The NPA to Host Town Hall on State of Nonfiction

NPA town hall looks to explore state of unscripted

Realscreen | May 17, 2017

The Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA) is looking to explore the state of unscripted in an open forum.

To that end, the association — a professional body founded in 2014 to serve the non-fiction TV business — will hold its first town hall on June 5 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. The event is open to both members and non-members.

The producers-only forum is meant to provide an opportunity for producers at all levels to come together as a community to ask questions and participate in a discussion on industry issues, concerns and explore the current state of unscripted.

John Ford, NPA general manager, will moderate the discussion. He will be accompanied by a panel of industry execs from unscripted production companies.

“The NPA was formed nearly three years ago as a trade organization to support and convey the strength and value of our industry, and to offer a point of view on industry issues and challenges; but it has evolved as a true fellowship and resource for producers at nearly every level,” said Ford in a statement. “Having gone from eight member companies to now 60, we feel the time is right for a forum in which many different voices in unscripted can be heard, and to come together as a creative community to explore current challenges and solutions in a time of great change, but also great opportunity.”

Looking Ahead at RSW '17 with NPA's John Ford

Realscreen West ’17: NPA’s John Ford on top issues for producers

Realscreen | May 1, 2017

Between budgets, production processes and OTT domination, there are a lot of challenges facing producers worldwide these days. Ahead of Realscreen West, June 6 to 8 at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica, we caught up with John Ford, general manager of the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA), to breakdown the issues and topics he thinks will be top of mind for 2017 attendees.

Heading into Realscreen West, what are three main issues or areas of concern that you think producers are hoping to discuss?

I think the challenges in getting through many of the processes of production will continue to dominate the conversation, because those issues strike at the heart of everyone’s livelihood.. So we can anticipate more discussion on the challenges for producers, things like fee and rate erosion – which speak to budgets and profit margins – and the declining quality and slow pace of the development process. I think we’ll also find producers want to talk about ways they can stay creative while dealing with all the operational and service aspects of the business. Creativity is certainly why most producers got into this industry and that will always be top of mind.

What are other hot topics you expect to hear about from attendees this year?

I think the OTT sector is on a lot of producers’ minds, both the big established players like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and some of the smaller, lesser-know digital services. The latter are starting to put up real money for network-level projects and it’s stirring interest among producers. I also hear a lot of talk about “creativity” – how are we going to continue to catalyze it in an increasingly tight economic climate? It’s the lifeblood of our industry and people are worried about how we sustain it.

With budget, costs and other operational issues taking so much of the spotlight, what is the status of creativity in the industry and do you think that spirit is being threatened in the current atmosphere?

I think, frankly, this is one of the reasons producers come to Realscreen West. Most of the time they have their heads down, managing staff, productions, budgets, swatting flies. Amidst the day to day of the business you forget to look around. These kinds of events often galvanize the creative community and can even inspire a kind of “reset.” We’re all looking for the next big reality hit. What I worry about is this: Is the current, restrictive, cost-oriented conversation going to unleash the creative power we need to produce those hits? And is cost myopia preventing us from seeing the breakout shows we need? Creativity must always be the driving force, and there’s no question producers have to find ways to rise above other concerns that can threaten it.

How important would you say the entrepreneurial spirit is to unscripted television and the content business in general?

The entrepreneurial spirit is the industry; it’s as defining as any other characteristic. These are risk-takers — people who stick their necks out by nature, for better or worse. Even inside larger corporate structures, the producers are people who incline toward the new and untested, and that’s essential for producing the next big hit.

In what ways do you think the industry has changed from say one year ago? Five years ago? What aspects do you think the industry needs to be prepped for change going forward?

Look at the penetration of cable networks and how it’s declined since 2012 – not a pretty picture when you go from 98 million to 92 million homes. At the same time, those networks have been growing abroad and now can sell their programming over the top (OTT), through iTunes, to Netflix or any place else. They’ve lost in one area and gained in several others. What’s the net? I don’t know, but I do know the revenue blend has changed and will continue to evolve. Producers need to understand and adapt to that.

Realscreen Summit 2017 Brings Growth

NPA membership surges following Summit ’17

Realscreen | February 2, 2017

Ten new member companies have joined the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA), lifting the organization’s membership to a total of 52 entities across the U.S. and Canada.

Of the 10 companies joining the NPA following last week’s 2017 Realscreen Summit in Washington, D.C. and 2017 NATPE in Miami, eight are production companies and individual producers, including Matthew Kelly and Michael Sorensen‘s prodco Anomaly Entertainment; I Am Homicide producer Blackfin Productions; Bottle Rocket Films, founded by Flower Hulihan; multimedia prodco INvelop Entertainment, launched by Brant Pinvidic; producer Diana Marcketta; Magilla Entertainment-owned Mix Tape Media from Seanbaker Carter; OAKZ Media-owned Pink Sneakers from founders John and Kimberly Ehrhard; and Red Rock Films, founded by 30-year TV veteran Brian Armstrong.

The remaining two are “associate” member companies, which serve the industry. They include Media Central, a global company offering crews, production and post; and Wise Entertainment Law, focusing on the negotiation of U.S. cable network agreements and other transactions relating to reality television shows.

States of Reality

Febuary 24, 2017 | Posted on C21 Media

By Clive Whittingham

With drama too expensive for many cablenets and SVoD players taking their audience, unscripted and reality are growing in importance in the US. The problem is paying for it.

While the television buzz has swarmed around drama for several years, the unscripted business in the US is growing in importance.

With cord-cutting, skinny bundles and economic factors reducing cable subscriptions from north of 100 million to closer to 90 million, the cable networks are facing a fall in revenue.

John Ford, NPA General Manager

John Ford, NPA General Manager

“Reality is still a very strong genre, much needed by the cablenets,” says John Ford, general manager of the US-based Non-Fiction Producers Association. “The cost of reality ranges from US$250,000 an hour up to US$550,000, but that pales into insignificance when compared to drama, where the price of admission is US$2.5m an hour. You can make big bets on drama but reality keeps the lights on.”

There are also factors other than the bottom line in play. The shift away from procedurals in favour of serialised drama has killed the repeats business. Matt Gould, executive VP of the US branch of UK producers’ association Pact, says: “Repeats used to get 50% of the rating of the premiere; now it’s probably closer to 10%. There are more opportunities than ever for producers.”

But as Gould admits, it’s harder than ever to get a show away. With declining subscriptions and increased competition comes budget pressures, and original programming is the biggest overhead cablenets have.

“The cost of making high-quality programming is not 10% less than five years ago, in fact it’s higher because labour costs go up and so on,” Ford says. “Having worked as a network commissioner at Discovery, saving 5% on the budget but reducing the quality of the show and its chances of being a hit isn’t a smart move because hits keep you in the job. You also need a robust creative community where hundreds of companies are out there developing ideas for you for free.”

This is a sentiment echoed by Arthur Smith, CEO of LA prodco A Smith & Co, which produces Hell’s Kitchen for Fox, American Ninja Warrior for NBC and Esquire, among other shows.

“If budgets are spread too thin, the resulting product can be inferior, and the investment is wasted because the project’s potential wasn’t maximised and, as a result, flopped,” Smith says.

“The cable and broadcast communities realise that good programming costs what it costs, and skimping on that can prevent a producer from making the programme the best it can be. It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but being cheap and frugal can end up being expensive.”

This is particularly true as one of the trends seems to be towards higher-end, documentary-style reality shows. Prison-themed 60 Days In has made big waves on A&E, for example.

“There’s more demand for high-cost, blue-chip than I’ve seen for a long time,” says Gould at Pact US. “Companies that specialise in that are booming – Jigsaw, Warrior Poets, Part Two Pictures. Broadcasters and producers are finding new revenue models – Discovery partnered with Boeing on The Age of Aerospace. Something we’re pushing our members to thinking about is international-first content. When the terms of trade came into being in the UK in 2003, factual programming there changed from documentary style to more formatted. I believe something similar is happening here.”

John Pollak, president of Electus International, says the belt-tightening has actually helped the pitching process. “The buyers are more targeted in what they’re looking for,” he says. “A couple of years ago, when reality was at its height, everything was working so everybody was trying everything – docusoap, scripted formats, gameshows.

“Broadcasters now have a much clearer idea of what they want, which makes the development and pitching process more streamlined.”

But according to Jeff Collins, founder of Collins Avenue (Dance Moms, Stove Tots): “It has never been more difficult.

Discovery partnered with plane manufacturer Boeing on The Age of Aerospace

“We are at a point now where broadcasters look to me as a company owner to roll in a portion of my fee. The business model is extremely difficult to work when it’s nothing more than a fee-based business in the first place. There are so many costs that come out of my profit – we spend more money than ever in development.”

So does the increasing importance of reality and unscripted, allied with cablenets’ declining ability to cover the costs, mean they’re open to leaving some programming rights with the producers – a given in the UK under the terms of trade but often a pipe dream in the US.

“Absolutely not,” says Collins. “Networks are more aggressive than ever on rights. Even the few that are open to the conversation, by the time you factor in what they’re looking for in terms of the prodco offsetting the budget, it’s not worth it. You’d make more from the small piece of back-end they offer than if you found a distributor yourself. It’s a fool’s errand.”

Needless to say, this is not an opinion shared by Gould at Pact. The producers’ association played a key role in lobbying the UK government for the terms, which formed part of the Communications Act 2003.

“Rights are not a pipe dream; it’s one of our main missions at Pact US,” he says. “If repeats don’t work and at the same time broadcasters say they want bigger and better shows… their budgets aren’t getting bigger. Viewers want blue-chip stuff and fresh content, so they may have to do it. Broadcasters that were never previously willing to discuss rights are relaxing their position in the US.”

Pollak says Electus has tactics to hold on to its programmes. “We’re not really looking to deficit finance every production we’re doing any more,” he says. “By bringing a brand, a format or a big piece of talent it’s really helped us to hold on to rights in a lot of cases. Running Wild with Bear Grylls on NBC is a prime example. With some broadcasters it’s not going to happen but with a lot there is always a conversation and a format or talent can really help.”

So is this big SVoD streaming monster that’s chomping bits out of cable’s revenue interested in unscripted itself? Netflix’s Making a Murderer and Amazon’s record-breaking launch of The Grand Tour suggests so.

Elli Hakami, who set up Talos Pictures in New York with fellow former MTV exec Julian P Hobbs in 2016, says her firm is pitching to the streamers and she expects the programmes that come out of it to look very different to cable and broadcast series.

“It goes back to the promise of a premium brand to its viewer when looking for a subscription,” Hakami says. “When a viewer is going to sit and watch something commercial-free and binge-watch for three hours you have to wrap your head around that and say this is being viewed very differently, and therefore the content should respond to that. Great stories, great characters and unknown worlds always win but you can slow it right down.

“I’m not saying SVoD is this new shiny thing and broadcast is the ugly older brother – you can make shows that feel premium for both – but the nature of the different ways the viewer approaches the two platforms definitely does have an impact.”

And what of the shock political results of 2016? Those working in the media seemed to be caught on the hop by both Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidential success. So do they exist in a bubble? And does this mean there’s a huge audience out there waiting to be programmed for?

Most producers C21 has spoken to say it was the news channels that faced the most stark inward reflection, while others point to series such as Duck Dynasty. But Collins goes further.

“We do exist in a media bubble,” he says. “As a programme maker I take it very seriously, I follow politics intensely. I do believe there is a segment of the population we have been missing with our programmes. I grew up in the South, in a red state that went for Trump, surrounded by working class folk who don’t have a college education. We have to be mindful of what they want to see on TV.

“My view is they want to see stories about people like them, who win. Channels like History have always been keen to tell stories about men who are able to go out into the wilderness and use their hands to scratch out a living that doesn’t involve being part of the system. Well, we’ve done that, we’ve had that fantasy, how do we bring that home? How do we find stories about guys who are part of the system, who aren’t living in Alaska but who are winning. That will be the trend for 2017.”

So, it’s an increasingly important genre for belt-tightening cablenets, and another area of expansion for the all-conquering SVoD players, which means there are more unscripted buyers than ever before. There’s also, it seems, a huge but under-served portion of the US to target with programming. But it’s going to require clever business models from the producers, and who knows, maybe some rights concession from the networks to do it.


January 17, 2017 | Deadline

Producers rank Best & Worst Basic Cable Companies To Work With

History and A&E are far and away the best basic cable channels for producers to work with, according to a first-of-its-kind survey of independent reality TV producers. By contrast, says the survey, BET and WE tv are the worst.

January 27, 2017 | The Hollywood Reporter Magazine

Reality TV Producers Reveal the Networks They Like to Pitch

January 17, 2017 | The Hollywood Reporter

Reality Producers Favor A+E Nets, Prefer Not to Pitch CMT

A new study from the Nonfiction Producers Association ranks cable networks on what they are like to pitch and work with.

Reality TV is a lot like Russian Roulette, so it's perhaps a little surprising that it took this long for someone to try and game the odds. The Nonfiction Producers Association on Tuesday released a first-of-its-kind study, ranking where alternative producers like to pitch — and where they'd rather take a preemptive pass.

January 17, 2017 | Multichannel

History, A&E Top NPA Cable Network Survey

Nets are non-fiction producers’ favorites to pitch shows

History and A&E networks were the favorite cable networks for non-fiction producers to work with, according to a new survey from the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA) released Tuesday.

January 17, 2017 | Realscreen

History and A&E top NPA’s cable network survey

The first annual Cable Network Survey has named History Network and A&E as the top cable channels to work with, with the overall first places interchangeable between the two A+E Network-owned brands depending on the category.

Discovery Channel, Lifetime, Investigation Discovery, HGTV and Travel Channel came next, followed by 16 other networks.

January 17, 2017 | Broadcasting & Cable

History, A&E Best Networks to Work With, Say Non-Fiction Producers

NPA study sees BET, WE tv near the bottom

A survey on the best cable networks to work with from the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA) sees History and A&E in the top two spots across the board. Discovery, Lifetime, ID, HGTV and Travel occupied many third and fourth place spots.


January 19, 2017 | C21 Media

US indies ‘on a cliff edge’

NATPE: The US independent production sector is close to collapse as networks squeeze producers to breaking point, according to leading executives here in Miami.

January 18, 2017 | NATPE Daily 2017

Pressures of reality

Some producers are calling it a perfect storm: a confl uence of trends – audience cord-cutting, the rise of OTT subscription services, the migration of ad dollars to the online world – that has put U.S. ad-supported cable networks in cost-cutting mode. That, in turn, threatens the production companies that supply those networks with the vast majority of their unscripted programming.

Emmy Magazine - Reality Issue

THE TERM NONFICTION TELEVISION encompasses virtually all unscripted programming, from documentaries to every incarnation of the Real Housewives franchise, yet there was no standard bearer for the industry until the Nonfiction Producers Association (NPA) was formed in 2014.

“It started with eight companies, and now we have thirty-nine,” says NPA general manager John Ford, also head of programming for Justice Network. “Nonfiction TV – outside of news – has become a huge and influential multi-billion-dollar industry. Rather than let others who don’t know anything about the business define it, we needed to coalesce and start speaking as an industry.”

The descriptor nonfiction won out because reality television was deemed too narrow. “Documentaries, competitions, contests, real-life adventure shows – anything that doesn’t require a script – is in the purview of nonfiction,” Ford explains.

NPA members agree to follow industry standards and best practices. They’re also encouraged to actively participate in the association, sharing information on everything from insurance coverage and equipment to location filming.

Say Ford: “Anyone who confronts a problem knows that as part of the NPA, they’re not alone”

-Paula Hendrickson

Looking forward: The NPA’s John Ford

Looking forward: The NPA’s John Ford

By: Barry Walsh

Having held senior executive positions at National Geographic Channel and Discovery Networks (including a two-year stint as president and GM of Discovery Channel) over the course of his career, John Ford, general manager of the 18-month-old Non-Fiction Producers Association, knows a fair bit about the producer-network dynamic, and the challenges facing both teams.

Ford, also currently serving as head of programming at Justice Network, has headed up the association – comprised of 38 member companies from across the United States, including such unscripted heavyweights as all3media, Bunim/Murray Productions, ITV America, Leftfield Entertainment, and Half Yard Productions – since July. The post has given him insight into his membership’s concerns over the changes currently impacting the industry, as well as the opportunity to present those concerns to network partners in order to facilitate best practices and smoother relationships between buyer and seller.

“One of the things that an association can do is step back, take an industry view, take that view to the network and production management and business affairs people, and try to make some progress,” Ford told realscreen in an interview during a break in the action at the recent Realscreen Summit. “It’s not a contentious thing, it’s more about sitting down and hammering away at issues that affect both of us negatively.”

Specifically, Ford cites what’s seen as “a little bit of chipping away” at producers’ fees and reduction in series volume – “You might have got 10 episodes before, now you might get eight, or six,” he explains – as current concerns of the membership, but he also takes care to frame them as part of what was a transitional year for every sector of the unscripted content industry.

Challenges aside, Ford is also quick to point to the health of the unscripted TV business, as reflected in a recent study conducted with consulting firm Mishkin Associates, which billed unscripted programming in the U.S. as a US$3.9 billion industry. Other recent surveys conducted by the NPA across its membership depict the rapid growth of the industry in recent years, and in turn, that growth’s impact on the production community, as represented by the NPA. (Click the link below to see the assorted survey results.)

NPA Profile – 4-Slide Stats

The surveys, covering the five-year period between 2010 to 2014, reflect an industry that has virtually exploded, with the average number of hours produced by member companies annually rising from 65 in 2010 to 97 in 2014, and mean company revenues rising from $24 million in 2010 to $41 million in 2014.

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Through the survey process, the NPA has also examined the health of the unscripted business in the U.S. through the lens of average hourly wages, and the ratio of freelance workers to full-time workers. Wages can run the gamut from $17.46 per hour for production assistants, to $54.63 hourly for a producer, to a peak of $102.50 per hour for a co-EP.

The ratio of full-time employees to freelancers, meanwhile, stands at approximately 5:1, according to the NPA survey.

“On the labor front, one of the things we found in our survey is that production revenues grew by about 170% over that five year period, while labor costs went up 178%,” adds Ford. “So labor, as a line item, has been going up faster than overall revenues, which I think stands to reason if you look at it anecdotally.

“We encourage our members to provide opportunities for growth, training programs – so if someone goes in as an assistant editor they can see a path to becoming an editor. That’s important to the success of a company. Another thing is that our companies are pretty young. If you look at the number of hours produced over that five-year period, it’s an industry that’s grown very big, very fast. So people have had to get more sophisticated about how they operate their shops in a very quick time, while they’re growing their businesses, and that’s difficult.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. What else are you hearing from your membership about the challenges it has faced over the past year? One thing that people are reporting back is that network executives don’t seem to have as much confidence in commissioning as they did, say, three or four years ago. That speaks directly to how difficult it is to mount a hit these days, because there’s so much competition for viewers’ attention compared to what there was five years ago. It’s not unlike what broadcasters were experiencing in the 1990s, when cable was going through its exponential growth. That phase scared the heck out of broadcasters because suddenly the definition of a hit was different, and I think that’s changing now for cable.

The big trend towards consumers being able to avoid commercials is very much on people’s minds. A lot of what we’re seeing – when you see someone migrating from watching TV on cable to watching TV on Netflix – not only are they able to watch different content, they can watch content that doesn’t have commercials there… But the bulk of the cable business is still depending on forcing people to watch commercials in order to get the programs. As that changes, you wind up with a huge groundswell in the industry that everyone has to deal with.

That’s something that our producers are thinking about as they start to tailor their content to add in the kind of blended service, where I’m not offering to you – the consumer – a product I can sell to advertisers. I’m offering you the TV program. You’re buying it from the network and me, Amazon Prime and me, whomever. As the reins of control shift – not entirely but substantially – you’ll have a different kind of content. Is it good or bad? No, it’s neither – it’s just different.

The caution in development is a challenge. The money put out for development being a lot less than development costs, inefficient processes… One of the things about our industry which I know about from being in the network side and which has always befuddled me is how our business contracting is pretty primitive. You do a contract every time you do a program and sometimes at the start you’re doing it from scratch. We’re encouraging both our members and our network partners to see if we can revisit that and make the contracting procedure a lot smoother. The way I put it is “taking the sand out of the gears” of development, contracting and production. There are a lot of elements in there that you don’t need to revisit every time you do a contract.

There is fault on both sides – producers and networks – but together if we can sit down and iron out some of those things to make them quicker, what will happen is the network will get its program on the air when it wants it there, as opposed to three months later. As a former network commissioner, I know that when I want a program on my air in May, I want it in May for a reason, not August. And if it gets slowed down in development and contracting hell because of some kink in the business affairs system, that doesn’t serve me or the producer. So we’re working together with networks to try to iron those things out and I think that can help.

How do you think your members and network partners see the role of the NPA? With our members, as they started getting into conversations with each other, they found they could benefit most from sharing business insights and practices. If you look at your average non-fiction producer or head of a company, it’s head down, developing, producing, pitching all the time. Production can be chaotic, it’s always urgent and you’re putting out fires all the time. What the Association does for people is give them a place to go and step back, talk to people who have those shared experiences, and learn from one another about how to improve what they’re doing. That’s what we’re seeing as the primary benefit.

What we’ve tried to do in talking to networks, and we’ve sat down with most of the major groups, is to say we are about helping them help themselves. So help us to do that – sit down and talk with us about what’s going on in the business… We’re looking for win-wins.

Change is a constant and we just want to make sure our members are equipped to handle the changes as best as possible. We have a pretty bright, progressive group and I think they’re going to handle change really well.

EXCLUSIVE: NPA Honors Bunim/Murray Founder


By: Daniele Alcinii

Bunim/Murray Productions founder Jonathan Murray (pictured, right) has been honored with the inaugural Above and Beyond award from the U.S.-based Non-Fiction Producers Association (NPA).

The award honors Murray, founder of The Real World and Born This Way prodco Bunim/Murray Productions, as a founding member of the organization – one whose presence and support has helped recruit other NPA members – as well as someone who has generously donated his personal time, money and expertise to further the reach and mission of the group.

NPA GM John Ford (left) presented Murray with the award during the NPA’s annual meeting at this week’s Realscreen Summit in Washington DC.

The organization, which launched in July 2014, is designed to foster best practices in non-fiction television production while also serving as a source of information and assistance for prodcos and their employees.

According to the NPA, the 38 production firms under its umbrella produce more than half of the non-fiction content on broadcast and cable television in the U.S., as well as OTT networks. This month, Authentic Entertainment (Ace of CakesFlipping Out) also joined the organization.

“We all got into this industry because we wanted to become storytellers, and in the process we also ended up being business owners,” said Murray in a statement. “The fellowship of the NPA is something I truly believe in; I’m very appreciative of this honor and will continue working with the group toward the NPA’s mission and goals.”


NPA hires Film Garden’s Van Kempen

January 27, 2016

Richard Middleton | Article Source

The Non-Fiction Producers Association (NPA) in the US has appointed veteran unscripted producer and executive Michelle Van Kempen as head of policy and development.

Based in LA, Van Kempen will work across all NPA issues and initiatives, including strategy and operations, industry events, and membership and member services. She will report to NPA general manager John Ford.

Van Kempen was co-principal and exec producer at Film Garden Entertainment (Platinum Weddings, Amazing Wedding Cakes, Hogs Gone Wild) for nearly 20 years until 2013.

NPA was founded in 2014 and claims to be the first professional body created to represent the non-fiction content production business in the US.

Nearly 40 companies are members with the organisation offering information and assistance to production companies, while promoting best practice.

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