US CABLE: Jeff Tahler of FremantleMedia Enterprises and Tony Optican of FremantleMedia North America offer their views on the US cable business.FremantleMedia Enterprises (FME) is entering the US cable drama market with The Wedding Band, a scripted series produced by FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) for TBS. C21 catches up with Jeff Tahler, senior VP of acquisitions and development at FME, and Tony Optican, senior VP of scripted programming at FMNA, to hear how the cable production business is changing.
How would you describe the state of the US cable market?
Jeff Tahler: There are so many more opportunities to get your product out into the marketplace. The cable business used to be about just ad sales and repeats, and then [the networks] realised they could be real original programming destinations in their own right. In the last three to five years, there’s been an explosion in outlets that are doing original programming. As a seller, it’s a fantastic opportunity because there are more places that want more and different kinds of programming.
We’re in a golden age of television. You’re looking at incredibly high quality, feature-level shows that are being produced on a week-to-week basis for television. We’re getting incredible stuff that you’ve never seen on the TV side.
Tony Optican: As there is more opportunity, there are more people who want to seize on that opportunity. Especially in the Past year, you’re seeing many more players who would have traditionally been in the overseas market trying to come into the US. Not only with formats but with original ideas, because the fact that a lot of the business seems to be trending towards coproduction or co-financing models, a lot of European companies are seeing opportunities where they haven’t seen them in the past.
What financial models are you working with?
Tahler: There are the traditional pitches to cable channels, and if we get a development deal, great. We also look at cross-border or European co-financing models. We either work in conjunction with Canada, where we shoot there and bring it back into the US, or piece together a European coproduction and bring it back into the US. All of those models are slightly different from each other, but because of our global size, we’re operating under all of those models.
We’re pitching original properties to those platforms. Those opportunities within the last year have become very real places to work with. It’s still early days but if we feel something is right for one of them, we have no hesitation in pitching them as an original content platform. And when you bring something to Netflix you know for the most part you’re looking to pitch to them for all their territories.
What are the challenges you face when pitching to a cable channel?
Tahler: It’s a volume game. As we are a boutique, independent and a bit specialised, one of the challenges in cable is they order less and do fewer series. It’s smart but it’s more challenging. We’re not pitching networks in a traditional development cycle.
There are a lot of opportunities we leave on the table because they may not be right for cable and they may be right for broadcast but it’s not the business we’re in. The biggest challenge from a volume standpoint is we need to work doubly hard to get the number of projects out there that we need to because the cable networks are a lot more picky. It’s good because if you get it to pilot, you have a much better chance to go to series. But you get fewer swings in cable than you do in network.What kind of original drama content are cable channels looking for?
At the same time, those places still want their great closed-ended, case-of-the-week shows as well, but there is a bit more of a willingness to stretch the bounds of what they’ve done in the past. It just means we have to step up our game because if they’re looking for potentially closed-ended stuff and potentially serialised stuff, we have to bring them more.
Where do you see the US cable drama market heading?
Optican: There’re going to be a lot more opportunities. When you have a lot more opportunities, you get a lot more players trying to take advantage of them, so you’re seeing more companies in the marketplace trying to get shows made in the cable space. It’s good and healthy competition.
We’re a fairly big company all over the world and when it comes down to it, cable networks want to be in business with people they know are going to deliver really good product to them. There’s definitely going to be a lot of new players but it comes down to looking to players for stuff that will cut through the clutter.