Cineflix Rights’ James Durie


In February, Paramount+ in Australia will premiere the ten-part Last King of The Cross, a true-crime event drama from Mark Fennessy and the team at Helium Pictures inspired by the autobiography of John Ibrahim. Launched to the global market at MIPCOM by Cineflix Rights, the drama, licensed to Sky, is part of a growing slate of international high-end drama series at the company, sitting alongside returning properties such as Whitstable Pearl, Manayek, Happily Married and Irvine Welsh’s Crime. James Durie, the head of scripted at Cineflix Rights, shares with TV Drama Weekly his thoughts on evolving financing models and the keys to cutting through in the age of peak drama.

***Image***TV DRAMA: How are your financing models evolving in this changing landscape?
DURIE: Between the need for compelling IP and series with international appeal and the demand from the broadcasters and streamers for standout series, the landscape for premium drama from independent producers is incredibly competitive. We’ve also seen a steady rise in production budgets over recent years, so we’ve had to be more creative as a company when we look at financing models and be flexible in our approach. This has meant a greater emphasis on getting in the door at an earlier stage and looking at development funding, but also co-production opportunities to assist in closing off the financing. Traditional deficit financing remains core to our business model, but we are seeing bigger deficits, so finding projects that stand out creatively and commercially for us is essential.

TV DRAMA: What’s your sense of what buyers and platforms need in drama series today? What does it take to gain attention in such a crowded space?
DURIE: The two most consistent things we hear from buyers are cast and IP. Firstly, premium-level talent can make noise, assist in the promotion of the series and bring audiences to a given project. Secondly, IP they can market effectively, connect with an audience with more immediacy and build into a high-profile, returning brand. That was our feeling when acquiring Last King of The Cross; not only did we have a series that was inspired by a best-selling memoir, but also it had the potential for some great casting in established Hollywood star Tim Roth as Ezra Shipman and the very talented Lincoln Younes as John Ibrahim, which, coupled with the explosive story, makes it a compelling series for buyers.

TV DRAMA: Are you seeing greater demand for long-running returnable shows or event pieces behind which broadcasters/platforms can put significant marketing weight?
DURIE: Both types of formats have advantages. For long-running returnable series, there is the obvious advantage that you can build brands around them, bringing back a loyal audience season after season, and that is something we have ambitions for on Last King of The Cross in the same way that we’re doing with other series such as Whitstable Pearl, Irvine Welsh’s Crime, Manayek and Happily Married.

We’ve also seen demand for limited event pieces, which have been very successful in recent times. Event series can make for incredibly entertaining television with many opportunities for impactful stories and interesting, high-level casting. Audiences are responding to this type of programming—a shorter number of episodes, which is easy to consume, particularly across catch-up and on-demand—so it serves broadcasters and platforms alike. Cineflix Rights is actively in the market for this type of drama, and we have several projects in our development pipeline that we’re very excited about bringing to the international market soon.

TV DRAMA: What changes, if any, have you made to your windowing strategies?
DURIE: There’s been a gradual shift toward tightening windows. We’re always looking at the commercial value of a series over a long-term period, not just first-cycle sales. So, for us, windowing is incredibly important because it enables us to extract the maximum value from a given show, which is vital for our distribution business and our production partners who want to see the best returns. With the proliferation of VOD, as distributors, we’ve been given greater opportunity to sell a show to multiple platforms in one territory, so to ensure we monetize our content effectively, we are always assessing how we sell over two or three windows and beyond, and that means establishing windows that work for all parties.

TV DRAMA: What are the most significant factors you expect to reshape the drama business in the 12 months ahead?
DURIE: The rising cost of production and talent is a major issue, particularly in the U.K. While financial models differ between the major platforms spending at a premium level and broadcasters and platforms that pay lower tariffs, all production budgets are increasingly stretched. This leads to greater pressure on producers to deliver shows at a high level, which might not be sustainable in the long term if it’s not matched by commissioning budgets. As a result, commissioners, financers and distributors are going to need to take more responsibility for supporting the production community to sustain the pipeline and continue to deliver to the level of quality that audiences have come to expect

TV DRAMA: What trends do you see in the drama business?
DURIE: On-screen diversity is certainly at the forefront of our minds and something we speak to buyers about regularly when discussing our slate. That’s something that drew us to Last King of The Cross, an incredible story about a mix of cultures descending onto one very specific area in Australia, creating a power struggle and two immigrant boys from Lebanon at the center of it all. That’s what it comes down to ultimately—great storytelling and an intriguing mix of characters, so whether you have a series in the true-crime space or a thriller or a drama, audiences will be drawn to these qualities. For us, Australia has been a strong point of creative interest lately. We’re seeing some great projects coming from producers there, and we fully expect to further invest in more series there in the future.