TV’s appetite for scripted product has the potential to yield “a golden age of independent television,” former CBS Entertainment chief Jeff Sagansky told attendees at the Independent Film & Television Alliance conference on Friday.
Sagansky, who is currently chairman of Hemisphere Film Capital, cited a confluence of events – including the 65-70 U.S. channels or platforms currently ordering scripted series, and the “explosion” of multichannel households globally – as drivers, saying, “The table has been set for the biggest revolution that the independent television production marketplace has ever seen.”
Sagansky noted that independents have acquired an advantage because of the cost pressures on the marketplace and the high overhead of the major studios. The tax credits offered by various states and countries are also a major boon to financing production efforts, he said.
Sagansky counseled producers to develop a broad range of network relationships, both in the U.S. and abroad. Still, he suggested there is particular demand for the experience of U.S. writers in producing series that can fulfill longer orders than the limited productions normally lensed in the U.K. and elsewhere. “Our writers have a lot of know-how. We have to use it,” Sagansky said, calling this “a unique moment.”
For many years, independent producers have been in decline, squeezed out of the scripted primetime production game by the decline of the TV movie business and the elimination in the 1990s of the financial interest and syndication rules (or fin-syn), which placed restrictions on how much of their programming networks could own and produce.
Several U.S. TV writers have turned to international co-productions to finance their work, and even the major networks have become more receptive to acquiring series originated abroad.
During a subsequent panel NBC Entertainment Prez of Program Planning Jeff Bader pointed to “Rookie Blue,” a Canadian series that’s been airing in the summer on his former network ABC, as an example, while referencing the networks’ need to “get shows that are at multiple price points” to help balance and reduce the cost of their schedules.
John Penney, exec VP of strategy & business development for Starz, also spoke of new digital distribution platforms such as Netflix providing “a unique shock absorber” to help underwrite TV costs, adding that even with roughly 140 scripted dramas currently being made, the market remains incredibly competitive.