by Phil Gurin – co chairman FRAPA
Recent events around the world have thrown into question the viability of format creators and their ability to effectively exploit the fruits of their labor. With a chill wind blowing, we must be vigilant in the fight for open markets, respect for intellectual property rights, and advocate for honorable practices and conduct between channels, companies and creators. We must resist the closing of minds and borders to the free exchange of ideas and commerce that have been hallmarks of the television business for more than half a century of unprecedented growth.
The recent rulings in China are the most direct and overt examples of a state wishing to depress foreign creativity and business in order to bolster its own. Vastly limiting the ability of creators to sell their non-Chinese formats into their nation is a serious shame, the latest step on a long march towards protectionism and creative chauvinism. After years seeking at first to acquire Western formats, then co-create with Western companies, then becoming the dominant partner in collaborations, and finally just seeking Western expertise, China has now solidified its desire to only buy from within. In success, they hope to then share their creations around the world. And while this is a positive step, essentially finally acknowledging that there is such as a thing as “intellectual property” with inherent value, we must remind them that it is a two-way street. And while many Chinese producers still want to work with those of us in the rest of the world, we must work to open borders, resist rampant theft of intellectual property, and foster a global collaborative spirit.
The vote in Britain to exit the European Union is, potentially, another harmful development that could chill the globalization of format exchange. At the very least, the economic model of international collaboration within the EU will change, and as we have already seen in less than a week, many large companies are losing value without a clear roadmap to the future. Along with the growing xenophobia spreading around the world, what we are witnessing is a trend to look inward rather than embrace the benefits of different points of view. As fear-mongering nationalism continues to surface, the format business may find itself stuck in a prolonged war against an isolationist trend that will depress trade and outward thinking.
Finally, the stampede towards consolidation among entertainment companies fosters a narrowing of creative freedom from what might initially appear to be a more benign, yet just as insidious, corporate point of view. Witness the slow decline in the number of third party acquisitions and distribution on the part of big multi-nationals. Note the closing of acquisition departments around the globe. Pay close attention to the sclerotic creative energy of the big companies developing solely within their organizations and the not-too-dirty secret that there haven’t been any global hits in many, many years. Finally, as channels create their own studios, as corporations only buy from within their own “silos of creativity”, the energy of independent thinking and creative optimism may be facing one of the more challenging periods for independence and variety.
In the end, if you create for yourself and only sell to yourself, what will happen to the value of the format business?
There is much we can learn from each other all over the globe. There is no single way to create content. Each country does it “a” way, not “the” way. Only by respecting the process of creative people everywhere can there be an open and free exchange of ideas (read: intellectual property), beneficial cross-national commerce, and the breath of fresh air that blows across the world wherever there is mutual respect, trust and openness. I’ll buy from you, as long as you still buy from me.