Dusting Off The Cobwebs

It's time to delve into those rusty old filing cabinets and to blow the dust off the shelves of tapes marked 'Master' as the VoD brigade arrive in town. Hulu will inevitably need to come to grips with the Terms of Trade that independent production companies operate under in the UK, but new players such as the screen manufacturers and mobile operators will also be actively seeking content.

Most production companies think that they might just be sitting on a small gold mine of archived content. Unfortunately, this is often far from the truth. And the further back rights go, the more complex the situation. On top of this is the issue of residual payments for artists and contributors which become due if a programme is sold.

So, when is it worth tackling those filing cabinets ? Well, it's a tough call. The first thing to do is a top level audit to ascertain what rights might belong to the production company and are relatively unencumbered. The second step is to then establish a potential value for these rights.

There are no easy avenues to achieving this at present, although companies such as Rights Tracker (where I am Non-executive Chairman) are extending their software to make these tasks easier.

Inevitably getting to a position where content is ready for sale takes professional advice and will incur costs.

For smaller production companies it's a tough call, but will become increasingly essential if they are to stay in business. Going forward it's best to try and prepare for the opportunities coming by standardising contracts, being clear on residual positions and keeping proper metadata on all content; as prices drop, it may also be worth keeping digital copies of masters.

Whatever else, it's going to involve fundamental change for all content owners.