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Advisory Column: So you want to create your own TV show?

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMYaneek Page

If you've ever thought about creating a television show, then you're in luck as this article will give you a crash course in how to do it.

First, let me warn you that television production is a tough business. It's capital, equipment and labour intensive, complex, time-consuming, and requires specialised skills for successful execution. It's also exceptionally hard to make it a viable business in small economies like ours.

Let me also declare the obvious: I'm no Shonda Rhimes, the humble scriptwriter-turned-wildly successful television powerhouse behind hit series like Grey's Anatomy and Scandal. Shonda majored in creative writing and has a master's degree in fine arts from a world-leading film school, USC School of Cinema.

I, on the other hand, didn't go searching for TV, it found me. I was scouted by a television producer who believed I had TV presenter potential. Having had the good fortune of being trained by local and Emmy-award winning international experts after casting, I used my new-found skills to create and launch Jamaica's first business reality TV series, The Innovators, which is now in its fifth season and aired in 18 countries. I'm also now working on bringing two new series to air.

To get a television show off the ground as an amateur TV producer you need to start with a basic Internet research, specifically aimed at learning as much as possible about television production, emerging trends, breakthroughs and best practices in content creation, and so on.

If possible, you could attend the annual flagship event for broadcast quality content, the NAB Show. Unfortunately that's where the do-it-yourself ride ends; the processes that follow are very technical and will require the guidance of an expert in TV production.

The next step is concept creation, where you flesh out the ideas for your show into a formal concept document or write a script for a scripted series. A trained and experienced television producer can assist with this process. To find a producer you can contact CPTC, Northern Caribbean University or UWI's CARIMAC, which all offer formal training in this area.

It's important to set out in writing that the ownership of the intellectual property (IP) that results resides with you. In refining the show concept you must be clear on the type of audience you want to attract and the geographic reach you want to have. Will it be local, regional, global?

If you can't develop something original you can try buying the rights to an established series, as is commonly done locally. However, doing a local version of someone else's show without their permission is a breach of others' intellectual property rights and will expose you to lawsuits.

Once the concept is finalised you should register your intellectual property with assistance from JIPO or an IP lawyer. You can then prepare a budget for the production and outline a credible financial plan, and engage a production company to execute.

On the revenue side, TV shows typically earn from sponsorships and ad sales, syndication or sale of rights, while a relative few earn from pay per view and Adsense. On the expenditure side, television production is so cost prohibitive that most Caribbean countries produce a mere fraction of the content aired locally. Crew costs, meals, transportation, studio rental, set design and construction, talent fees, wardrobe, props, equipment rental, post-production, marketing and public relations are just a few of the major expenses.

A single 30-minute episode, which is actually 24 minutes in TV time when the advertisements are removed, is likely to cost between $500,000 and $2 million to produce, or more. The cost to produce a single season of 11 episodes can cost between $5.5 million and $22 million. This does not include the cost of broadcast, which is the biggest expense for some local independent TV producers.

In most Caribbean countries, television stations may buy the rights to air your show or split the advertisement time or ad revenues. In Jamaica, television stations generally don't buy the rights to locally produced TV shows, and instead will charge you millions for the airtime and also take ad spots in your show.

Given the aforementioned, you must now be wondering how you could ever make this venture viable and sustainable. The best bet would be to try to attract enough sponsorship to pay for the production and local publication, create content that is exportable and try to attract sponsors in other markets, try syndicating the show, and earning online.

It is a Herculean feat. Few companies operating in the Caribbean are willing and able to dole out the type of sponsorship needed to finance television productions. Often, sponsorship depends more on connections than merit. In fact, some companies would rather spend 50 times more to copy your concept and create a series to turn company executives into television stars than to sponsor your production, despite the fact that they'll never see a reasonable marketing return on such a big investment, and that branding overkill diminishes the credibility of the content and reduces the production value.

If, like scores of other aspiring independent television producers, you can't jump over the sponsorship hurdle, you can explore the option of creating a channel on YouTube, where you can publish a low-budget series and hopefully attract enough views to cover your expenses and turn a profit.

One love!

Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation.


Twitter: @yaneekpage