Denton chases bigger slice of TV future to avoid being swallowed – SMH – 27 Feb.12

Andrew Denton’s production company Zapruder’s Other Films is to merge with Cordell Jigsaw, the company behind shows like Go Back To Where You Came From and Bondi Rescue.

The resulting company, Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder (CJZ), will become Australia’s fifth major TV production house.

It will also be the only one of the five to be Australian owned.
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The other four – RTL’s Fremantle Media, Endemol’s Southern Star, Shine Group’s Shine Australia and ITV’s Granada Media – are owned by foreign media conglomerates.

“We saw ourselves as the corner shops lovingly making and selling local product increasingly in the shadow of the multi-national supermarket chains that are bringing in formats by the container load,” Denton told the Herald.

“We know what happens to corner shops in Australia when Woolworths and Coles appear in town, they disappear. So we both felt we either had to become a lot smaller or bigger. We didn’t want to become smaller.”

The combined group – CJZ, as it will be known – currently has 10 shows in production for the ABC, Foxtel, Nine, SBS, and Ten.

They include the new Denton series Randling for ABC1, Mega Truckers for the cable channel A&E and the telemovie The Great Mint Swindle for Nine.

Another four programs are already on the slate for later this year.

Denton and Cordell Jigsaw owners Michael Cordell and Nick Murray will remain co-principals of the merged company.

The deal comes as smaller production companies are struggling to find and maintain traction in the local market because of an increasing number of formats being imported from overseas.

Beyond Television, one of the bigger small independents, has weathered that shift largely by focusing on producing programming for overseas markets, such as the mega-hit Mythbusters, which it produces for America’s Discovery channels.

Smaller companies, such as Working Dog, Essential Media, Quail TV, Giant Dwarf, Matchbox, Freehand, Cornerbox and WTFN tend to focus on only a few projects at a time, and do not own the vast libraries of programs and formats their bigger cousins do.

Denton said without that programming “heft” it becomes difficult for smaller companies to compete.

The other alternative is to seek investment from a foreign studio, as NBC Universal did with Cornerbox and Freehand did with the BBC. In exchange for a stake in the company, the local outfit controls the development and production of the parent companies formats in this market.

Denton says every option was considered. “We’ve had all of those conversations with various people, but we’re really pleased we’ve taken this direction, which is to remain our own masters and to remain totally local,” he says.

“It’s a mature marketplace. We think there is a place for a really strong local independent which doesn’t have any overseas masters it has to work to,” Denton said.

Co-partner Nick Murray said production companies in Australia needed to either be “big or small [to survive]… medium-sized is difficult. It’s about evolution. It’s about saying how do we better harness our resources and continue to deliver interesting ideas.”

Murray said the two companies were complementary.

“We don’t cross over in many areas but we have really similar interests,” he said. “Andrew and I, for example, want to do more comedy, we want to mentor more people and comedy is light on the ground at the moment in the market.”

The company’s third partner Michael Cordell, whose credits include the controversial SBS documentary Go Back To Where You Came From, said talks began between the two companies more than six months ago.

Cordell said the market was presently too dependent on foreign formats.

“I can understand why they do it, but I think the networks do it because it gives them a greater sense of security,” Cordell says. “But what it means is they are reluctant and skittish about taking risks.”

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