Loren Mawhinney Part 2: Regulation and Finance

Interviewed by Fil Fraser at Banff World Media Festival on June, 2011

Fraser. At one time, the CRTC could tell broadcasters what they could and could not do. Today that is less the case.

Mawhinney. That's right. Today, there are a lot of market forces at play. It’s a far more challenging time to be a producer because more broadcasters are taking more rights. They're looking for ways to reimburse....

F. How does that work?

M. In the old days, when I was a buyer, I bought Canadian rights only for a discrete period of time. Now, a lot of the broadcasters are saying, “A portion of what we're giving you is also equity. We want a piece of your foreign sales and any ancillary revenues that you derive from DVD sales or VOD initiatives.” So, financing is challenging for producers right now.

F. Are the broadcasters putting up more money?

M. No. They're putting up less because they have less, but they demand more. It's not for the faint of heart.

F. So, when a producer tries to put a project together, s/he has to start from scratch each time s/he does it. Can you talk about something you had to navigate through in order to put a package together?

M. In terms of trending and factual, which is where I work now, there is a real trend toward the blue collar-ization of the television schedule. For instance, we had Antiques Roadshow and now we have Pawn Stars. It's all very blue-collar; information comes in little bite-sized pieces, but it always has to be presented in an entertaining way with very large characters. These days, a producer can't just give out information on air; you have to find really large, bold, fabulous characters that can tell your story for you. Then you have to finance it domestically. Sometimes this is impossible, so you have to find a distributor that will give you money (this ensures that it gets distributed) as an advance against what they will make on foreign sales.

F. I'm fascinated by what you mean by “blue-collar.” Can you explain that more fully?

M. It started with Dangerous Catch, which is Original Pictures’ terrific series about a crab fisherman. . The fisherman has a very short season, 3-5 months, and they fish in the coldest waters in the world. If you fall overboard, you can die. There's a lot at stake. It became a very large hit for History and it's been sold all over the world. Once that happened, everyone took an interest in that kind of format. They decided that workplace stories were interesting. It's not about the executives; it's about the guys on the floor. So then we had Dirty Jobs and American Pickers, and Pawn Stars. They're all very accessible, very blue-collar.

F. Do you equate blue collar with dumbing down?

M. If you ask Discovery what their audience is, they'll say their perfect guy is Discovery Dan. He's not university-educated, but he's very smart. He can do things on his own, so that if he’s watching a construction show, it will make sense to him. He knows how things are put together. It can't be pedantic.

F. Where do you put Trailer Park Boys?

M. That's absolutely blue collar and broad-based as opposed to narrow niche.

F. And it works?

M. Trailer Park Boys has been very successful.

F. I want to ask you about the CRTC. You said earlier that it isn't so easy for the Commission to dictate any more. Does it have a future?

M. I don't think there's any desire on the part of Canadians to not have a regulated industry. There's some grassroots support to make sure that there'll always be a Canadian voice. It's been a system that has actually benefited the broadcasters because they've had simulcast. So, I don't think there's an appetite to do away with the CRTC completely. You might be referring to the recent federal government overturning a decision. We'll see if that happens again. I don't know.

F. What do you think is going to happen with the CRTC contemplating regulating Netflix?

M. The CRTC business model is a good one, especially for the young audience who has trouble coming up with $50-60 a month for cable; they will be all over subscribing to Netflix for $10 a month.

F. What does that do to your industry?

M. We still have broadcasters that have to do Canadian programming and they're very successful. We make our money from the initial Canadian market and I think we would treat Netflix as an acquisition second market.