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Mini to mini - majors from a battered TV landscape.

The UK TV industry is about to see the emergence of tough, independent production companies hell-bent on retaining their program rights and the resulting profits.

Among these new influential "freelance" production companies are Mentorn Films, Initial Film and TV and Lifetime Productions International. All three have high rating programs on the four national networks. They are among a handful of independents predicted by analysts as destined to become the British equivalents of the U.S. mini-majors in the next five years. The UK independent sector will contribute programs worth 500 million [pounds] by 1995, experts said. To retain most of the income, independents will have to consider the broadcaster a client, not the boss. And while the domestic market is vital, the overseas market is essential for them.

"A former boss once told me, We're not in the TV business, we're in the rights business" said Malcom Gerrie, Initial's 42-year old managing director. We've sometimes even deferred the broadcasters' fee in return for keeping equity in the programs we made." Initial specializes in drama, music and entertainment. Although it owns a catalogue with only 50 hours of programs, it is "cash rich." Last year, it joined a group of independents working under the umbrella of the Broadcast Communications (BC). BC promised enough development fund to initiate projects. BC has also picked RPTA/Primetime to be its exclusive international distributor - a deal which give BC companies, such as Initial, access to a media fund called TEAM.

"These days, you must demonstrate to a broadcaster that you can bring 25 per cent of the production budget. This give you more ammunition [in the negotiations for rights]," Gerrie added.

Appropriately, Initial raised two thirds of the budget for Concerto!, a sequel to Orchestra!, a classical musical series with Hollywood star Dudley Moore and conductor Sir Georg Solti. Orchestra! was fully funded by Channel 4. "But we ended up not owning anything for Orchestra!. But for Concerto!. we're already in profit because of the presales alone."

Tom Gutteridge, one of the UK TV industry's new elite, owns Mentorn, an independent striving to make international and domestic broadcasters compete for its programs. With a 13 million [pounds] turnover and 200-plus staff. Mentorn has been described as a future mini-major in the U.S. style. It has Started warehousing, by seeking to bring other UK independent production companies such as television 21 under its umbrella.

"We never used to be interested in the overseas market, but that is going to change," said 41-year-old Gutteridge.

Mentorn has successfully sold the formats to its light entertainment programs, such as the treasure hunt series Challenge Anneka, to the Netherlands and Germany.

Worldwide Entertainment News (WEN), a joint venture with Thames Television, supplies a package of weekly hollywood news items, which foreign broadcasters can adapt to suit domestic needs. "It is costing them about one-sixth of what they would have had to pay to got to Hollywood themselves," he explained

His most recent ambitious project is Space Police a $16 million science fiction drama series currently in development. "Less than one-quarter of the budget will come from the UK alone [the BBC].The rest must come from overseas and we already have 50 per cent of the budget in place," he said

Lifetime Productions, created in the 1980s, is becoming a major production center with a video corporate and broadcast arm, plus a prolific music programming division called Music Box

Eddie Babbage, the group creative director, said the Office of Fair Trading's recent recommendation for the government to end the old ITV network system can only benefit the industry. This will give independents commissioned by ITV more control over their program rights "For the first time, the stranglehold has been broken, we can now treat an ITV commission as pure investment" This leaves them free to also exploit overseas sales more fully, he added.
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Title Annotation:independent television production firms in the UK
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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