Europe's big fish getting bigger

And navigating TV prod'n waters trickier than ever

The trend toward the European production "super-indie" is set to continue as the big fish get bigger by snapping up the smaller ones. But the race to create multi-genre giants needs to be managed carefully or creativity can become the first casualty of the deal, participants at MIPTV said this week.

"It's not about becoming a supertanker, it's more like building a flotilla of smaller ships where we all sail under our own brands but as part of a fleet" said Remy Blumenfeld, chief creative officer of private equity-backed Amaze TV, which last October secured about $350 million in financing from Palamon Capital Partners to build a European production and distribution venture through acquisitions.

"This is a business in which people and ideas are the assets — you can buy a company with a great bottom line, but if it doesn't invest in people then it isn't going to work," added Blumenfeld, warning that companies need to remain nimble to be able to generate fresh ideas and have to resist the homogenous structure that strangles creative processes. "Successful shows may have turned companies into supertankers, but supertankers are not where good ideas are from."

Amaze managing director Martha Brass, part of the core team that launched the "Idols" franchise around the world, said that success is all about providing the right kind of support.

"We are talking to companies who are led by creative talent but who don't have a strong infrastructure in terms of finance and working capital, which we do have," she said. "We can offer a foundation."

Amaze is working on building a patchwork of production companies in different territories including the Netherlands, Germany the U.K. and the U.S. to produce content for local markets.

Consolidation has been a theme of the European production scene for some years, kicked off by the creation of such behemoths as All3Media, IMG and Elisabeth Murdoch's Shine Group following in the footsteps of Fremantle and Endemol. But the trend is far from coming to an end, and mid-size companies are also getting into the game, said Chris Hunt, CEO of DCD Media, the fast-growing umbrella group that numbers such indies as Prospect Pictures, Done and Dusted, Box TV and September Films within its portfolio.

"Every company that has consolidated has a different view of how to do things, but consolidation is very much the way to go," he said. "We are not sated yet, if anything we are addicted. We have more companies telling us that they are interested, and we are very much looking for excellence and fit."

The value of shelter beneath the umbrella of a much broader parent is the ability to grow the business in directions that were previously out of bounds, said David Green, chairman of "Bridezillas" creator September Films, a recent addition to the DCD family.

"I genuinely thought that the time had come when I could grow better as part of a group," he said. "Being part of DCD helped us with financing and distribution and allowed us to keep in control of our rights, things that we couldn't have achieved as a stand-alone independent."