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The co-pro conundrum

There is no question that the current market for financing kids programming is tough - as tough as I have ever known it. In the good old days, the typical role of the producer was to originate great ideas and then come up with a way to get those ideas produced. The producer was a financial planner who, once a broadcaster or two was on board, would approach a distributor to take on international rights. Distributors took on the risks and traditionally did quite well with such investments. The broadcaster's role was to understand and define its audience and then buy shows to satisfy that audience. It all seemed so easy - maybe too easy.
October 1, 2002

There is no question that the current market for financing kids programming is tough – as tough as I have ever known it. In the good old days, the typical role of the producer was to originate great ideas and then come up with a way to get those ideas produced. The producer was a financial planner who, once a broadcaster or two was on board, would approach a distributor to take on international rights. Distributors took on the risks and traditionally did quite well with such investments. The broadcaster’s role was to understand and define its audience and then buy shows to satisfy that audience. It all seemed so easy – maybe too easy.

In today’s reality, it is becoming increasingly difficult to finance shows in the international market. With license fees going down (and budgets either rising or remaining constant), the gap between greenlighting and not has widened dramatically. While you might think that the market would adapt to this new reality and find new ways of doing business, that hasn’t really happened to date, but it must – and soon. We need to find ways in which we can link different broadcasters’ needs together in order to make a show work, both creatively and financially. To achieve this, broadcasters must be prepared to work alongside like-minded broadcasters in other countries and, more than that, must actively seek out and nurture relationships with these other channels.

Why isn’t this happening more extensively? After all, there are fewer creative barriers in children’s entertainment than in adult drama since animation can cross most cultural divides. And while live action presents a greater challenge, we must remember that kid-centric issues and themes tend to speak to kids the world over, not just to kids in one arbitrary territory.

A problem in the past, and perhaps one that explains many broadcasters’ reluctance to adopt the co-pro model, is that shows can evolve into something unrecognizable from the original concept. There have been instances where broadcasters discover that the show that they originally ordered is not the one being delivered. I do believe that this is avoidable as long as each broadcaster is appropriately involved with its respective partners. Provided that all of the partners agree early on what the show is and who the audience is, then the creative review process should chug along smoothly.

For that to happen, a certain degree of autonomy must be afforded to the producer. We must remember that a co-production is a practical means to better finance a show but should never negatively impact that show’s creative.

Of course, all of the broadcasters involved in a co-pro must be confident that the lead producer can deliver the show to the highest technical and creative standards, but the producer must then be allowed to do just that. Shows produced by committee tend to have that ‘co-pro soup’ consistency to them in which a bevy of disparate elements are introduced at the request of many partners. A good show is dependent on a strong vision.

Whatever side of the co-pro model fence your opinions fall on, I do believe it’s here to stay. In a multi-channel universe, where TV revenues are increasingly spread thin, I don’t think we’ll ever return to a time when one license fee is sufficient to finance a show. Despite that, we still have a responsibility to deliver quality entertainment to our audiences, and co-production remains the most effective means to that end.

Talk Back: We would love to hear what you think about the issues and ideas presented in this opinion column. If you’d like to respond, please e-mail your comments to KidScreen Editor Jocelyn Longworth (jlongworth@brunico.com).

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