Guest Commentary: International Sales: No Longer an Afterthought

Jan 25, 2009  •  Post A Comment

In February, “The Biggest Loser” will celebrate its 100th episode as part of its seventh season. Suffice to say, “The Biggest Loser” is doing very well domestically.
It may surprise you to learn the show is also a worldwide hit, airing in more than 90 countries with original productions in 25 countries. In the U.K., ITV just announced a daily stripped format, while in Australia, Ten Network is gearing up for a fourth season of the reality show.
We at ShineReveille saw the universal appeal of “The Biggest Loser” and had the foresight to capitalize on one of TV’s most profitable frontiers: international format and tape sales. Why have a hit in one country when you can be successful in 20?
In the current challenging economic climate, this mantra has never been more true. Audiences are becoming more fragmented, advertising dollars continue to shrink and networks are aggressively cutting back on program hours.
Tough times lie ahead across the economic spectrum of our business. But television is about more than making a business of the creative. It’s about being creative with your business.
The domestic market may shrink, but if you keep an eye on emerging and developed overseas markets, you can make up for its shortcomings.
Consider this: According to the Format Recognition & Protection Association, spending on format production around the world has doubled since 2004, rising from $3.5 billion to just north of $7 billion.
By recognizing the changes in the domestic production business, adapting your thought process as well as your production process, your company can benefit from the international marketplace. That may help you not only survive the economic downturn, but actually turn a profit.
Strong overseas sales can revolutionize the finances of a show. Consider “Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty.” It fared modestly on Oxygen, but by capitalizing on Ms. Doherty’s popularity overseas, the show sold in 16 markets, grossing more than double what the show initially sold for in the U.S.
If sold correctly, formats can become highly profitable, international hits like “Breaking Up” and “The Biggest Loser.” In many cases, the more countries a show is sold in, the more its value grows.
It’s a distributor’s job to know his international markets as intimately as the domestic producer knows his. A good distributor should always preempt a channel’s needs and use his knowledge to create a sales strategy that benefits both the buyer and the producer selling the content.
From Macedonia to Malawi and Singapore to Switzerland, there are always buyers and there are always opportunities to sell your project. What most people don’t realize is that international sales provide more than mere financial benefit. They can supplement an oversaturated, cautious domestic industry and provide a home for a show where one seemingly didn’t exist.
It has never been harder to sell a show domestically. But if you work with a distributor with strong relationships and stronger nerves, you can sell your project internationally before you even talk to buyers in the U.S. As a producer, this means you automatically have a pilot and proof of the show’s performance.
In today’s marketplace, “international” and “domestic” should be occupying the same space, learning how to co-habit within each show. Getting that balance right will lead to maximum returns.
Yet many producers are so focused on selling their project domestically that they ignore international, considering it irrelevant. They often give away international rights or use them as a bargaining tool without fully understanding or analyzing their potential value.
Hold on to your rights, find the right distributor and think internationally. These days, whether you are a TV veteran or a new producer, the rewards are too great to ignore.
Chris Grant is president of Shine Reveille International, the sales and distribution arm of the Shine Group, an independent production and distribution company focused on exploiting worldwide intellectual property rights through scripted and alternative television formats.


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