is a generic term that covers a variety of production arrangements
between two or more companies undertaking a television (or film
or other video) project. International coproduction refers to the
situation of two or more organizations from different countries
undertaking such projects. It encompasses everything from a straightforward
co-financing arrangement in which one partner provides partial funding
while another company undertakes the actual production, to more
complex arrangements that involve joint creative control over projects.
In both cases the allocation of distribution rights and other after-market
rights is a standard element of the negotiation. More complex coproduction
agreements generally involve more permutations in such matters.
While coproductions in film have a history dating from the 1920s,
in television they were rarely popular until the 1980's. They now
appear to be more and more common as the cost of production rises
and as international markets for television mature.
coproductions--those that provide financing in return for distribution
rights--offer significant advantages to the partners and have been
undertaken for many years. Having multiple partners means more money
for a project, and in an era of escalating production costs the
financial needs of television production can be tremendous, particularly
for certain genres. Historically, coproductions have been especially
popular with television networks that required programs or films
but did not have a sufficiently large budget to produce programs
of their own. In the U.S., for example, coproductions became common
between the public broadcasting stations in major markets (Boston,
Maryland, New York) and the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).
Coproductions offered U.S. public television stations the opportunity
for high quality product at a fraction of their production cost.
In return, the arrangements offered the BBC, with its huge sunk
costs in production facilities, a means of stretching its budget
with no threat to its other distribution rights or its own primary
market, the United Kingdom. The first such coproduction, a 1971
U.S. public broadcaster-BBC venture called The First Churchill,
was a BBC period saga that won an Emmy. Since then, such ventures
have become common fare for PBS stations and, more recently, for
cable services such as A and E (Arts and Entertainment) and Discovery.
Popular television fare has included the Jewel in the Crown and
Brideshead Revisited (produced by ITV in Britain), with a
typical contribution of about 10% of the BBC production budget from
countries maintain coproduction treaties. Such treaties establish
terms which, when met, enable productions to qualify for various
forms of government support. While the specifics of such treaties
vary, they generally ensure that, over time, creative, technical
and financial contributions will be balanced among the participating
countries; the treaties may scrutinize crew composition, investment,
actors, sites, and perhaps even the language of the production.
For countries such as Canada, France, or other European Union members,
coproduction treaties ensure that the resulting product qualifies
as "domestic," a category crucial in meeting legally established
quotas determining allowable amounts of imported television content.
The treaties also assure that co-produced material is eligible for
government financing or investor tax credits in terms of the national
policies. The 1995 Co-production International handbook identifies
the BBC, Italian broadcaster RAI, British Independent Television
(ITV), the combined U.S. PBS stations, and British Channel 4 as
most active coproducing broadcasters over the past 15 years. (At
this writing, the best annual trade review of television coproduction
is published jointly by PACT (Producers Alliance for Cinema and
Television) of Great Britain in conjunction with Television Business
International. Edited by Charles Brown, this compilation, called
Coproduction International 19__, examines the television
production finance structure of many countries, focusing on coproduction.
Specific organizations - public and private broadcasters, producers
and distributors - are profiled, and their production needs and
processes are highlighted.)
cable networks developed in the United States during the 1980s,
and as additional commercial and satellite channels proliferated
around the globe, the search for affordable programming has intensified,
and coproductions have become even more attractive ways to maximize
production and distribution. One result of this development is the
clear evidence that the international aspects of television programming
now receive greater scrutiny from the outset of program planning.
Making television programs that can cater to multiple audiences
across national boundaries increasingly requires careful planning
and an awareness of audiences as well as broadcasting conventions
around the globe.
consequence of some concern regards the range of content accommodations
coproductions entail when the products must satisfy different national
audiences. A great deal of scholarly interest and some attention
by policy makers has been directed at the perceived threat to "national"
television that international coproductions may represent. Its most
extreme version invokes a scenario of homogeneous, global programs
driving out national television production that caters to and captures
what is meaningful to local audiences. In a sense, some concern
over coproduction joins the worry focused on "Americanization" or
"cultural imperialism" of international television programming.
Selection of the primary language in which to record dialogue, and
the choice to dub or subtitle, also figure into this issue. The
response of the European Union (EU) to such problems to date has
included a loosely worded 1989 Broadcasting Directive that urged
members to insure that at least 50% of their television programming
originated from within the EU. The EU has also established several
programs (eg. the MEDIA program) to support and invigorate the production
and exhibition infrastructure within member countries.
a financing vehicle, coproductions have emerged as particularly
significant means for smaller market countries to ensure that some
local production remains possible. Insofar as the television schedules
in many countries rely heavily on films (indeed, in certain countries--France,
for example--broadcasters are major investors in film), the financial
clout available through coproduction is almost mandatory for film
production destined for television airing. The ability to produce
high budget feature films is moving out of the reach of single companies,
but with partners from several countries or companies the opportunities
still exist. The European Council of Ministers created the organization
Eurimages to facilitate coproduction among three or more countries,
hoping to ensure the vitality of film among all European countries.
consequence of the demand for more product has been more intense
competition for these coproduction partners, a factor that both
has driven up the cost of coproductions and threatened arrangements
for financially strapped public broadcasting in the United States.
Moreover, the process of coproducing is itself not without problems.
On the one hand coproductions offer a mechanism for films and higher
budget television to garner the capital they require, as well as
ways to penetrate other markets, but they may also create production
headaches emerging from the very difficult process of being accountable
to multiple funders and multiple audiences. And they must encounter
and deal with issues related to multiple styles and cultures among
the cast and crew. Many efforts have floundered when partners could
not agree on script, production technique, cast, or post-production.
One of the most notorious failed coproduction efforts was Riviera,
a $35 million project of several European broadcasters. This soap
opera, set on the Cote d'Azur, ultimately pleased none of its backers
(nor their audiences), and has gone down in history as a costly
lesson in the frailties of joint production efforts.
will continue to figure into the growth of international media corporations
looking for ways to maximize their investments in productions; partnering
with local media companies in various countries has become a way
to guarantee broad distribution as well as a method of obviating
certain national restrictions on "imported" television product,
and that trend shows no evidence of slowing. However, coproduction
does seem to be yielding some production lessons, so that partners
and contracts are more carefully initiated than was perhaps the
case in earlier years. The "Euro-puddings" and failed efforts that
garnered trade press headlines in the late 1980s have given way
to growing understanding that coproduction makes most sense only
under certain conditions, and only for certain types of projects.
partner vehicle, format licensing, also became more popular in the
late 1980s and 1990s. Format licensing represents a useful scheme
for adapting tested, lower budget formula programming (especially
quiz shows and soap operas) for new markets in a way that allows
them to be tailored to local tastes and styles. It eliminates many
of the production problems coproduction may present, and effectively
domesticates a content and a format originated elsewhere.
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