Cable short on longform over rights issues

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The squeeze was on at AFM for indie filmmakers who banked on a continued voracious appetite for longform fiction and docu films on the part of cable operators worldwide.

The lucrative market provided by such product-hungry cablers as Lifetime, USA, Sci Fi Channel and FX is on the wane as rights deals get increasingly combative.

Jean Prewitt, president and CEO of the Independent Film & Television Alliance, which runs AFM, said that diminishing returns for IFTA members from the cable sector at AFM is fast becoming a major issue.

She told The Hollywood Reporter that intricate rights issues, particularly new-media rights, have been dogging filmmakers. "The squeeze on new-media rights and backend rights are going to be a major issue."

It's an about-face for the industry. "A couple of years ago, several things were going on," Prewitt said, "and one was that foreign TV and cable was opening up and there were the emerging cable channels in the U.S. that were picking up more longform. The window of opportunity that our members saw in that is now starting to close."

A typical cable production model in the U.S. would see the broadcaster come up with $750,000 of a $1.5 million budget. The independent producer would look to other areas such as international and DVD to make up the difference. "But increasingly the tendency is for the cabler to want to take more than just U.S. cable first telecast rights," said Prewitt, an experienced attorney.

Networks and cablers also are seeking Internet telecast rights for free. That in turn leaves the independent producer struggling to convince international buyers that their rights and the intellectual property will not be compromised globally on the Internet. "Foreign distributors want protection in their marketplace," Prewitt said.

She said the market share for the independent producing for primetime TV has been whittled down from 50% "a decade ago" to just 15% because of deregulation and consolidation.

"After we all saw those numbers, we were shocked," Prewitt said. "Now cable is being whittled away. Cable was an escape valve of sorts, and there was a school of thought that perhaps the Internet would also be an escape valve. But now we see the same thing happening with the Internet."

She added, "The history of media consolidation is a big issue for our membership, and at this point this development is an issue in terms of negotiations."
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