Argonon CEO James Burstall on Eyeing indie opportunities in the US.

Broadcast Magazine 18 June, 2013 Argonon boss James Burstall travels from Santa Monica to the Canadian Rockies in search of deals. It’s often said that we are privileged to be working in this industry. This was never more apparent than when I was lucky enough to travel from the beautiful beaches of Santa Monica to the magnificent mountain town of Banff during a hectic fortnight of North American TV festivals. However, the real eye opener wasn’t the stunning scenery; it was the scale of opportunity for UK indies. The start of June saw the great and the good of the west coast TV industry gather for Realscreen West in California.  The attendees for this event differed greatly from the far larger and established Realscreen Summit in Washington D.C. at which I spoke earlier this year. Against the Pacific backdrop, US delegates were joined by a small contingent of Canadians but only a handful of British indies as brisk business was conducted around the pool and cafes of the stunning Fairmont Miramar Hotel. The event is unique in both its quality of attendees and concentrated focus; channel heads may dip in and out of the event but they are there to make deals not admire the ocean view.  Their time is precious so planning ahead is crucial for producers keen to see their ideas green lit; most of our meetings were booked ten weeks before we arrived. To get a seat at the top table, you need brilliant ideas, a well-connected agent and highly respected production talent; the Argonon team included Nick Godwin who is heading up Britespark Films and Dave Hamilton, our newly installed American leader of Leopard Films USA. Beneath the Californian sun, the hot topics of conversation included character-based docusoaps such as Moonshiners and softer formats with reality embedded into the programme such as Backyard Oil and Leopard Films USA’s very own Restaurant Divided. Leaving behind the swaying palms of Santa Monica, our next stop was the snow-capped mountains of Banff, via a whistlestop visit to Vancouver where Remedy Canada’s Toby Dormer was preparing to tie up a number of exciting new deals. The BANFF World Media Festival is the definitive Canadian TV talking shop attended by a sizeable UK and US contingent. And whilst broadcaster budgets may be challenging, there was considerable confidence and a marked appetite for deal-making. The market was awash with hungry and ambitious buyers who came to the table with budget limitations but still wanting access to the best possible original content. The key for prodcos is to offer a high quality bridge to deliver great co-produced content across genres, ranging from specialist factual to drama docs, covering subjects as diverse as history and food. With the rights exploration team headed by COO Laura Bessell-Martin in place, we were well positioned to capitalise on any opportunities and have indeed signed some exciting co-production deals. Equally impressive was the Canadian broadcasters’ appetite for digital components, supported by separate funds and digital tax breaks, which presents another opportunity for forward-thinking independents. One of the biggest talking points centred on a panel session where I was joined by producers and broadcasters on both sides of the Atlantic to explore whether the morality and honesty of TV was being jeopardised by the growth of scripted reality. Whilst there is real excitement around the genre in both the UK and North America, the panel agreed that maintaining integrity, trust and a balanced slate of factual content remains of paramount importance. Our experience of both Santa Monica and Banff once again demonstrated the exciting opportunities for indies operating in the North American market.   We’ll definitely be back again next year – and not just for the beautiful views. James Burstall is chief executive officer of Argonon