John Pollak, the president of worldwide television and international at Electus, and Electus CEO Chris Grant talk to TV Real about the ins and outs of the brand-new international factual co-production business model branded “6/26.”
Last month, Electus International took the wraps off its brand-new international co-production business model, branded “6/26.” The brainchild of John Pollak, the president of worldwide television and international at Electus, the model brings together four international broadcasters—Australia’s Nine, France’s TF1, Germany’s NITRO (RTL Group) and the Nordics’ MTG—which are looking to co-commission original unscripted series from U.S. producers, as well as other independent content creators globally. The broadcasters will hear pitches and ultimately greenlight shows, committing to equally co-fund an initial straight-to-series order. Electus, the producers and the international broadcasters will share in backend participation from the distribution of the unscripted content outside their territories, including to U.S. networks.
TV REAL: What led to the creation of this new 6/26 model?
POLLAK: Over the last couple of years, we’ve been having conversations with overseas broadcasters who were a little bit frustrated. Years back, they were able to get great U.S. content from producers and broadcasters—like factual-entertainment series that would air on Discovery, National Geographic and HISTORY—that would perform really well for them. As those U.S. channels started to build up their international presence, the shows that they would produce for their U.S. networks would go to their overseas channels. A lot of the international free-to-air broadcasters weren’t able to get those shows anymore. They came to us and asked, “Can Electus begin to develop content for us directly? The same kind of shows that we have acquired in the past, that you guys do so well, can you produce just for us? We’ll commission it, be the lead broadcaster and then you can take that content and sell it back around the rest of the world.” As a model it made sense, and creatively it made sense. Financially is where it hit a wall. They couldn’t always afford to produce the shows at the same level that U.S. broadcasters do. The shows that they wanted, they couldn’t afford.
In the last couple of years, we, like many others in the U.S., have grown a bit frustrated with the development process and how long it takes to get a show [going]—it takes forever! Chris, myself and the group at Electus are always thinking about how to do things internationally and break free from what we’re held up with here in the U.S. So we started thinking, the scripted co-production model has been done by everybody, everywhere for decades—it’s how scripted is now done. But nobody has really been able to crack it on the unscripted side. Using the relationships that Chris and I have from the past 15 years of working in the international business, we thought, why don’t we create an unscripted partnership of broadcasters? We spent months trying to get together four likeminded broadcasters; it took some time and convincing, but they were feeling the same frustrations that we all are. They felt that it was worth taking a chance on. It started with RTL (NITRO) in Germany, then Nine Network in Australia, MTG in Scandinavia and TF1 in France.
TV REAL: How did you go about assembling this initial roster of partners, and why is this a good representative group to kick things off with?
POLLAK: They are likeminded; they are all looking for the same kind of content, which to start with is factual-entertainment programming with a slightly male skew (as we evolve we’re going to expand beyond that to have female-skewing content, bigger entertainment formats and maybe even scripted). The fact that these broadcasters have heavily relied on U.S. unscripted content to fill their schedules in the past was ideal for us. Also, we intentionally didn’t have a U.K., Canadian or U.S. broadcaster, since it was important for us to take the content that comes from this partnership and sell it back into the U.S. These broadcasters are also all on the same level; each of these territories is pretty equal in its reach, and that allows us to have everyone put in an equal part for the budget and participate equally in the back end.
TV REAL: What types of producers are you looking to work with?
POLLAK: We’re looking for producers who are like us, who have the ability to produce great content and have a long history of doing so. We are leading the change, obviously. We are aligning with producers like David Garfinkle [Naked and Afraid], Tom Forman [The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, Who Shot Biggie & Tupac?] and J.C. Mills [Glass Entertainment Group], who are helping us source content from producers on the east coast. We’re looking for independents that have the ability to produce at a budget, who are responsible and know how to tell great stories and produce great series.
We’ve already been having conversations with producers out of the U.K., Scandinavia, Canada, Australia. Beyond that, the networks are going to be pitching us content as well. That’s a very exciting opportunity. Under this model, we can have broadcasters like Discovery, Paramount, Nat Geo or HISTORY come to us and say, “We have a show that we love, we just can’t afford or don’t want to pay for the entire budget. Can your group come in and cover the rest of the budget?” In exchange for covering say, a third of the budget, these broadcasters will relinquish international rights that Electus can distribute and monetize throughout the rest of the world. And that broadcaster in the U.S. can have that great series they want but at the budget that they want to produce it for because we’re able to cover the deficit through this coalition.
GRANT: That can also extend to U.S. broadcast networks. Many of the outlets that we deal with on a day-to-day basis are constantly trying to innovate and figure out how they can do more with less, how they can keep the quality of their programming at a high level or even higher level but for the same or less investment. A lot of the U.S. broadcast networks take really big swings and will spend a lot of money on a specific project, but they still have other needs [for their schedules].
What is so great about what John was able to do is that he put together a group of top-tier international broadcasters whose desires for content [are similar to that of U.S. broadcasters]; certainly there have been shows on ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX that have been on these four [international] broadcasters before, so why can’t that happen again? It’s a more global way of looking at the development and programming process.
TV REAL: What types of programming will Electus be putting forward as part of this coalition?
GRANT: The first thing that is important to us is that the model is served and served effectively. This is an innovative model, and what we want is for the model to succeed. It’s imperative to us that the best shows shine through. As it pertains to the shows that we are going to put forward, we have had a longstanding relationship with all of these broadcasters, which is why we were able to put together this sort of a [partnership]. We have a good idea of what will work for them, what they are looking for and we’re excited to talk to them about our development slate and [projects] that we perhaps have halfway down the line with a network or cabler and can bring it back around with these four broadcasters. We’re focused, first and foremost, on making sure that this is a winning solution for these four broadcasters and for the producers that are involved, including us.
POLLAK: There are three main ways that the content can come together. One is that there’s a brand-new original idea that has been developed, created and hasn’t been pitched anywhere, and producers want to begin by pitching this group. Another great opportunity is when a show was down the line in development with a broadcaster, and for whatever reason the rights were reverted back to us or the producer. We’re giving them the opportunity to pitch those shows back out to the international market and get them made. For producers that have believed in a project but it ultimately didn’t move forward, those are the shows we want to hear about! We want to be able to take those to the group. The third way is when a show sells to a network and the network offers international [rights] if we can cover a third of the budget; that’s ideal! If we can pitch a show to this group that’s already been developed, sold and is ready to move forward, and all it needs is financing, that’s a great scenario.
TV REAL: What are your aspirations for the success of this model?
GRANT: We’re really excited about this model. It’s an exciting time for the unscripted business. New and interesting companies are popping up and are able to make headway in selling content like they never have before. As the medium changes to include premium documentaries, so on and so forth, it isn’t so much of the heavy-handed system. It’s reminiscent of the early days of unscripted. The genre is evolving, which it needed to do, since it was becoming a bit redundant. We think that this is the perfect model to work with a lot of these new companies and innovators. We would love to hear from anyone as it pertains to ideas, be it for the 6/26 model or other ways for us to partner to bring content to the marketplace. With all of these new [platforms] to sell to, it’s a great moment to be in the unscripted business.
POLLAK: It creates a dialogue that didn’t exist before. It allows producers in the U.S. to pitch broadcasters in Germany, and Australian producers to pitch broadcasters in Scandinavia, and producers from around the world to pitch us to represent their shows in the U.S. It’s about trying to change the model and create opportunities for everybody out there. Electus has always been at the forefront of trying to create new ways of doing things, new genres and new shows, and this helps reinforce that.