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Speaking the world’s business-TV language

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Entering European markets can seem daunting to a television producer in the United States, but one company is making it easier for business news producers to bring their product overseas.
FactBased Communications Ltd. produces financial television programs and related Web content geared toward middle-class investors in European markets.
“We’re not a network, we’re a program provider,” explained Alan Friedman, FBC’s chairman and CEO.
Current shows include “Global Economic Review,” a weekly one-hour program focused on global business events; “MoneyHunt,” a half-hour “competition” in which entrepreneurs pitch ideas to potential investors; and “Portfolio,” a weekly personal finance show.
Programs are essentially building blocks, so broadcasters who partner with FBC can subtitle or dub over an English version, record a show with in-language scripts, or interview local officials about a global topic that FBC covered.
“Depending on the market and the sophistication of the broadcaster, the show looks different,” said John Defterios, FBC’s vice president of content.
The company’s programs air in 12 markets in Europe and Asia, with about 1 million to 1.5 million viewers per language-impressive, considering the company’s youth.
While developing financial TV shows for Italian broadcaster RAI in the late 1990s, Mr. Friedman realized European viewers were starved for accessible business news. In 1998, he partnered with the International Herald Tribune, a global newspaper owned by The New York Times and Washington Post, and founded FBC.
The company’s programs are produced under the International Herald Tribune brand, which is renowned in Europe, though lesser known in the United States. Through its partnership with the paper, FBC receives resources and content to supplement original work generated by FBC journalists.
The company also receives content from and repackages TV shows with Bloomberg. And Swedish-based Skandia Media Invest recently gave $8.4 million to FBC so the two can co-produce interactive and digital terrestrial television content.
Internally, FBC has wooed away prominent American business reporters trained under Lou Dobbs at CNN, including Mr. Defterios, a former CNNfn anchor.
Even more important is the company’s hiring of European natives. “Our strategy is to be very under the radar and local in our dealings, so Italians talk to Italians, Spaniards talk to Spaniards,” Mr. Friedman said. “I go in on some high-level meetings, but we make it as local as possible.”
That community focus helps FBC rework American shows to fit local sensibilities.
For example, Miles Spencer produces “MoneyHunt” for PBS. FBC licensed the format and is selling it to European broadcasters (excluding the United Kingdom).
Partnering with FBC was an ideal way for Mr. Spencer’s Connecticut-based show to not just enter the European market but to thrive there.
“The real value is being able to convert the format to a localized, culturally sensitive product,” Mr. Spencer said. “We realized that they [at FBC] have the command of cultural sensitivity and the localization aspect, and since they’re primarily business news-oriented, it was a perfect fit.”
The benefits have been substantial. “We didn’t want to staff up to be directly producing in each individual country,” Mr. Spencer added. “[Partnering with FBC] is much more efficient, because they know the local culture, have relationships, and can maximize value.”
To complement its television offerings, FBC plans to launch in April a syndicated business news Web format called FBCInvestor.
“Our idea is to take the major global business stories, put them into context and work with portals to allow them to translate and take it into their local language,” Mr. Defterios explained.
Employing a similar flexible mindset as with the company’s TV strategy, the Web site can stand alone or be a channel within a portal, can bear the FBCInvestor name or be branded by the local partner.
In the largest markets-Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom-the company believes something much more substantial than TV programs and a Web site are needed.
FBC’s plans also include expanding further into Asia and the Americas, continuing to fill the needs of viewers and broadcasters alike.
“It’s a net win,” Mr. Defterios said. “[Broadcasters] pay a license fee, we bring in sponsors and the programming, and they know they’re hitting this audience.”
Meanwhile, the hunt is perpetually on for compelling programming to supplement the company’s current offerings.
“We’re always in the market for interesting formats in the financial, money and business spaces,” Mr. Friedman said. “We’ll do content that ranges from venture capital to technology to personal finance, to more sophisticated global economic information.”