ITN Plotting British Invasion Into U.S. Production Market

A news DNA, reasonable cost are attractive to networks

At a time when peak TV might have peaked and traditional TV economics are under pressure, ITN Productions is seeking a prime U.S. business opportunity.

ITN Productions, an offshoot of ITN, which produces news for the United Kingdom’s commercial networks, entered the U.S. market about three years ago and now has landed shows on nearly a dozen networks.

“We’ve built a lot of our business plan on rapid U.S. growth. We have intentions to hire and employ a lot of extra head count in the next 18 months and set up offices in the east and west,” said Mark Browning, ITN Productions group managing director. “For us, probably the single biggest and most exciting opportunity as a U.K. production company is working with U.S. networks and getting into the U.S. sector.”

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Browning said 20% of ITN Productions’ $51 million in revenue now comes from the U.S. The company hopes to boost U.S. revenue to $57 million this year.

According to Browning, the core attributes of ITN Productions spring from its background coming from a news organization. That background translates into being able to do authentic, responsive, highly impactful storytelling.

“That’s the DNA of a good worldwide news organization,” Browning said. “And we have turned those skills to as many business opportunities as we can on a global scale.”

ITN pointed to the Oscar nomination it earned for its documentary Watani: My Homeland, about the children of Aleppo, Syria.

The U.S. is already a huge buyer of shows from U.K. production companies, including the BBC.

“What we’ve found, particularly in the cable network sector, is our offering of high-volume, high-quality, but lower cost, is like catnip to the networks. They go nuts for it. That’s worked very well for us,” Browning said.

That’s only getting more true as cable networks get squeezed by cord-cutting, eroding ratings and a flat ad market. “They get the economic pressures of the market so they look to retain quality but do it on a different economic model, and that’s a window of opportunity,” Browning said.

Material Witnesses
The U.S. is also a great source of news stories that can be turned into TV program material. ITV has already created 10 documentary programs about new President Donald Trump.

“[Regarding] subject matter, he’s absolute gold dust in TV terms,” Browning said.

The documentaries have aired in the U.K., and ITN is trying to sell them in the U.S. Browning said he thinks its show about Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, in particular has a good chance to find a buyer.

ITN Productions’ first score in the U.S. came when it covered the story about women who escaped after being kidnapped in Cleveland. It pitched a quick turnaround documentary. Discovery Communications’ Investigation Discovery bought it and aired the show, which was called House of Horrors: Kidnapped in Cleveland.

“It was a great experience. They turned it around really quickly and with high quality. It was a very smooth process and it rated,” said Jane Latman, executive vice president of development for ID, Destination America and America Heroes Channel.

That began the relationship, and soon ID and ITN were talking about other projects.

“One was a very core crime series for us,” Latman recalled. “In developing that, we all agreed that it would be better if it was hosted.”

Latman at the time was also talking to former NBC news reporter Chris Hansen about doing a show.

“We knew we needed to pair Chris with a high-quality company, a very responsible company, and find a company that would speak Chris’s language,” she said. A meeting was set up between Hansen and ITN, and they hit it off. “It was like the ingredients of a recipe all came together, and Killer Instinct With Chris Hansen was born.”

The series is now in its third season.

Latman said she likes working with ITN. “One thing that’s attractive about working with a company that’s an offshoot of a news organization is the access they have to stories and to archives,” she said. “If you can be economical, that can be icing on the cake,” she added, noting that ITN’s rates are reasonable, somewhere in the middle of the range it gets from production companies.

Although the field is crowded, Latman said she thinks there’s room for another production company in the market. “There’s room for fresh, new people, new ideas, new talent, absolutely. I don’t think it’s saturated.” ITN now is also doing shows for A&E, Smithsonian Channel, National Geographic and CBS Sports Network.

Crime Does Pay
“We find that archive-based shows and crime shows have been real winners from our perspective,” said Browning. ITN’s shows marry U.K. production values with U.S. talent. That seems to at this stage to be a pretty good formula for cable networks.

Next up, ITN Productions is eyeing scripted programming. “Where we’ve got our investment going on in our business is in fact-based drama, drama that is based on the real-world stories that have taken the globe by storm in the last 10 or 20 years,” Browning said.

Browning believes that as a news organization, ITN is right where it belongs. “We probably know the characters, we know the people affected, we also know their counsels and backroom teams and so forth and we will have probably covered the story ourselves in the news. So it’s a natural next step for us to move into drama based on those kinds of stories,” he said.

ITN Productions is also looking to do business with the subscription VOD players, such as Netflix. “We hope to have a commission we can announce this side of Christmas,” Browning said.