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PART 10: DISTRIBUTOR CHRIS BONNEY ON SECRETS & LIES

Cineflix Rights handles international sales on the Australian drama Secrets & Lies, which was made by Hoodlum for Network Ten. Chris Bonney discusses the show and the sales scene generally.

“Digital networks have brought a breath of fresh air“

<h6>Chris Bonney</h6><p>CEO Rights, Cineflix Media</p>
Chris Bonney

CEO Rights, Cineflix Media

First some background

“Cineflix Rights is just under 15 years old, and is part of Cineflix Media – an integrated production and distribution company headquartered in Canada with offices in New York, Dublin and London. As head of Cineflix Rights, I’m based in London. In a sector now dominated by big broadcaster/producer/distributor mergers, I like to think our independence, coupled with our scale, makes us stand out from the crowd in what we offer independents.

“The company was built on unscripted content. Now there’s a more concerted effort to go into scripted. We currently have around 100 hours of scripted in our catalogue. In total the catalogue includes 4,600 hours of programming, more than half of which comes from third party producers.

Themes have to be universally applicable

“We have a lot of interest in Australia – because rights are more often available and affordable – and are currently closing in on the distribution of a new Australian drama. We have always been impressed with the quality of production, the narrative stories and the pacing.

“As long as a drama has universally applicable or universally relatable themes then we’re interested, while acknowledging that the sales values rarely achieve those of top US originated product. Every territory has dramas that are intrinsically focussed locally – we’re not interested in them.

“At the time we got on board Secrets & Lies, serialised programs about a single murder were very much in vogue. There are always waves of strong appeal for certain genres and sub genres. It was a noir-style drama with freshness. It was a good concept with the ability to travel. A good story is a good story. And it had entirely translatable themes.

“It was a well put together story about normal people in a normal neighbourhood but it peeled back this façade so you could see behind the cracks. The creative talent, what they had achieved before and the casting that was taking shape also made us very excited. Martin Henderson is now starring in Grey’s Anatomy in the US and having an international name on board can help drive sales. It also helped that we had a colleague at the time who had worked with Hoodlum previously.”

Aussie drama has to be handled properly

Secrets & Lies sold to Netflix in the US, Channel 5 in the UK, France Televisions, SVT in Sweden, TV 2 in Norway, CBC in Canada, Television New Zealand and RTE Ireland. Everyone was impressed with it.

“That number of mainstream channels suggests that Australian drama has the potential to be sold widely but its advantages – the writers and on-screen talent – need to be sold into the market properly. Australian talent has travelled well globally and more and more faces are recognised the world over. Explaining to potential buyers how and why it stands out is a key to sales.

“It’s now three years since we started selling the show and at that time the digital networks were an emerging presence and the noise about them was building. There was a clear opening for the show with mainstream broadcasters but Hoodlum was in discussion with US broadcasters regarding the format. Working in concert with Hoodlum's requirements gave us a natural opportunity to work with Netflix in the US, which was perfect.

“Netflix can play a great role showcasing programming, bringing it to the attention not just of viewers but also the commissioning audience. We first concentrated on building initial momentum and capturing maximum revenue from the finished tape before the US show came on the scene. The format has also been sold to Russia and India.”

The sales strategy is a navigation

“The world has got a lot smaller. Wherever audiences are they can see what’s popping and watch it."

“The breath of fresh air that has come in drama sales in the last three to four years has been the arrival of digital networks: Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the like. They’ve opened up the doors for a good story or angle or spin – and it’s made the linear broadcasters sit up and listen. How much they pay depends on how you navigate yourself around the world; that is, whether the digital network has the first or second window. Part of the joy of the job is doing this navigation.

“We have a boutique approach and it’s a choice you have to make early on in the strategy – and always after discussion with the producers. On highly valued content you can do a global deal up front and ahead of transmission to secure revenue against the show or you can walk around the key territories selling first licences and come back to the digital players and offer a second window. What you decide to do might relate to the reputation of the team or the preferred timing of the release – sometimes it feels like you have to get a show out quickly.

“In an increasingly cash strapped and complex environment, presales can be a good way to go, with the creators playing a key role in securing them and establishing relationships that could benefit their next project. A big advance (from the distributor) can also take some of the risk out of the equation but the producer can lose control of the distribution process further down the line since, in this scenario, the distributor is unlikely to consult with or involve the producer as they make sales in key territories.

“Television is still a volume business with output deals maintained by broadcasters in the majority of territories. But broadcasters also want to cherry pick and the opportunity for distributors like us is to upsell the quality and content of a show with the help of webisode extras, and great press and PR. You want the buyer to fall in love with the show.

“The best shows break the mould or are beautifully crafted into a final product.”

Martin Henderson stars in Secrets & Lies

A distributor should “subliminally influence”

“The value of a proper relationship between a distributor and a producer is that our market knowledge can infuse the subconscious of the producer and subliminally influence the creative. The producer will know what is good for domestic ratings with the help of the local network but if a dialogue happens early enough we can help them to understand what appeals internationally. This dialogue shouldn’t be about the integrity of the concept – that’s a given – and should recognise that a creative idea naturally evolves.

“There’s an enlarged appetite for drama that’s not going away, in part because there’s lots of commissioning by linear broadcasters to counter the digital players. Who knows where the top of the current cycle is but we might see a tailing off of the current bubble in 18 months with unscripted coming back a bit because it’s cheaper. Or this adjustment could still be four or five years away. It’s all cyclical.”