioned by the broadcasters and then the studios recline that it cannot get funding. Producers need to get financially savvy”

Teletoon’s L?©vesque added,”Many a times the biggest block is when one encounters creative producers without the necessary business acumen. It is most necessary to have that acumen. There’s a lot of producers who dont pay attention to what broadcasters are looking for”

“There have been instances where producers keep on investing time, resource and money on developing projects, simply becuase the broadcasters need more to see before deciding” retorted Bullivant, adding that, “Broadcasters have to be honest & straightfaced. Far better to be told no in the beginning rather than doing rounds, getting script, pilot plus three or more episodes and then being told it doesn’t work”

Adding more to the topic of business acumen, Moonsccop’s Nicolas Atlan commented,”As the producer you are the manafacturer and the way you make the money is out of your production. The only way is to keep much of the production in-house”

What about discipline?
Bullivant’s take: “We are, after all, a manafacturing industry, we are not disciplined enough becuase we are creative, but that is not an excuse.Dont do things just based on a creative idea. Controlling creative instincts is the cornerstone of our business”

What about conviction?
Where there’s conviction there’s no risk. Why would a producer have a funding problem if he was deadsure that the show he was making was good enough? Moonscoop’s Atlan stated that,” At one time we can talk about funding, at one time the producer has to believe in the show and take the risk”

“Another way of approaching it is to turn the system on its head. You can produce the entire series and then sell it” he added.

“Pokemon was turned down 4 times before it finally got a nod” he concluded.

Now, That’s the way it is!

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