Producers’ reality

Pressure's on for unscripted skein creators

While it’s harder than ever for broadcast webs to turn a profit these days, business is that much harder for reality producers whose names aren’t Mark Burnett or Ben Silverman.

That’s the word coming from industryites speaking at Thursday’s year-in-review luncheon hosted by the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors.

Panelists discussed the ever-expanding role of the unscripted producer, now forced to present buyers with a show and as many added-value components — pre-attached advertising, for example — as possible.

Nely Galan, creator-exec producer of “The Swan,” said the days of producers sitting back and collecting fees are over. “Unless I come in with the extras and show buyers that I’ve done some of the work,” it’s difficult to get anything off the ground, she said. “We all need to be more entrepreneurial.”

And while emerging revenue streams — VOD, product integration, foreign, et al. — were deemed promising, consolidation has made it difficult for producers, particularly of reality TV, to get a share of that extra coin.

WMA senior veep John Ferriter said: “You have to stack the deck to protect yourself and your product. Companies are so big now, they’ll take everything otherwise.”

But E! Networks prexy-CEO Ted Harbert said such add-ins mattered little to him. “It’s nice, but I only care about the show.”

Tribune Entertainment prexy-CEO Dick Askin also cautioned against so-called stacking the deck.

“Attaching advertisers can mess things up quite a bit because certain deals can kill product categories,” he said. “It can backfire without consulting the potential buyers.”

Harbert, a former ABC programming chief, attributed some of the problem to the flawed economics of the current broadcast game, describing a system in which each of the major nets get by with one or two bona fide ratings hits and a slew of underperforming originals — most of which cost just as much as the winners.

“That math doesn’t work,” he said. “We’re all at the casino, but I think those (broadcast) guys are at the slots, putting in $1 million with each pull of the arm.”

Panelists agreed that cable has an easier time putting shows into production, armed with a dual revenue stream that virtually ensures profit year to year.

Harbert and Ferriter acknowledged the arcane nature of the network upfronts but also predicted change on the horizon.

“As soon one network pulls out, things will change,” Ferriter said. “But it will take that one person — a TV visionary — to say that we don’t need to do this anymore.”

Television Week’s Alex Ben Block moderated panel.

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