Co-pro conversations accelerate for Drive
With its roots in pre-sales, programming financing and co-productions and its boutique sales business only a relatively recent addition to its portfolio, Drive’s journey has been tangential compared to its counterparts in the UK distribution landscape.
As coronavirus hit, and initial movement from buyers for finished programming not as overwhelming as some had assumed it would be, co-managing directors Lilla Hurst and Ben Barrett found themselves “doing more of the same” of their pre-pandemic work.
Consequently, though forecasts for next year - as with most companies - are impossible to gauge, the company’s list of additional titles to their catalogue are intact for delivery at the end of the year and the beginning of 2021.
“We’ve tried to be creative about coming up with some shows that we’d be able to make,” says Barrett. “We’ve seen a willingness from broadcasters to engage with what we do with pre-sales, multi-party funding. It’s often felt that broadcasters do it out of financial necessity – they have their big shows that they commission and other shows that they can get at a certain price point.
“There’s been a shift in the mindset towards that from UK terrestrial channels and in States, having conversations about what content they could get with other partners involved.”
Barrett says this has led to a 10-part history-mystery series for a UK, US channel and German broadcaster which is fully in production, while the company has re-versioned October Films’ Channel 5 show Trains that Changed the World for the international market by adding some funding, changing the duration and tone.
However, Hurst notes that “a plethora” of shows put together in this way have been pitched of late and some broadcasters are in “dire straits”, making competition fiercer.
Drive’s ability to “effectively subsidise diminishing budgets” has helped, but UK broadcasters’ specificity on programming often sidelines co-productions.
Barrett is also wary that gradual return to production – though undoubtedly aiding the wider business – “still feels like we’re in early days about what the opportunities are going to be like” for distributors.
“I still think there’s a long way to go when these original ideas that can be produced quickly and in the current environment are going to come to the forefront,” he says. “Obviously, there’s been an insurance deal that’s announced, which is great, but there’s still going to be a hell of a lull until that content starts kicking in.”
The corollary to this uncertainty is buyers’ demand for finished programming, which is now looking “relatively steady” for Drive’s 400-hour catalogue, according to Hurst, following its early hesitance.
“There’s a level of candour there that wasn’t there before. Today, for example, I’ve had a shopping list from German buyers about what they’re looking for,” she says. “We’ve all had conversations with buyers in different regions who’ve said there may be some things that I’ve passed on before that I may look at now.
“Literally, as we’ve been speaking, I’ve had an email from a channel who passed on something two weeks ago, asking if it’s still available”.
“A lot of stuff people pass on is because they’ve got umpteen programmes to choose from,” adds Barrett. “Suddenly three of those shows fall away, they might be flexible. Several examples of things that have been picked up that I don’t think necessarily would have.
“It’s a positive because that will potentially see broadcasters say to themselves: ‘that show did as well as an original may have done’ or ‘we took a risk and that’s opened up something new to us’.”