Cineflix goes to Britain to reach Hollywood


TORONTO -- Canadian indie producer Cineflix Productions is opening a second beachhead to aid its U.S. expansion: British studio-based entertainment programming.

After striking U.S. ratings gold with The History Channel's docuseries "American Pickers," Toronto-based Cineflix is now working to produce entertainment format series in Britain for possible migration to the American market.

The strategy, explained Cineflix CEO of programming Simon Lloyd, is making friends with industry trends.

Lloyd argued U.S. networks remain on the hunt for reality formats that produce big audience spikes and, like "Dancing With The Stars" and "American Idol," first proved themselves in the British market.

"Often the best way to get a show on a U.S. network is to hang on a British network first of all, and try to improve it there. What we're hoping to do is to have hits in Britain, and we're hoping that some of those hits will then migrate into the U.S.," Lloyd said.

The British development slate is now filling up with an untitled studio-based entertainment format pilot for Sky, a primetime reality food series "Family Food Fight with Flora" for Channel Five that includes British chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and a third untitled game show format still to be greenlit.

Cineflix already has an international distribution arm based in London, and decided to launch a start-up production division in Britain after deregulation in that country's TV industry in 2004 gave producers distribution rights to their series.

The Canadian producer ideally will make series as international co-productions to spread risk and costs, but with a twist: it now has offices and production expertise on the ground in Canada, the U.S. and Britain to execute on its multi-territory plans.

"By being in three territories as home markets, it helps us weather the worst excesses of the recession. You want a diversity of income bases and customers," Lloyd explained.

The current thrust into entertainment format series in the U.K. market mirrors a similar slow-build by Cineflix on the factual programming side in the U.S. cable market that recently paid off with "American Pickers."

The lost treasures series, hosted by Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, has generated audiences in the four million range since bowing in January, and is now a calling card stateside for the Canadian producer.

"Until you've had a hit show as a company, there's always a slight lingering doubt that, okay, you might be able to deliver quality and X, Y and Z, but can you deliver a hit show? Once people see 'American Pickers,' the question of whether we can deliver the numbers goes away," Lloyd said.

Cineflix slowly bridged its way into the U.S. market by producing property and design-themed shows like "Property Virgins" and "The Unsellables" for HGTV Canada, then selling them as imports to HGTV U.S. before both HGTV channels chose to co-produce Cineflix series together.

Other Canadian TV producers have similarly turned on HGTV's cross-border axis to penetrate the U.S. factual market, including RTR Media with the third season of "Income Property," a property reality series that will bow on the U.S. HGTV channel in April before it airs on HGTV Canada later this year.

"The Americans recognize that if they put in a license fee, and the Canadian channel puts in a license fee and the producer puts in tax credits, we can all have higher budgets," RTR Media president Kit Redmond explained.

Cineflix is now producing series specifically for HGTV U.S., including "Holiday Battle on the Block," a Christmas 2010 special where three families in each of four cities compete to design and build the best seasonal household display.

But flexing its wings well beyond HGTV, Cineflix' U.S. expansion is now headed up by former BBC and Granada exec Charles Treymayne in charge of a start-up New York City office and shepherding a factual series slate that includes "Campus PD" for G4, "Human Prey" for "Animal Planet" and "Urban Legends" for Biography Channel.

"We know we have a strong beachhead in America, now we can raise our game," Treymayne said.

Stateside, that will see Cineflix doing more factual series like "American Pickers" where the storytelling is key and the characters king.

"They're cast with real people that audiences can relate to because they're not necessarily people unlike themselves. They just have out-sized personalities," Treymayne said.
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