TCB Media Rights’ Paul Heaney

Paul Heaney, CEO of TCB Media Rights, talks to TV Real about how he has carved a unique niche for TCB in the marketplace and discusses the evolving role of distributors today.

TCB Media Rights’ mission includes building collaborative, early-stage relationships with its creative partners. Founded and led by Heaney, the outfit—which was snapped up by Kew Media Group in 2017—has been helping producers deliver the type of strong creative properties that the marketplace is demanding, and distributing that programming to a wide global footprint.

***Image***TV REAL: How is a distributor’s role evolving as more of an editorial commissioner, and how is TCB involved in the creative decision-making of the shows it sells?
HEANEY: There are a lot of hungry distributors out there who want to grow fast. Program commissioning budgets are falling among some platforms. The dynamics of the business have undergone a revolution so that opportunistic distributors can take advantage and see that they can play a role that’s morphed into a much more significant one than it ever was before. Distributors were on the fringes of the process, [they are] not anymore. They’re vital to the process now, front and center. Before, editorial was sacrosanct and separate from business, but now editorial and commerce have merged together. It’s been happening on broadcast platforms for a few years, probably because of rationalizing among staff, so maybe key personnel have had to be part editorial, part business. [Now] distributors are still delivering their core roles, but are also able to make discerning decisions on content and guide the content so it fits and makes the most money for those producers who rely on backend profit to keep their businesses afloat. Every single project will have a different level of input from us, even within the same producer, depending on the amount we’re putting in and the overall risk involved. So all of it is pertinent to how we work. We’re moving into an area now where it’s in our interest to be really editorially involved, but we want to make sure that doesn’t [interfere with] how the producer works; we don’t want to be heavy-touch unless the producer wants us to be.

We have to make sure that it’s a sophisticated level of editorial; it’s not just a case of giving it a quick look and saying, Oh, can you improve your CGI? There is a duty of care; what we’re offering is not just properly developing an idea, which we do, and not just having a quick look at a rough cut—this is so we ensure the producer makes enough money from backend sales. The money being spent has to be continuously assessed and analyzed for its effectiveness, looking at the strategic and financial results. And the broadcaster is trusting that we’re going to make sure we’re delivering as well. There are lots of stakeholders within this process, so to do it properly means we’re giving it the right level of attention. Working with an indie you can trust is paramount; we want them to be able to steer the production through calm waters and execute the idea and [have it be] on time.

But ultimately we’re relying on selling finished programs; that is the core of any distributor. We can’t spend all day working across brand-new projects—we’d never get any revenue in…. For all the producers that are talking to us and are looking to work with us, there has to be a balance because we don’t have the resources and manpower to just work on new projects the whole time.

More importantly, it’s only by having a sales team to sell finished shows to the maximum that allows us the financial freedom to take calculated risks. We’ll always favor the indies that offer us finished shows to sell as well as projects that need TCB to get it off the ground.

TV REAL: What sets the company apart for buyers?
HEANEY: A significant initiative is the development days that we host now; we do a couple a year. We do one on true crime and one on factual just before MIPCOM. We now have anything between 9 and 25 broadcasters turning up on the day to be pitched to by pre-briefed producers every 40 minutes in a Dragons’ Den/Shark Tank style, where the buyers are marking what projects they’d like to invest in. That supercharges our efforts in this whole new area of distributor-turned-commissioner or funder.

Along with this we just have a withering, cold-eyed focus on what we need as a team to sell to the platforms that form our ‘inner sanctum’ of buyers. We want to keep super-serving this group.

TV REAL: TCB has a broad range of factual content in the catalog. What genres are currently selling best for the company?
HEANEY: Whether it’s male or female, access-driven ob-doc series—that’s what buyers seem to be looking for. Noisy, commercial series form our backbone, and we feel this is what the buyers want from us. Science, technology and engineering, crime and investigation, lifestyle series—we’re always looking in those areas too. We also love history because buyers like it, but in a user-friendly way.

One show that has sold really well for us is Borderforce USA: The Bridges. There’s also Extreme Love Stories, which is commissioned by WE tv from Barcroft TV. World’s Most Extraordinary Families is something we’ve commissioned ourselves and that area is a good one for us. The biggest hit show we have is Abandoned Engineering, which is going from strength to strength; more and more episodes are being made all the time and it’s the number one show on Science Channel, where it’s called Mysteries of the Abandoned. Along with that, we’ve got Massive Engineering Mistakes from BriteSpark—also pretty close to being the number one show on Science Channel—and that was commissioned by us. Egypt’s Unexplained Files is just arriving now, and we’ve got a whole load of deals that are coming through for that one. And then there are a few others in the wildlife hybrid space, including Wild Tube, which seems to be going really well. It’s UGC [user-generated content], but with a bit more of a cerebral element.

TV REAL: What are some of the current market demands that you’ve been noticing as of late?
HEANEY: There’s a demand for light entertainment, social responsibility with a stronger, broader-based lifestyle, and we’re looking at that now to see if we can move into that area a bit more. We’re always responding to buyer demand across the board, all around the world, if we think we can make it work. The whole body-positive area is good as well. Overall, it’s often about the tone rather than the subject.

TV REAL: How does the company keep up with the competition?
HEANEY: Each size of distributor brings its own competitive challenges. From the startup point of view, you’re hungry to move away from the small boutique companies. You have to develop a sphere of influence…and move into the more established businesses, so you’re then mixing with the big boys and girls, who’ve potentially got more resources and bigger budgets. We know our place; all we have to do is stay fast and focused, and make sure that our relationship-building is as good as ever. If it is, everything else falls into place. If we are super-serving the producers we work with and not neglecting any of the buyer relationships, then we’re doing OK.

Overall, we hope TCB, as an outstanding team, is doing our bit to help the industry see distributors in a different light, and that means a positive one that is keeping the wheels turning. The business had to move on, so we’re just doing our very best to keep up!