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The anatomy of a SVOD deal

From the first approach, to long-term considerations, and everything in between—distribution execs break down the basics of inking an SVOD deal.
April 1, 2021

From global reach to big budgets, streamers have a lot to offer. But for indie producers and smaller outfits, there are few things more intimidating than landing an SVOD deal. How do you get in the door? What do you need once you get the greenlight? And how do you protect your best interests?

Distribution execs from across the kids content business weigh in on what everyone should know about working with these key partners.

How can you tell if an SVOD is the right place for your show?

Genevieve Dexter (founder and CEO, Serious Lunch): SVODs are great places to go with serialized storytelling, varied episode lengths, programming that would not pass linear broadcast [standards for episodic TV stories and traditional 52 x 11-minute formats], or shows that cater to [co-viewing] audiences.

Anna Moorefield (VP of global distribution, The Jim Henson Company): Budget, footprint and exclusivity are three key factors to consider when deciding where to place a series. If you are looking for a commissioning partner in the digital space, know that there may be a trade-off between securing financing up front and windowing with broadcasters and other platforms down the line.

What’s the best way to approach SVODs?

Moorefield: I have found markets [both live and virtual] to be wonderfully effective for scheduling meetings with new and existing SVOD platforms. However, independent producers who are struggling to make contact can also reach out to third-party distributors or agents to manage these relationships.

What materials do SVODs commonly want to see in a pitch?

Jessica Brinder (VP of international distribution, Genius Brands International): It can vary, but we have found that for original content we are typically asked to provide a script for one to two episodes, a pitch bible, and potentially a trailer/promo. On the acquisitions front, we are generally asked to provide a fully produced episode, along with any supporting information on dubs and performance from previous airings.

Dexter: If you are an independent, you want to give a bird’s-eye view of your project first—help them understand the world you want to create before diving into specific scripts. YouTube data can be important for some [properties], but only if it is truly impressive.

What should you be thinking about as you head into the first negotiations?

Alix Wiseman (SVP of distribution and acquisitions, 9 Story Media Group): An SVOD platform is going to want to know what the budget and schedule is, so you will need to consider [things like] dubbing requirements [early]. Depending on the level of investment, you’ll possibly look at carving out certain rights [such as second-window and AVOD], and in some cases, your finance plan will need to include financing costs because the payment schedules for some platforms don’t kick in until after delivery.

Moorefield: In addition to financing specifics (which would involve payment schedules and government tax breaks), it’s critical to address creative control and approvals during production. Producers should also zero in on how distribution rights are managed. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of securing carve-outs for catch-up on the linear side, and for promotional AVOD/free VOD for both your own social channels and any future partners. Producers will also need to identify how their series will be placed and marketed on the platform. [Giving yourself time] is key, especially as you begin to explore ancillary rights like consumer products, publishing and interactive—all of which require quite a bit of lead time to be successful.

Which deal points typically involve negotiation? What’s non-negotiable? 

Brinder: It really depends on the exclusivity factor of the deals, but they will likely want to negotiate appropriate holdbacks against competitor platforms and linear stacking rights.

Moorefield: Distribution rights, approvals, marketing strategies and budgets [are usually open for negotiation], though these deal points are all very specific to each platform.

Dexter: For commissioning purposes, you won’t get very far trying to limit VOD exclusivity against SVOD, AVOD and free VOD, but make sure to work on the catch-up terms for free TV.

What do producers need to know if it’s an international co-production deal? 

Brinder: You will have to work with your international partners and financiers to ensure no rights issues exist.

Wiseman: The SVOD platform is likely to be looking at creative input from all the key stakeholders, which can add time to the schedule and can be tricky to navigate at times, [so build in extra time on delivery].

What sorts of marketing agreements are common? 

Brinder: Marketing costs are determined on a per-deal basis. The terms are negotiated to ensure both parties can market the IP appropriately. Depending on the nature of the sale, marketing costs can be baked into the production budgets for originals.

Gina Costelloe (director of distribution and content partnerships, Moonbug): With an original or exclusive deal, the SVOD platform tends to do a lot of the marketing. If the deal is non-exclusive, they will have a limited marketing budget, so it’s unusual to see a significant marketing push unless the IP is very influential, like CoComelon, for example.

For non-exclusive agreements, are there typical or standard timelines for sharing the content elsewhere?

Brinder: It really depends on various factors. For originals, the first window of exclusivity on streamers tends to be longer than an acquired property, [ranging] from five to 15 years. For exclusive content, the average range can be anywhere from six months to two years. Acquired non-exclusive content shouldn’t come with holdbacks.

Dexter: Usually one year against home video and two years against TV.

Costelloe: If it’s a non-exclusive deal, you should reach out to platforms simultaneously so you can have a variety of deals launching as soon as possible. If the deal is exclusive, it depends on the commercial agreement that can range as low as three months to two years—it really depends on the platform and the deal term.

How do you handle CP deals and ancillary products? Do SVODs manage this?

Dexter: No they do not. So if you can exploit those rights yourself, that is a bonus—[but] the jury is out on whether SVODs can drive L&M. I think the product has to be appealing in itself, and SVODs provide some advantages, but unless you can usefully exploit the second windows, this is a barrier.

Moorefield: SVOD platforms are becoming increasingly involved in CP and interactive. At The Jim Henson Company, we typically manage these rights ourselves, but we also work closely with our global digital partners to ensure that consumer products, publishing and interactive timelines sync with launch dates. Whenever possible, we also encourage our partners in ancillary markets to direct their consumers back to the series on the platform.

What’s the strategy for building a brand with sequels/spinoffs?

Brinder: Generally, SVODs will want a “right of first refusal” or a first look on any IP extensions—prequels, sequels, spinoffs, etc.

Wiseman: For any show that’s successful on their platforms, the SVOD players are very happy to hear pitches for new or related iterations.

Pictured at top: The Jim Henson Company’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

About The Author
Online writer for Kidscreen. Ryan covers tech, talent and general kids entertainment news, with a passion for kids rap content and video games. Have a story that's of interest to Kidscreen readers? Contact Ryan at rtuchow@brunico.com

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