Katy Llewellyn-Jones, the CEO of Beyond Rights, talks to TV Real about growing the company as it marks the one-year anniversary of the combined businesses and the demands of today’s factual market.
Celebrating the first anniversary of the combined businesses this year, Beyond Rights has several ambitions top of mind as it looks ahead, including mindfully growing the company, according to CEO Katy Llewellyn-Jones. “We all know that scale and volume can be useful in this industry, so that is a clear aim—but not at the expense of our independence or our ability to move quickly and nimbly—which sometimes doesn’t happen if you get too big,” says Llewellyn-Jones. “While still acquiring content that Beyond is well known for, we are also keen to add more premium factual content to our catalog, and work is well underway in this area.”
Beyond Rights is aiming to expand its catalog as the number of domestic and global SVODs and linear and digital channels continues to grow, opening up the factual market with more buyers and more flexibility, while also helping to build program brands around the world in local markets. “That’s great news for format deals, as well as mainstream and local producers,” says Llewellyn-Jones. “As a result of all of these developments, we are now also seeing commissioners and buyers in general interested in a broader range of topics than they once were and willing to look at less traditional content for their slots.”
Llewellyn-Jones names true crime as the factual sub-genre that is performing best at the moment, crediting the likes of Netflix’s Making a Murderer for piquing audiences’ interest. “There is a never-ending stream of stories big and small, with both high-profile, headline-grabbing stories and intriguing little-known cases from around the world, all tapping into our fascination for why people commit crimes and what needs to be done to bring them to justice. It is a very rich seam and doesn’t show any signs of running out of favor soon,” Llewellyn-Jones explains, pointing to the success of Deadly Women, produced by Beyond Rights’ sister company Beyond Productions, which is now in its 14th season on Investigation Discovery.
The pandemic and its resulting boost in pet ownership, according to Llewellyn-Jones, has also resulted in a rise in interest in factual titles about pets and vets, including the competitive dog grooming show Pooch Perfectand Virgin Media’s Animal Emergency, set in a veterinary hospital in Dublin. Science and engineering series such as Abandoned Engineering and Massive Engineering Mistakes are enjoying sustained interest as well. “I think part of the success of this latter sub-genre is that the engineering stories often cross with historical, cultural and current affairs angles, meaning they have quite a broad appeal and can be slotted in many different places—making them not only popular with viewers, but with buyers and schedulers too,” says Llewellyn-Jones.
“Obs-doc and reality titles also continue to be popular, feeding the universal fascination with big characters from around the world doing interesting jobs or leading interesting lives,” she adds, pointing to Great Pacific Media’s Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue 401, as well as Ice Vikings and Train Truckers. Feature documentaries like Facing Monsters are also having a moment, according to Llewellyn-Jones.
“Distributors used to avoid feature docs, as they were notoriously difficult to slot and therefore not an easy sell,” she says. “Now, again thanks to the SVODs and new channels like Sky Documentaries in the U.K., feature docs are popular and rightly so. Feature docs are a brilliant way to explore a single story in depth, and this is an area that we are certainly looking to grow in our catalog.”
Beyond Rights’ growth strategy includes a partnership drive that is being spearheaded by Connie Hodson, who was appointed to the newly created role of head of partnerships and business development. “Our take on partnerships is all about tailored approaches and doing the best thing for each individual partner; whatever delivers the best possible mutual benefit for them and us,” says Llewellyn-Jones. “It’s about being creative, commercial and accessible, helping producers to develop the right content for the market, ensuring they have the best possible financial support and also the best-fit broadcast partners attached too.”
Third-party producers represent about two-thirds of Beyond Rights’ business, and the company anticipates that this will remain consistent as it looks to develop long-term partnerships, particularly for returning and formattable program brands. “Love It or List It and our partnership with Big Coat Productions is a good example,” says Llewellyn-Jones. “We have recently sold the format into the new markets of France and Finland. Knowing the program brand and its creators well can really pay dividends.”
Last year, merging two businesses to form Beyond Rights amid a global pandemic proved “a massive challenge,” Llewellyn-Jones admits. “We had two teams of people, lots of systems and processes and two—mostly complementary—catalogs. It was a very intensive period bringing everything together while continuing to acquire and sell content, but it was certainly helped by the wonderfully supportive people in the teams—even though I hadn’t met everyone face-to-face.”
“But the best thing, from my perspective, was the opportunity to cherry-pick the best processes and systems from each business, or even introduce something new if there was a better way and create something fresh and distinctive for Beyond Rights,” Llewellyn-Jones adds. “Something that worked for the new business we were creating.”