Recently, Darren Distefano – Business Affairs Manager, Foxtel, and current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program – caught up with Screen Queensland as part of a Foxtel panel discussing local production and the guidelines when commissioning for subscription television. As creativity in today’s world goes hand-in-hand with commercial imperatives, we ask Darren more about his day-to-day dealings and how having a business mindset is important in television.
What do you do?
“My job is to build relationships with production companies, television distributors and talent agents. Whether I’m working on a big glossy format or an independent documentary, it all starts in my Business Affairs unit guiding producers with Foxtel’s terms of trade and our broadcast rights. Once the show is formally commissioned, budgets open and it’s up to the producers to manage (that’s more at a mirco level, i.e. props, runners, wardrobe, travel, etc.).”
So what happens when things don’t go to plan?
“Happens all the time! You budget one thing then later producers ask for more money – ironically to get the ‘money shot.’ I guess it’s all about our working relationships with producers, and justifying the financial risk. There’s also a clear line between what’s commercial and editorial, and sometimes you have to be the middleman in mitigating those boundaries.”
How important is local production for Foxtel?
“Content is king and there’s a growing demand for local stories. Our channel line-up is aimed at key target audiences, so contrary to mass media we can be a bit more unique with our story telling. I also oversee the international distribution strategy with our Australian content. You’ll be surprised where our shows get sold overseas. Getting producers to see beyond our territory is also a determining factor when commissioning the next big thing (e.g. the ROI and NPVs).”
“Most of our business is done in Melbourne and Sydney, which isn’t a surprise from an industry perspective. Going to Queensland was an attempt to engage with the wider production community. Television funding bodies like FILM VIC, Screen ACT, and Screen QLD have been great facilitators in bridging local producers with the networks. Furthermore, Queensland has been renowned for creating kids programming and digital media production, and this frontier resonates with Foxtel’s growth strategy.”
What are the key issues when negotiating with producers?
“Producers often forget that we’re not just a content provider but also a piece of technology. With the growth of internet delivery (IPTV), our programs are not just available via cable/satellite, but also on gaming devices, phones, tablets, connected TVs, and PCs. It’s common that producers who’ve often done business with free-to-airs aren’t familiar with our rights management process. Key to my role is making sure that they’re aware of the downstream effects especially with the necessary clearances when it comes to technology.
We’re living in an era where you’re watching in your living room, at a bus stop, then on a flight. Just make sure you’re not caught out watching a guilty pleasure like THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF MELBOURNE – unless it’s for research of course (hah)!”