Thursday, December 1, 2022
Home / Top Stories / IP Owners Talk Financing Challenges for Kids’ TV

IP Owners Talk Financing Challenges for Kids’ TV

ADVERTISEMENT

TV Kids Summer Festival kicked off its second day with a panel featuring Serious Kids’ Genevieve Dexter, Cyber Group Studios’ Raphaëlle Mathieu, MIAM! animation’s Hanna Mouchez and Monster Entertainment’s Andrew Fitzpatrick sharing their perspectives on how financing models are evolving.

The session, moderated by TV Kids’ Anna Carugati, can be watched here. It began with Carugati asking the panelists about the level of funding available in the market and if budgets are under pressure amid the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic.

Mathieu, executive VP of Cyber Group Studios, noted that many commercial channels saw their ad revenues drop during Covid-19, while pubcasters have also faced financing challenges. “For linear, traditional broadcasters, it has become a bit more tricky to invest and sometimes a bit delayed.”

Mouchez, the founder and CEO of MIAM! animation, noted that VOD platforms became stronger amid the pandemic, “so they have been able to invest more money, but it has had some tricky consequences. As a French producer and distributor, we used to be able to combine two different broadcasters in one territory, for instance, a free-TV channel and then a pay-TV channel. The SVOD platforms… need exclusive content. We come to a paradox where we have more potential clients, more potential opportunities to finance our shows, and nevertheless, each one wants exclusive rights. So they exclude the possibility of working together. Where we used to be able to finance our shows with two broadcasters and presales, today we’re facing the situation where an SVOD platform is interested, but in France, we’re not able to find another broadcaster to complete [the financing] because often those linear broadcasters will not agree to come as a second window. So in appearance, we have more clients, but in fact, it’s more tricky to finance our shows.”

Dexter, the founder and CEO of Serious Kids and Eye Present, added, “With the SVODs, we used to get significant presales with Amazon and Netflix; they are no longer prebuying. And in fact, Netflix is no longer co-commissioning animation. That’s a big hole for us. But, luckily there are new entrants like Warner Bros. Discovery. Four years ago, if you had said you were going to get 25 percent of your budget for a preschool show from Cartoon Network, I wouldn’t have believed you! But there it is. Our skill as the distributor-producer, as it were, is in trying to make those rights compatible with numbers of rotation or available episodes and trying to find a compromise on those points.”

Mathieu discussed the trend of streamers taking all global rights on a property. “It can be interesting financially speaking on a short-term basis, but it has consequences in terms of creating your own IP and developing your own brand and your own catalog. For independent producers, it has become more and more tricky because there is a lot of money, theoretically, that can be invested or allocated, but it might not necessarily be the best way for us to grow. It’s choices we have to make in a very smart way. Being a studio is great, but when you’re a producer, you’re not only a studio; you create value, you create IP, you develop brands. So making all this investment and development and then having it all taken away can be an issue and is hardly a complete business model. So for me, that is a strong aspect of the evolution of our business.”

Dexter added, “There’s always this period of new entrants in the market. They haven’t got any content, so they’re very flexible. And then, as time progresses, they become vertically integrated. The party’s over. If people have become very reliant on the Netflix model and now everything they’re doing is exclusive or they won’t co-produce, then that’s quite a dangerous place to be.”

Fitzpatrick, the chairman and founder of Monster Entertainment, remarked, “I think these things are all somewhat cyclical. We’ve already seen the peak in the rights grab by the streamers. Up to fairly recently, Netflix wanted everything exclusively, and they wanted to own everything. Amazon was playing that game at one point. Neither of them is doing that anymore. It could be that the next streamers in line, be it Warner or Disney or whatever, may start doing that too. But I think what we’re seeing is a little bit of a fragmentation of the streaming market, which is probably a very healthy thing. It leads to more competition and more opportunities for independents.”

Fitzpatrick also noted that it’s “essential” to be involved in an IP as early as possible in its life cycle. “We’re finding we’re having to get a lot more involved at an early stage in either advising the producers on financing or helping them raise the financing, whether it be from presales, sales, finding equity investors sometimes, maybe sources of debt, maybe gap financing and co-production funding. We’re often introducing producers to co-producers if they don’t have the contacts to help and get it over the line.”

Mouchez then referenced the importance of legislation in Europe requiring streamers to have local content. “Europe is helping its producers keep our independence and our rights.”

The discussion then moved to evolving financing models, and Mathieu noted that “no project looks like the previous one. It’s a question of momentum. It’s a question of topic. It’s a question of money in the market or a theme in the market. We need to customize our approach each time. Of course, the earlier we’re in, the better it can be done and adjusted. Every single detail does matter; sometimes, €20,000 ($21,400) in x, y or z territory can generate much more interest in the global financing that you will generate. So you need to be inventive, and you need to adapt. And you need not be afraid to have a partner saying yes and then a partner saying no right after, which can still happen.”

Dexter said she’s just completing “what I’m told is the first-ever U.K.-Finland-Canadian co-production. Every time we have difficulties, you have to remind yourself that you’re making history! If somebody told you at the beginning of a co-production what was going to happen along that road, you’d never believe them. You start with a quite clear idea about how you’re going to put it together. And then what ends up happening is quite another thing. It’s incredibly technical, especially an official co-production. Sometimes you have a sudden realization of a minor legal point that has quite catastrophic implications for the production. It can be quite scary.”

Creative Europe is a “significant source of financing for production and development,” Fitzpatrick noted. “They’re pushing totally in the direction of co-production. In the past, you could get development funding as a single producer for a project. Now, you need to be going as a co-development. That means that people are going to have to, if they want to get development funding from Creative Europe, start talking to co-producers at an earlier point. People who might not even have thought of co-production in the past will be thinking of it in the future. That will be the beginning of a significant increase in Europe in co-production.”

There’s a new fund in the U.K. now that producers in that country no longer qualify for Creative Europe financing, Dexter added: BFI’s UK Global Screen Fund. “They just announced the first section of that, which is the co-production fund. So it’s the replacement for Creative Europe.”

On the role of private-equity funding, Fitzpatrick noted, “I’ve seen a very significant increase in the amount of private equity flowing into IP. I think that’s a good thing. You could say that it’s because it’s hard to get the money elsewhere, but it’s also great to have that available as a source of finance. These funds realize that IP has a long-term value and potentially an increasing value. There’s a very long tail on income from animation projects. I think we are going to see more of that. I don’t think it will become the only source of finance. But I think it’s a healthy thing that it’s becoming more available.”

Mathieu noted that the private equity trend might be cyclical. “I used to work a lot with the private equity funds in Germany, in the U.K., in the U.S., in Japan, and there were a lot of them investing in all kinds of co-productions, and it had disappeared. Now, the budgets are growing massively. There is still money needed. Some private equity funds are interested in that. I don’t believe it will grow much more than it is now. However, in terms of private equity, I think they will be more interested in investing directly into the companies, more than investing directly into the programs.”

When you’re taking private equity, “you are then accountable to these people who’ve invested in your program in perpetuity,” Dexter added. “So you have to continue to attend board meetings for that special purpose vehicle that you’ve created for the program. It becomes quite an onerous long-term obligation because you’re having quarterly board meetings, and you’re preparing presentations and reports over a 10- to 20-year period for that one property. It comes with quite a price for project investment as opposed to company investment.”

MIAM! has not yet used private equity, but if it did, “we would be looking for an investment aligned with our values and what we want to do,” Mouchez said. Taking financing from companies not aligned with your values “can be dangerous in terms of independence and creativity of your projects, your company and what you do and why you do it.”

Dexter added: “Equity firms and investment firms are quite happy if you do very well, and they’re quite happy if you go bust. But what they don’t like is anything in the middle. If you go bust, there are tax rebates for their investment. And if you’re doing very well, of course, everybody’s happy. They hate what they call a zombie company, where you’re hand to mouth. You’re not making a lot of money. You’re not losing a lot of money. So you’re constantly under pressure to go one way or another.”






About Mansha Daswani

Mansha Daswani is the editor and associate publisher of World Screen. She can be reached on mdaswani@worldscreen.com.

ALSO READ

Canela Kids Picks Up Mondo TV Titles

Mondo TV Studios has signed a deal with Canela Media that will see a number of titles from its library debut in the U.S. and Latin America on Canela Kids.