LONDON — Granada, the cash-strapped ITV company, is giving its lowliest staffers the chance to become overnight millionaires. Philanthropy? Dream on. More of a last-ditch attempt.
The company, demoralized by the expensive failure of pay TV venture ITV Digital, is desperate to find a world-beating entertainment format to emulate the success of Celador’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” or the BBC’s “The Weakest Link.”
To get the creative juices surging and inspired by what is common practice among U.K. independent producers, Granada has introduced a profit-sharing scheme giving employees a piece of the backend on successful formats they originate.
“A lot of independents have always offered their people the chance to share in a show’s success,” explains Granada’s new head of entertainment Paul Jackson.
“Broadcasters now realize that unless they want to see indies making all the running, they’re going to have to adopt some of their practices.”
Under the terms of the Prime Movers initiative, introduced by Granada chairman Charles Allen after meeting format king Endemol’s John de Mol, employees pocket 10% of net profit from sales abroad, falling to 5% if the program earns more than $7 million.
“What Granada is doing is innovative for them and other broadcasters, but they are being led by indies, who’ve been offering these sort of incentives for ages,” reckons David Young, who helped turn “The Weakest Link” into a huge property during his brief stint at the BBC.
Young left to launch his own format specialist Twelve Yard Prods. in a joint venture with indie producer Hat Trick. “Hat Trick, Tiger Aspect and Talkback all allow creatives to share in the profits. If not, they wouldn’t be able to hang on to them,” he says.
“Link” sold to more than 70 countries and earned $14 million for the BBC last year alone. Contrary to myth, Young did not see a penny from it beyond his BBC salary. “That show’s made around $55 million for the BBC. I didn’t mind not getting anything out of it because that was the deal I was on,” he claims, not entirely convincingly.
Despite opposition from the BBC hierarchy, notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to sharing any kind of meaningful rights, Young did take a slice of the profits from other formats he worked on at the Beeb including Saturday night hits “Friends Like These” and “Jetset.”
Granada now has the will, but can it score? As Jackson needs no reminding, success on the scale of “Link” cannot just be summoned with a snap of the fingers.
He has high hopes for “Win the Break,” devised in part by an unnamed junior producer at Granada. Contestants will compete to win the goods advertised in the show’s commercial breaks. Granada is hoping that if and when it sells the format abroad, it will be able to negotiate a cut of the ad revenues generated by the foreign broadcasters.
Granada has recently discussed “Win the Break” with ad industry mavens in the U.S.
Will other broadcasters follow Granada’s profit-sharing example? Steve Hewlett, director of programs at rival Carlton, claims his outfit already shares some of the spoils with staff. “Action Time (the Carlton-owned former indie and game show specialist) operates something similar,” he says.
The BBC’s position is unclear. But if the past is any indication, the financially buoyant pubcaster is unlikely to agree to across-the-board profit sharing without a fight.
“The BBC has all kinds of deals with different people, but Jackson had to push like hell to introduce incentive schemes when he was in charge of entertainment,” says Young.
He adds: “I remember when I left the BBC, people there saying, ‘They’ll never do another deal like the one they did with me because it sets a precedent,’ and I made them $55 million.”