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Tesera Entertainment

Programming Profile

Tesera eyes new opportunities in fast-moving TV movie space


Tesera Entertainment president Gene George discusses the uptick in demand for scripted true-crime thrillers, FAST challenges and how the US company is capitalising on shifts in the market to expand its distribution catalogue.


LA-based Tesera Entertainment is heading to Mipcom in October with an expanded catalogue of over a dozen new TV movies (TVMs) and a growing sense that, even against the backdrop of a broader industry downturn, new opportunities are springing up for independent, nimble distribution outfits with high quality content.


Founded in 2019 by president Gene George, the former exec VP of worldwide distribution at Lionsgate and Starz, Tesera is focused on three main areas: its international distribution business; a fast-growing aggregation business; and now, as a smaller part of the company, some on-going consulting work.


Gene George
Gene George,
Tesera Entertainment

On the distribution side, Tesera handles international sales for English-language TVMs produced primarily for Hallmark and Lifetime in the US, in addition to ION Television, Great American Family and UP TV.


Tesera does not produce directly for either Hallmark of Lifetime, but rather has deals with production companies that produce TVMs for those networks and retain the international rights.


With a focus on Christmas, romantic comedy and thriller TVMs, Tesera currently does most its business in Europe, Canada and Latin America, although it is beginning to branch out into some new territories.


A Royal Christmas Holiday
A Royal Christmas Holiday

New films on its Mipcom slate include A Royal Christmas Holiday, which follows the love story of an ambitious reporter looking for her big break and an impetuous prince sent to New York on assignment; romance movie A Picture of Her, about a woman who, after becoming the subject of an award-winning magazine cover, goes on a quest to find the photographer who took her photo; and The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story, a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller about a 15-year-old girl who, after being captured and assaulted, is able to escape and lead the police to her attacker.


According to George, there have been two key shifts in the international marketplace that have allowed Tesera to increase the volume of titles it distributes.


The first is that several key distributors that, for a time, were aggressively acquiring TVMs and paying minimum guarantees, are not doing so anymore. The main reason for this is major territories such as France and Spain, that were a significant component of foreign revenues, are not acquiring as many as they did in the past.


“France continues to be an active licensee of TV movie product. But networks are much more selective than they used to be. Whereas five years ago, most if not all your product would be sold in France, now not as much, so distributors don’t have the certainty that they’re going to secure a licence in this key territory,” says George.


A Picture of Her
A Picture of Her

“And then, on top of that, Spain was a very active territory for TV movies, but the demand has gone away. Those two territories specifically were driving a lot of distributors picking TV movies, and with fewer distributors aggressively picking them up, product is available for really qualified, boutique, skilled companies like Tesera.”


Another reason is that the likes of Hallmark and Lifetime, which had historically taken worldwide distribution rights on many of the TVMs they commissioned, are being more selective, creating new opportunities for small and mid-sized distribution companies.


As the company has grown, Tesera has expanded its geographical licensing footprint, with Gabriella Ballabio overseeing Italy and Spain, Rita Akkari for Central and Eastern Europe, John Garcia for Latin America and Mike Shepard for Canada.


In terms of which sub-genres are currently resonating with global audiences, George says royalty-focused Christmas movies (including titles like A Christmas Princess and A Prince and Pauper Christmas, in addition to A Royal Christmas Holiday) are proving to be very popular, as well as cooking-themed TVMs such as Sweet on You and Baking Christmas.


The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story
The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story

And while ‘women in jeopardy’ stories have always been a fixture of the TVM space, true crime thrillers (ie. dramatised versions of real-life events) are growing in popularity. As they can be positioned as ‘event’ movies, they can also work in primetime slots, argues George.


“With social media, a lot of these unique true crime stories are transcending globally and people are becoming more aware of them,” he says. “True crime is something that really works well and, in a dramatic form, it’s something you can push to your platform partners and networks as something that could work in primetime.” Specific examples for Tesera in this space include the Lifetime event movies The Gabby Petito Story and The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story, both based on true events.


On the aggregation side of Tesera’s business, which George describes as “incredibly active and prolific,” the company supplies movies to US streamers, primarily AVoD and free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) channels but also some SVoD services. Across several libraries, the company represents around 300 titles through its direct partnerships on platforms including Tubi, Peacock, Pluto, Xumo, Roku, Samsung, Vizio and Amazon Freevee.


Asked whether there are plans afoot at Tesera to move into the FAST space by creating themed channels tied to Christmas or other genres, George says the company is dipping its toe into this area internationally but he does have a positive feeling on the long-term value of FAST.


A Prince And Pauper Christmas
A Prince And Pauper Christmas

Part of this plan sees Tesera partnering with a TV manufacturer this Christmas to do a two-month pop-up channel, which George says will “provide a lot of insight and understanding of what’s happening in that space.”


“It’s still early and there’s probably another 18 to 24 months before we really have an understanding of the opportunity of FAST internationally,” he says.


Part of the challenge is that, in the US, it’s “hard to find real estate,” given that the market is already so saturated. In Europe, meanwhile, where FAST is not as far along in its evolution, George says the challenge for new entrants is that ad-supported television is already so engrained in the viewing model, giving the terrestrial networks a head start.


“Terrestrial channels have a lot of strategic advantages in that ad-supported space, as they’re already doing it. For example, you have ITV and ITVX – they’re already taking an aggressive position, so any new indie FAST channels will have to figure out how to compete with that,” he says.


Sweet on You
Sweet on You

In other non-English-speaking European markets, there would be dubbing costs to consider, often in markets that aren’t yet generating the ad revenue to support the investment.


“It’s going to get there eventually and I’m bullish on it, but it’s something that’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s going to take time before it can establish itself as an effective way to monetise content,” he says.


Like many distributors, Tesera is lending its expertise and market intel to projects earlier in the development process than in the past. While the company plans to remain focused on distribution rather than branching into coproduction, George says Tesera will share insights with the creative teams that could make the content more marketable internationally.


“There are situations where [the production company is] looking at four or five cast members to play the lead, but internationally there could be greater value with some of them than others, so we try to get involved at an early stage and give that kind of guidance. Or it could be the pacing of the script, where we know that things have to happen in the first eight minutes. You can’t drag these things out – these are TV movies, so you have to hook the viewer before the first commercial break,” he says.


Dream Moms
Dream Moms

As for the impact of Hollywood’s dual strikes, George says he has his fingers crossed for a swift resolution, but doesn’t believe it will have a near-term impact on Tesera’s business.


“Many of our suppliers, our producers and content providers, had long prepared for the strike and knew that it was coming, so they had banked a lot of projects,” he says. “I don’t necessarily see that there will be an impact on the product flow for us if the strike goes past the end of the year, which I surely hope it doesn’t.”


As Tesera expands its content library, the company is exploring ways to move into new markets. In the past, when its catalogue was more focused on holiday films, there were fewer opportunities to sell into South-east Asia, says George. However, as its roster of romance and thriller titles grows, he believes new opportunities will emerge in other territories.


“Now we have more romance titles, and specifically ones coming from Hallmark, so we are exploring new markets like India. With some of the growth that’s going on at Tesera, romance is a good category for that market. But the key focus for us remains in Europe, Canada and Latin America,” says George.

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    Year-old distributor Tesera Entertainment has stocked up on festive treats for the holiday season. Company president Gene George talks us through his playlist on C21’s Digital Screenings.


    Los Angeles-based distribution firm Tesera Entertainment was launched last year by industry veteran Gene George.


    George, a former executive VP of worldwide distribution at Lionsgate and Starz Media, set up the company with the primary focus of securing international pre-sales of TV movies for some of his producer contacts.