Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

All3 rides out the Skins storm

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast January 27, 2011

Controversy will not dent firm’s US ambitions, says Kate Bulkley.

The weather in Miami Beach for NATPE was unsettled this week - which also describes Steve Morrison’s visit to the US programming market. Things didn’t quite go according to the forecast.

The All3Media chief exec was set to unveil plans to ramp up its US presence, but instead had to field questions about why the US version of Skins on MTV was losing advertisers after a watchdog claimed the show violated child pornography laws.

“If the audience stays with it, they’ll find it is a quality drama with characters that are full of love, insecurities and human complications, but in a more real way than perhaps we have been used to with Big Brother,” Morrison told a NATPE audience that included a surfeit of US and Latin American execs.

But by this week, Company Pictures’ US version had seen advertisers Taco Bell, General Motors, Subway, Schick razors, H&R Block and Wrigley all pull out.

The controversy hasn’t dampened Morrison’s appetite to grow in the US, though, as he outlined plans to give a US presence to All3 stablemates Company, Maverick and Objective this year. Ex-BBC Worldwide production chief Wayne Garvie, who is heading All3’s international efforts, told me he will help with “focus, strategy and managerial issues” for All3’s US indies, but, significantly, he won’t be president of a major new All3 entity.

Instead, the super-indie will preserve separate identities as it has in the UK, and Morrison described Garvie’s role as creating a “light umbrella” over All3’s US efforts, along with former US CBS TV executive Nancy Tellem as “mentor and helpmate”.

All3’s ambition is to double US revenues in 2011, bringing the contribution of the US into “double digits”. Morrison also thinks that producers should be able to retain more rights in their US shows because of the “huge competition” for US viewers.

“I think the rights arrangements [in the US] will evolve,” he said, which would also help improve valuation of the entire All3Media business for its private equity owners.

Also at NATPE, Kevin Lygo admitted to a steep learning curve in the US market as ITV launched a version of Jeremy Kyle to some 200 local affiliate stations, with a deal to get a percentage of the advertising revenue.

Lygo also said ITV was working on a new quiz format “in the tradition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and, along with several other speakers, highlighted the trend for unscripted reality that looks more like drama, like ITV2’s The Only Way Is Essex.

Elsewhere at the market, WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell gave a masterclass in how he is repositioning the world’s biggest agency to match the global shifts in purchasing power to the BRICs (that’s Brazil, Russia, India and China). He also talked about WPP’s programming and content unit, which he said would “aggressively” compete with TV producers for advertisers.

And in a market still absorbing what the purchase of NBC Universal by cable company Comcast will mean, Sir Martin predicted more consolidation, citing News Corp’s current bid to buy the rest of BSkyB. “This has to go through for the health of the business,” he said.

Given the delay in Jeremy Hunt’s final decision, that is one forecast Rupert Murdoch would welcome.

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