LGI Media’s Nha-Uyen Chau

Nha-Uyen Chau, founder and CEO of LGI Media, talks to TV Real about how the company is traversing a fast-changing factual-distribution landscape.

Late last month, Australian factual distributor Looking Glass International, founded by Nha-Uyen Chau, unveiled a new corporate brand identity: LGI Media. The move comes as the company evolves from being a straightforward distributor to a boutique outfit that boards projects early to help producers secure financing and find the broadest possible footprint for their shows.

***Image***TV REAL: Tell us about the rebrand from Looking Glass International and how you’re positioning the company today.
CHAU: We’ve rebranded as LGI Media. The distribution model is shifting so quickly and we are moving more to a content-based model. We will of course continue to work with key broadcasters and producers, but we’re becoming more strategic and working to the broadcaster’s brief. We will partner with production companies and work on developing projects in-house to produce for broadcasters. It’s not so much entering the commissioning space, but it will be a hybrid model. We will work with both a broadcaster and a producer, as well as source other alternative funding opportunities. In Australia, we have various state funding bodies. It’s about how we cleverly punch above our weight when it comes to developing and producing programs for broadcast clients, while not being solely dependent on getting commissions from them, knowing their budgets are decreasing as well. In this way, we can retain more of the back-end rights, which we will then share with producers.

TV REAL: What do you look for in titles when deciding to take something on for global sales?
CHAU: Our focus is premium specialist-factual projects—blue-chip wildlife, science with unique access and history projects with exclusive access. The unique access is key, but also the commercial potential as well. If it’s unique access but a very local story, it’s not something we would be interested in. It has to have global appeal.

TV REAL: Are you doing first-look deals or aligning with producers on a project-by-project basis?
CHAU: It’s on a project-by-project basis. We’re boutique, so our reliance is very much on relationships. There are relationships we have where producers will always come to us with their specialist-factual projects. It’s not a first-look deal that we’ve offered them, but it’s based on our long-term relationship and they’ve liked the work that we did. They’ve trusted us in terms of maximizing the revenues they have, but it is getting harder. We don’t have the cash to be able to offer a riskier first-look deal. But we can offer a very personalized service and we’re able to work with a producer at a much earlier stage to shape their project. We take on a handful of projects where we know we can give all of our resources to them, from development through to the marketing campaign through to distribution. It’s a turnkey approach that we’re able to offer these specific projects that we take on. The producers can contact us at any time to get an update on how things are going.

TV REAL: How is the emergence of more and more global SVOD players operating in the factual space changing your business?
CHAU: It’s been a good thing yielding an additional revenue stream. Particularly when linear broadcasters’ slots are quite rigid—it’s either a science program, a wildlife program or a lifestyle program and of course, they only have so many slots per year they acquire for. The VOD players absolutely open up that space, but it is becoming saturated with many streaming platforms launching. It seems like every week we get an email asking us for free content on a rev-share basis. In those rev-share deals, as generous a percentage as they would like to give you, the question is, Will you actually get ad revenues that make it worth your while? We’re very particular about with whom we work, and it still comes down to trust and how much it is going to return for you. Netflix is always going to be the first port of call when it comes to any global deal that you would consider for an SVOD window. It does complicate the mix in terms of windowing, and linear broadcasters still want their premieres. That takes SVOD out. But you can negotiate up depending on how much they want your programming. You’ll know how much they want your program when they choose to either shorten that SVOD window or extend that SVOD window. They will have to pay a higher license fee if they do want a longer exclusive period.

TV REAL: How often do projects come to you fully funded?
CHAU: It’s so rare! A lot of projects come partially funded, or they are great ideas that we help shape. One of our big projects, which LGI has taken quite a big equity position in, is Spiky Gold Hunters. This is a factual-entertainment reality series from a New Zealand producer, Pango Productions. It follows a crazy cast of characters who free-dive for sea urchins in shark-infested waters. LGI has raised the budget, besides the TVNZ license deal that Pango got, elsewhere. We presold it to Blaze in the U.K., Viasat bought it, and Foxtel in Australia. This is an example where we see the commercial opportunity and we’ll jump on board and help them pretty much find 95 percent of the financing. We assess the commercial potential and of course, the risk. We came in as a co-production partner and we invested in it as well. But it’s paid off in the fact that we have top-tier broadcasters attached to it. We own part of the IP, which has been great.