In a Tough Market, Distributors Must Take a Pragmatic Approach, Banijay’s Cathy Payne Says: ‘You’ve Just Got to Be Scrappy’

At Series Mania Thursday, Cathy Payne, CEO of distributor Banijay Rights, said it is “tough out there” in the post-peak market for scripted content.

“It is challenging to fund scripted, especially at the high-end. In a market where a couple of years ago you may have been able to take a larger risk now you want to see that underpinned,” she said. “In general, with the market and the changes, people are more conservative; there is not as much risk-taking.”
She added: “When we look at financing a show it’s not about getting the money to make season one, I have to think about how we are going to fund this for three to five seasons.”
Payne said, in this climate, “you just have to find a way of working through.” She added: “As someone once said to me, ‘You’ve kind of just got to be scrappy.’ You’ve just got to think, ‘How am I going to get these programs financed?'”
She said: “You are going to have to live within the means of what is available, but that will take a change in attitude, also from broadcasters in how they commission.”
Working closely with partners would be a key part of managing these challenges. “We have to be so much more aligned now with our partners,” she said.

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Payne underscored that a pragmatic approach shouldn’t be allowed to stifle creativity, citing her experience with “Peaky Blinders” and “Black Mirror.”

“You don’t want to stop people creating really unique stories that jump out of the box,” she said. “If you think over my career, and I’ve been doing it for a while, the two hardest shows we ever had to sell were ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Black Mirror,’ and look at where they went. So, you have to have a long term [view]. And while you are dealing with the reality of the world now you can never overlook that creative genius and what that is going to bring.”
Payne said that quality was not dependent on budget. “Some of our best-selling product in our catalog may not be the most expensive but it is all about the content, the story, the characters and the execution, and that can work on different budget levels.”
She added that she knew of many projects in the U.K. with leading producers behind them that were having trouble attracting financing because in the U.S. market “that financing is just not there at the moment, but it will return.”
She said that streamers were showing greater flexibility when it came to rights packages, with them taking certain windows and taking select territories, rather than all-rights worldwide.
At the same time, streamers are moving toward more mainstream shows with a broad appeal. “In a market where it is fairly tough, and it has been tough, there is less risk-taking. People are looking for broad audience content, whether you are a streamer or not,” she said, citing her experience at the recent London TV Screenings.
Looking ahead, she said: “Funding scripted is going to be a big challenge and that will continue for this year. We will have to adopt the [new] models and have to get our partners and our broadcasters to come along with that.”
She concluded: “To produce the shows, it is going to be looking at getting those budgets manageable and whether you can do more underpinning, getting partners together, making sure you are aware of all the various soft money schemes that are available. At the moment, there is certainly a fairly strong genre focus, winning most of the commissions, but it how you fund those. If it is a great idea, you will find a home for it.”

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