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Format Awards

US indies ‘on a cliff edge’

NATPE: The US independent production sector is close to collapse as networks squeeze producers to breaking point, according to leading executives here in Miami.

Brent Montgomery

Brent Montgomery

Development expenses and multiple layers of management were cited as reasons for ballooning costs for indies, prompting producers to call for change.

“The networks don’t want to put us out of business – we’re their pipeline – but we’re getting pretty close to that point where there won’t be an indie production community,” said Brent Montgomery, CEO of ITV America.

David Garfinkle, co-owner and exec producer at Renegade 83, said the indie sector had to change to secure its future. “We’re at a tipping point, we’re on the edge of a cliff. You hear it all the time from the networks’ perspective, with execs saying the system is broken. But it’s the same thing from our side; they’re squeezing us so tight on margins but we’re their development arms.”

Garfinkle said “mindsets” needed to change between producers and networks, while Montgomery added that broadcasters must be “educated on how our business works.”

SallyAnn Salsano,

SallyAnn Salsano,

SallyAnn Salsano, founder and CEO at 495 Productions, said excessive management layers and too many notes were also driving up costs. “If I’m doing episode one and my third cut is the first one going to the decision maker, that’s a mistake. It’s a US$100,000 mistake that often they won’t eat.”

Montgomery added: “The development exec at executive producer level has no clue what the senior VP or exec VP really wants. But they’ve been given a little bucket of money to spend and we’re spending the same. Then the idea goes to their boss and they say they didn’t even want that genre of television. It’s got to change.”

Marc Graboff, president of global business and legal affairs, production management and studios at Discovery Communications, defended the networks, adding that he would consider sharing rights with indies.

Marc Graboff

Marc Graboff

“In success, everyone should participate. But when you’re a network and you’re paying 100% of the cost of production and you take all the risk, you’re entitled to expect that you’ll have the vast majority of rights to distribute and exploit.”

Graboff added that if producers wanted to “put skin in the game” with deficit financing then Discovery would be “open” to splitting rights and distribution.

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