Abacus aims to make it count

Launching a business in the middle of a pandemic could faze some but Jonathan Ford, the vastly experienced and unflappable founder of Abacus Media Rights, has taken events in his stride.

Having finalised a business plan and secured investment from Amcomri Media Group, following his departure from now-defunct Kew Media Group at the start of the year, Ford and his senior team managed a solitary meeting before lockdown sent them to all parts of the capital.

Ford counts himself lucky he was yet to sign a lease on office space and avoid a significant cost, while his launch slate was not derailed by lockdown, with Abacus having signed up the rights to a number of projects which had either been completed or were in post-production.

He is champing at the bit to get back on the road and meet buyers to work out how best to meet their needs.

“I'm keen to get back out there into the market as soon as possible. I believe in the value of face-to-face meetings with buyers in their territory,” he says. “Zoom calls are all very well but its only by being in a comfortable environment with someone that you get understand their view of the market and what they need to help tailor what you offer them.”

Ford’s ambition is to represent around 15 focus titles at Mipcom in October, while a partnership deal with US documentaries distributor Gravitas Ventures for Abacus to represent its titles supplements its own catalogue. Abacus currently has more titles in the unscripted space, although Ford says the scripted slate is of equal importance.

He says the boutique nature of the business is a real positive and will allow his teams to help rightsholders realise the best returns.

“If you can give titles specific love and focus there are better rewards,” he says. “To go the large-scale route, you have to spend big and then the risk is that some titles get lost.”

Another area of focus for Abacus is to help producers line up additional financing for projects which do not yet have a broadcaster attached or require further investment. Ford says Abacus has already enabled four shows to enter production after securing pre-sales deals and predicts such work will account for a “good percentage” of the business.

“We’re operating in a world where everybody is going to be more careful about spend, so there is a real opportunity to help pull those [budgets] together.”

Ford is cautious about overstating the size of the opportunity which has emerged for distributors to sell finished tape to broadcasters struggling to plug holes in their schedule bought about by the coronavirus-enforced production hiatus.

“There is demand for titles, but at the same time the broadcasters are suffering from reduced budgets. Advertising is beginning to pick up a little, but they have all lost a huge amount of money and are still trying to work out what their financial situation is,” he says. “If they are acquiring programming then they are being very selective and careful so it’s vital to make sure you have titles that fit naturally.”

He adds that many broadcasters have sewn up their 2020 acquisition plans pre-pandemic, with some considering whether they need to be as active next year as delayed originations feed back into the schedule.