×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Indie Producers Face a TV Movie Squeeze, but Streamers Are Looking to Buy

When Hallmark Channel contacted American Cinema Intl. president Chevonne O’Shaughnessy about producing a movie set in the Amish community, she immediately sent an outline for one. ACI had already produced three Amish-themed movies for other outlets, so she figured she’d quickly be brought on board.

But O’Shaughnessy says Hallmark didn’t call her back. And she couldn’t figure out why — but then started watching the channel. After going on a Hallmark movie binge, “all of a sudden it hit me,” she says. “I didn’t have a dog. So I added a dog. And I got a call back. It was that simple.”

The TV movie business is a fickle one, even in this era of Peak TV and new streaming services. The independent producers behind made-for-TV films must navigate tiny budgets, narrow audiences with specific tastes, outlets that want to own those titles and just a few traditional networks that still buy such projects in bulk.

Speaking at the American Film Market earlier this month, Reel One/Lance Entertainment chief strategy adviser and producer Pierre David took issue with the notion that the demand for made-for-TV movies is growing. “That’s not true,” he says. “The TV movies market is a pretty specific market.” 

In the traditional TV long-form world, there are just two major network buyers: Lifetime and Hallmark, both of which run upwards of 125 original movies a year. Other channels, including UP TV, BET, Ion and Syfy (which used to buy much more long form) purchase just a handful. Domestically, David says those movies can fetch $150,000 to $250,000 for an initial window, with another $150,000 potentially coming from overseas territories — such as French broadcaster TF1. 

The networks commissioning movies rarely deviate from their formulas. Lifetime original movies VP of programming Tia Maggini says her channel is looking for films that are either biopics, inspirational true stories, ripped from the headlines or Christmas themed — with a few outliers that are usually based on known intellectual properties. 

“Our job as producers is to service their brand — to do what’s been working for them,” says Motion Picture Corp. of America
CEO Brad Krevoy. “They understand their brand, and all their movies fit their brand. Every network has its own set of rules.”

With limited budgets come limited salaries: Writers and directors might be paid between $10,000 and $20,000, shoot days are limited and often productions are filmed nonunion. Krevoy says he has found a way to produce films with more shooting days, with bigger casts and without ducking the unions by working in Ontario, Vancouver and Bucharest, where a strong dollar and tax incentives keep costs down.

Meanwhile, as the linear TV landscape narrows, Krevoy says he’s bullish on the streaming marketplace. It frequently means  giving up ownership or control on a project, but for a producer for hire, streamers offer bigger budgets and potentially more opportunities to produce a broad range of projects. 

“These next five years are going to be boom times,” he says. “How do you capitalize on that? Our business strategy has been to assess each one of the streamers and what they’re looking for.”

Outlets like Netflix are balancing their run of prestige films (like “Roma” and “The Irishman”) with lower-budget movies that satisfy a variety of audiences. Krevoy’s company has found success targeting millennial audiences with the “A Christmas Prince” trilogy, as well as “The Princess Switch” and “The Knight Before Christmas,” both starring Vanessa Hudgens. 

“They play younger than Lifetime or Hallmark,” Krevoy says of Netflix’s movie needs. “We found Vanessa Hudgens is the perfect spokesperson for that generation. So we started designing properties that would work for her. All those movies index on Netflix. We’re not allowed to talk about how they do, but for the smaller budget, under $10 million, [‘The Princess Switch’] competed well.”

Krevoy also notes that Netflix doesn’t need to be advertiser-friendly, which is why another movie he recently produced for the platform, “Holiday in the Wild” (starring Rob Lowe and Kristin Davis), tackled the subject of animal poachers. “What we were shocked to find was Netflix really wanted to do a movie like that,” he says. “But they didn’t have to worry about blowback from potential advertisers as a network might have.”

O’Shaughnessy, meanwhile, has found another niche to pursue at Netflix: stories inspired by popular films, but with predominantly African American casts. “We’re looking into different markets and where their shortfall is,” she says, pointing also to faith-based and “inspirational” films.

MarVista Entertainment chief operating officer Tony Vassiliadis believes there will be more opportunities for companies like his as new entrants such as Disney Plus and HBO Max take back content that had been licensed elsewhere — leaving streamers like Netflix or Hulu with specific programming holes to plug.

“One thing we’re looking at is efficient filmmaking at a low price point to fill in some of the theatrical content needs that streamers or international pay TV players will [now have],” such as romantic comedies and thrillers, Vassiliadis says. “What we’re trying to figure out is how to take the hallmarks of a TV movie — a known audience and a budget you really have to target — and apply it to any of the emerging platforms.” 

More Digital

  • PewDiePie aka Felix KjellbergFelix Kjellberg 'This

    PewDiePie Announces He's Taking a Break From YouTube in 2020

    The gamer behind YouTube’s most-watched channel, PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg), announced in his latest Pew News video, posted Saturday, that he is planning to take a break from the platform next year. Towards the end of the video, which slams YouTube for its inability to effectively enforce its latest policy updates, Kjellberg says, “I [...]

  • Cenk Uygur

    Bernie Sanders Retracts Endorsement of Young Turks Founder Cenk Uygur After Backlash

    Bernie Sanders pulled his support for Cenk Uygur’s congressional bid, with the Vermont independent in part acknowledging that Sanders’ supporters were “frustrated” about the endorsement. Sanders, who’s running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, cited Uygur’s announcement Friday that he would not be accepting any endorsements. In a statement, Sanders alluded to sexist and other [...]

  • Tana MongeauStreamy Awards, Arrivals, The Beverly

    Streamy Awards 2019: The Complete Winners List

    The 9th Annual Streamy Awards — honoring the best from YouTube and online video — were held Friday night in Beverly Hills. Tana Mongeau (pictured above) was named Creator of the Year and Rhett & Link’s “Good Mythical Morning” won Show of the Year in the two fan-voted Audience Choice categories. David Dobrik picked up [...]

  • NBC News - Quibi

    NBC News Digital Workers Form New Union

    A group of approximately 150 editorial workers who help produce some of NBC News digital content have formed a union, citing a desire to push their employer to work more seriously through such issues as equal pay and the recent handling of sensitive stories. Editorial employees of NBC News Digital won certification of their union [...]

  • Fox Nation Tests Holiday Programming

    Fox Nation Tests Holiday Programming

    The Fox Nation streaming-video service has long been touted as a new option for super-fans of the Fox News Channel. But some of the broadband hub’s new programming choices suggest adherents of “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity aren’t looking solely for chatter about politics and interviews with members of the Trump administration. Subscribers to [...]

  • Facebook

    FTC May Stop Facebook From Integrating Whatsapp, Instagram

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is weighing whether it should seek an injunction against Facebook to prevent the social media giant from integrating services like Whatsapp, Messenger and Instagram with its core app, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Regulators fear that Facebook’s app integration plans could make [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content