Passion Distribution CEO Emmanuelle Namiech tells TV Real about the main challenges and opportunities in the factual distribution space today.
As part of the Tinopolis Group, Passion Distribution has a broad network of sister production companies to tap into for its portfolio. Nevertheless, much of Passion Distribution’s lineup is culled from third-party producers Namiech tells TV Real. In this wide-ranging interview, Namiech talks about how Passion works with creatives and weighs in on the main challenges and opportunities in the factual distribution space today.
TV REAL: Amid never-ending consolidation, is it getting harder to access product from third-party producers?
NAMIECH: Third-party programming still represents about two-thirds of our catalog. So 70 to 75 percent of our pipeline has been secured from collaborating with independent producers outside the group. But very few producers are not affiliated with a group or broadcaster today. And those that are available may or may not have content that we might deem suitable for our brand.
TV REAL: How are you working with your sister production companies?
NAMIECH: We work closely with our sister production companies and always look for additional ways to collaborate. First and foremost, we distribute their shows and maximize the monetization of their rights, providing them with a healthy income stream outside of their primary production margin. But we also finance projects through a range of different scenarios, whether it’s an advance, deficit funding, raising presale funding, brokering co-productions, or, more recently, fully funding some of the shows we felt had a really good international potential. And then beyond the financial aspect, we also provide them with feedback on a project’s commercial viability, the international potential. We sometimes introduce them to commissioning platforms that are based overseas that might be open to working with some of our production partners. And then, by marketing their content and showcasing them as creatives, we help increase their visibility on the global scene.
TV REAL: What can Passion Distribution offer indie producers?
NAMIECH: We, like other distributors worth their salt, have a very strong knowledge of local and global opportunities. I know we are particularly commended for is [being] genuinely committed to the content we decide to take on. It’s not a question of just adding hours to a growing catalog for volume’s sake. The producers who work with us can testify to the fact that we leave no stone unturned and are entrepreneurial when it comes to generating opportunities for their projects. That is a key differentiator. There is no low-hanging-fruit strategy here! We work long-term with some of our producers because they recognize we always go the extra mile.
TV REAL: What feedback can you offer your partner producers on what makes a show globally viable?
NAMIECH: We offer as much or as little as our producers like to hear. We never shy away from telling them, This show is too domestic to travel, but we can take it on and find the places that will be interested in it. We give feedback on a variety of things, from topicality to duration to hosts. With our first-look partner Lambent Productions, we recently took on an engineering show and decided together, along with the U.K. broadcaster, that Rob Bell would be a great host as he is very well-liked by overseas broadcasters. We felt that as an engineer himself and someone who can convey his passion, knowledge and interest in his profession, it was useful to have him on the show. We fully engage with the project right from the earliest stage it’s presented to us and therefore have several opportunities to provide useful feedback along the way to make shows successful globally.
TV REAL: What do you look for in titles when deciding to take something on for global sales?
NAMIECH: A few years back, I probably would have said we were looking for long shelf life, evergreen, universal shows that would be set to continue to do well. Now, because the market is so polarized, I would say what we look for is primarily a show that proudly stands out in a crowded market. It needs to be something that gets the conversation started. We’ve picked up a number of single documentaries that are thought-provoking. We recently had a film on male circumcision, for example—not something that is talked about frequently! This one-off doc was made for the BBC by Matchlight.
Access is something we look for as well. That can be access to people or institutions. The Big Ben renovation was an interesting project for us as a British distributor; Big Ben being such an iconic building. That was an ITN production for Channel 4. And then, there are other types of access, seemingly ordinary people with great stories. In the brand-new show Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, U.K. investigative journalist Stacey Dooley meets with different communities and people from all sorts of walks of life for UKTV’s W channel. Produced by Firecracker Films, it’s a six-part series where she goes to spend time with different families, anything from people who live in polyamorous throuples to Mormons! We also look for a clear premise. Can we pitch it clearly and succinctly?
And of course, there’s a certain quality that makes it a Passion Distribution title. We meet the demand for high-quality unscripted shows, right across the whole spectrum of genres. So it’s important to consider, How does it fit with the rest of our portfolio? Does it have a unique tone and style? Whether it brings an unusual human interest story to the screens or features talent, we’re interested in starting conversations!
TV REAL: How are SVOD platforms changing your business?
NAMIECH: I’d say that the impact has been positive on balance. There’s a dynamic linked to the recent market disruption that is overall quite stimulating since it creates additional competition. The disruption impacts both commercial and editorial discussions. Whether it is how viewers consume the content, how a show is financed or even how it can spark editorial trends like how true crime came back in a serialized form with Making a Murderer.
There has also been disruption in some of the fundamentals of the existing business models, where if a show is commissioned locally and then travels, producers rely on the royalties coming from international. Streamers may fully fund projects, but this will significantly limit the range of revenue streams.
All of that has been pretty impactful. But for us, this disruption also increased our client base. This year, about 30 percent of our total revenues come from nonlinear platforms. That’s not insignificant. And it’s been increasing—last year it was closer to 25 percent. There’s definitely a change and this is set to continue for some time, given the number of new services being launched.
TV REAL: As new services pop up, how do you determine which ones you want to do business with?
NAMIECH: There are a couple of factors we would be looking at. One is understanding their positioning in the market, what they’re trying to achieve. We’d also look for good compatibility with our content and how solid a business they are. But essentially, it’s trying to work with complementary platforms. We continuously look for new homes for our content and new partners for the producers we represent.
TV REAL: Are the needs of digital operators different from those of linear broadcasters?
NAMIECH: They’re not necessarily different. Like linear broadcasters, the digital operators are vying for eyeballs, and they’re trying to keep people engaged with their service and continue to subscribe. Similar to traditional broadcasters, the SVOD players are trying to identify and acquire content that will be brand-defining. And if they are subscription-based, the content needs to meet quite a broad range of expectations and tastes. The likes of Netflix pretty much want to cater to a very wide range of viewers.