Necessity Is Mother of All Co-productions

Sharing costs creates high-end hopefuls but also requires finesse

NBC's "Hannibal"

Television is tricky these days: Producing programs is more expensive than ever, and with so many ways to watch, drawing a big audience is challenging. Yet when they do make their choices, viewers expect big, beautiful, expertly crafted productions.

The attempt to navigate these conflicting demands with co-productions — often across continents — has a direct influence on what viewers see on their TVs.

Co-productions spread economic risk among several partners, making it easier to cover a production’s upfront costs, but in success, all must share the spoils. Moreover, working cooperatively can present a challenge if the vision for a certain show isn’t shared.
Still, demand for high-end productions is creating a market for these shows, forcing companies to come up with creative ways to finance.

“As production costs escalate, the need for premium content has never been greater,” says Paul Buccieri, prexy/CEO of ITV Studios and managing director of ITV Studios Intl.

ITV is rolling out “Mr. Selfridge,” starring Jeremy Piven, around the globe. With its Jan. 6 premiere on the U.K.’s ITV, “Mr. Selfridge” drew more than 9 million viewers when seven days of viewing was counted. The show already is sold in 35 territories — including Australia, Belgium, Finland, Israel, Norway and Sweden — with more on the way. It premieres March 31 Stateside on PBS.

“You need to find different ways to monetize that content and spread out the risk,” Buccieri says. “There’s always been an insatiable appetite for great narrative dramatic storytelling. It hasn’t diminished, it’s only gotten greater. The challenge is the economic modeling that allows you to get that storytelling produced at the highest level.”

What: The TV Summit
When: 9 a.m. Thursday
Where: Sheraton Universal Hotel
Web: variety.com/tvsummit

France-based Gaumont, which opened its U.S.-based production studio in 2011, is prepping two series for premiere: NBC’s “Hannibal,” starring Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelson, on April 4, and Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove” on April 19.

“We aren’t always just looking at the U.S. — we’re looking globally from the beginning of our development process,” says Gaumont Intl. Television prexy Katie O’Connell, NBC’s former head of drama. “Hannibal seemed like a character who would travel around the world and have resonance.”
Indeed, whether a show’s characters, locations and stories will have international appeal are some of the key factors that companies consider when taking on a co-production.

“When we have something that we feel is going to have equal relevance in multiple markets because of the show’s setting or shared cultural history, that’s probably when a co-production makes the most sense,” says Showtime entertainment prexy David Nevins. “When you are doing a show that’s intrinsically American set in an American city, there’s no need for a co-production. We only do it when there’s some defined financial advantage.”

Showtime is developing “Penny Dreadful,” which is being written by John Logan (“Gladiator,” “The Aviator,” “Hugo,” “Skyfall”)  and will be exec produced by Sam Mendes and Mendes’ production partner at Neal Street, Pippa Harris.

“It’s a psychosexual horror series,” Nevins says. “It’s set in London, and it lends itself to co-production. We’re talking to people in multiple countries, but we’ll probably end up doing it with just one in the U.K, France or Germany.”

Technological advantages also have made co-productions more feasible. For example, Showtime’s sprawling epic, “The Borgias,” is produced in Ireland, Hungary and Canada, and Showtime works with production companies in each of those countries on the series.

Some production companies still prefer to take all the risk and keep all the gains. HBO entirely produces “Game of Thrones,” a lavish production that stretches across four countries: Ireland, Iceland, Croatia and Morocco.

“We’d rather not participate in co-productions,” says Warner Bros. Intl. Television prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger. “We’d rather take the risk and own the full reward. Rather than partnering with (producers in) a bunch of territories to lower our risk profile on the deficit, we would prefer to own and control our programming, take the risks and bet on success.

“It takes a lot of money to be in this business. You need to be pretty fiscally powerful. A lot of companies don’t have that financial ability so they need to syndicate, so to speak, their risk.”

TV Summit Highlights

9:45 a.m. Keynote Conversation with AMC Networks COO Ed Carroll
Interviewer: Variety Editor-in-Chief TV Cynthia Littleton

10:15 a.m. State of the TV Business
Participants: MTV programming prexy Susanne Daniels; TNT/TBS/TCM programming prexy Michael Wright; BET Networks original programming prexy Loretha Jones; and TruTV COO Marc Juris

11:15 a.m. The Worldwide TV Boom
Participants: Endemol North America chairman/CEO David Goldberg, FremantleMedia North America CEO Thom Beers; One Three Media COO Brian Edwards; Disney Media Networks prexy of worldwide distribution Ben Pyne

Noon. Transformative TV: Next Generation Networks Turn Now
Participants: Red Bull Media House managing director Werner Brell; TV exec producer and director Joe Davola; YouTube content partnerships director Malik Ducard; Machinima exec marketing veep Kevin Doohan; TV Dailies Ipsos MediaCT senior veep of television insights and product manager Ben Spergel; Warner Bros. Digital Distribution head of digital original productions Lance Sloane

2 p.m. Keynote Converation With Chuck Lorre
Moderator: UTA managing director Jay Sures

2:30 p.m. The Growing Power of Hispanic TV
Participants: Zodiak Latino CEO Harris Whitbeck; MediaVest exec veep Steven Wolfe Pereira; MundoFox prexy Emiliano Saccone; Mun2 g.m. Diana Mogollon; NuvoTV prexy Michael Schwimmer; Bunim-Murray Prods. prexy Gil Goldschein

3:30 p.m. TV that Makes a Difference — The Social Revolution
Participants: Participant Television prexy Evan Shapiro; USA Networks senior veep of public affairs Toby Graff; Time Warner Cable corporate social responsibility and community affairs veep Tessie Topol

4:15 p.m. The New TV Everywhere: The Game-Changing Business of SVOD and Second Screen
Participants: Fox Networks Group distribution prexy Mike Hopkins; Universal Cable Prods. COO Beth Roberts; Comcast Cable senior digital and emerging platforms veep Matt Strauss

5 p.m. Showrunners SuperSession
Participants: “Banshee” exec producer Greg Yaitanes; “Defiance” exec producer Kevin Murphy; “Justified” and “The Americans” exec producer Graham Yost; “Rizzoli & Isles” exec producer Janet Tamaro; “Major Crimes” exec producer James Duff; “Sons of Anarchy” exec producer Kurt Sutter