Last summer, Herbert L. Kloiber’s Night Train Media (NTM) acquired Eccho Rights from CJ ENM. Speaking at the time of the transaction, Kloiber, now chairman of Eccho Rights, noted, “Eccho’s key business areas are complementary and synergetic with NTM’s. Combining our strengths could not come at a better time when even worldwide streamers are increasingly licensing content in selected territories.” Fredrik af Malmborg, who co-founded Eccho Rights and today serves as its CEO, shares with TV Drama Weekly the strategic rationale behind the deal and offers up his thoughts on trends in scripted today.
TV DRAMA: Tell us about the Night Train Media deal.
AF MALMBORG: We wanted to build a drama slate and investment business based in Western Europe, the U.K. and Turkey. CJ ENM was very much into making investments based on Korean IP. We went to look for a new owner and found Night Train Media. They started in 2020, so it’s a new venture. They are backed by Serafin, a major investment company. We will build new models in media investment and distribution and rights development in Europe and Turkey. We are very much in line with their strategic thinking. It’s a wonderful match.
At some point, I thought that all projects would go to global deals with the platforms, but I see a very strong trend in the other direction. It’s much better to finance a little bit more as a producer. We are investing much more in development financing right now with producers. Instead of going the commissioning route, we are going the acquisition route. So we sell it as an acquisition to the platforms regionally and manage the rights from the start. There are several cases like this where the producer keeps all the IP but is pretty much fully financed from the start. We sell the rights to different regional or global platforms, in pieces and for shorter terms.
TV DRAMA: What factors do you have to consider when determining if you should do a global deal first?
AF MALMBORG: If we see something we like at the development stage, we make a deal with the producer. We say, we are going to invest in development and go out and find presale or co-production partners. Instead of the producer going to one platform and asking for development money. You retain your rights longer, and you invest more. Doing that will give you a stronger development slate and a much better negotiation position with the different buyers. Selling windows to different platforms, different local broadcasters and streamers at perhaps shorter terms depending on how much they pay [can be more lucrative]. After the first round, there are more and more deals; you can sell to multiple platforms with shorter windows. If it’s a success, you retain the rights and make much more money. But, of course, it’s more cash-intensive in the development stage. That’s where we come in. We are recruiting more development executives. We are investing more and supporting producers. We still think that the IP should be majority owned by the producers. The rights should not be left with a platform or a broadcaster who has a lot of other issues. It should be with the producer. Our message to producers is, give your best products to us. We will work together; we may sell it to a platform in the end in a global deal, but then we charge a packaging fee. A global deal has advantages—you get reach and recognition and may get a good deal. As a producer, it’s important not to go with one platform too early because you have no room for negotiations later.
TV DRAMA: What is happening with Turkish drama around the world? What new opportunities are you finding?
AF MALMBORG: MENA is coming back strongly. There was a ban for quite some time. We see Latin America is strong. They were hard hit by the pandemic, but I think they’re coming back. Spain is increasing. And Eastern Europe is still strong. We want to make more deals in Africa. Many of our clients are traditional linear broadcasters, but there are more platforms, and we have a big direct-to-consumer team doing YouTube, Facebook and Dailymotion. We have the full episodes, and we’re investing in more dubs and language assets. We invest in maybe five or six dubs from the start and make a lot of short clips together with the long form. We have a big team doing that in Istanbul. Also, [there are opportunities with] regional AVODs and FAST channels. The advertising market is moving online, and we are well-positioned. Turkish dramas are long-running and made for advertising exposure.
TV DRAMA: What has led to your success in the competitive U.K. market?
AF MALMBORG: A lot of producers have been doing projects for platforms at the cost-plus model. They are keeping no rights and getting the budget plus a few percent. There is a great demand for alternative models. We will have a lineup of U.S.-U.K. projects that we’ll take and presell in Europe based on an acquired co-production model.
TV DRAMA: What are your key priorities for Eccho Rights in the next year with the new Night Train Media backing?
AF MALMBORG: Eccho Rights will continue as a separate entity within the Night Train Media group. They will still work with producers who have distribution attached, and Eccho will be there for independents. We will be the drama distribution team. I think we’re going to do more big international development projects in English to continue what we do in the U.K. We’re going to strengthen our development and our slate from the Nordics. The Turkish slate is going strong. The model of acquired co-production will also be relevant in Turkey. I think there will be more presales in Turkey for the top projects. And we’ll invest more in development in Turkey and grow our direct-to-consumer team, which is very strong.