It’s a good sign for Colorado
By Richard J. Schneider
ITV’s acquisition of High Noon Entertainment can’t be anything but good for the Colorado film and television production community.
That is the take-away from a CFVA Ebulletin interview with High Noon co-founder and CEO Jim Berger.
“As it gets down to operating, really nothing's going to change,” Berger said. “We’re not going to decrease any of our three offices. As it relates to Colorado, which is our largest, we have no plans -- no plans -- on decreasing the operation, decreasing the post operation, or the amount of shows we do. As a matter of fact, we want to do more.”
The United Kingdom-based television network, producer and distributor purchased a 60 per cent stake in High Noon deal for $25.65 million this year and an additional payment down the road based on performance. High Noon is the third U.S. reality-based television production firm acquired by ITV, the other two being Gurney Productions (Duck Dynasty) and Thinkfactory Media (Hatfields & McCoys with Kevin Costner).
“Their operating philosophy was to encourage business as usual.” Berger said. “One of the reasons they are acquiring these companies, including us, is because they want us to continue being successful and help us improve the business where they can.”
And that success is bound up with the many reality-based television programs High Noon produces for 18 network clients, making the Denver-based firm (with offices in Los Angeles and New York) one of the nation’s top creators of unscripted reality-based TV.
Berger said High Noon would retain the independence to keep producing what has made it a success since he, Duke Hartman, Sonny Hutchinson, and Chris Wheeler – all former Channel 9 staffers – formed High Noon in 1997. Prior to co-founding High Noon and after his Channel 9 years, Berger was an executive with Liberty Media.
“I’ll continue along with my two partners, Duke and Sonny,” he said. “The three of us have a long term contract. So we're not going anywhere.”
In addition to continued autonomy to create and develop programming, Berger stressed that he would “have access to a guy name Paul Buccieri -- and he is terrific.” Buccieri is based in Los Angeles, oversees ITV Studios content, is an American, and a long-time producer of network shows.
“He’s very creative,” Berger said. “Now we'll have someone that we can be in touch with every day, every week to help us bring us new opportunities, give us advice on our creative, and help us meet executives that we haven't met yet.”
Berger said High Noon was “courted” by a number of potential buyers. “One of the dividing lines was that we did not want to get into business with any partner that was going to control our company or that was going to micromanage it,” he said. “And especially force us long time Coloradans to move or relocate.” ITV apparently fit the bill.
Still a strong supporter of the Colorado production community
Even though High Noon is going international, Berger sees no change in its role as a key stakeholder in Colorado’s re-developing film, television, and media production industry.
“We still want to be a strong supporter of the local production community,” he said. “Without the strong local production community, we can't do the business we do either, so we'll still continue to support CFVA the (Denver) Film Society and other areas. We don’t want to move out of Colorado. In order to stay here we need to make sure that all of us are in this together.”
Along those lines, Berger pointed out that High Noon has a long term lease, really likes its office space and is spending “millions” to upgrade its postproduction facilities, a capital investment that ITV whole-heartedly supports.
ITV has been around the block
Getting back to that “courtship,” which ran about three years, ITV kept coming into clear focus.
“They are a 50 year old broadcaster,” Berger said, one of the largest U.K. broadcast network and content producer. “They produce thousands of hours of content, both scripted and non-scripted. And they're one of the world’s largest distributors, which is important.”
As High Noon narrowed the acquisition options, “it just became clear that ITV” was the right player, he noted.
“They were in the business already,” Berger said. “They were not a private equity firm, which might just only be in it for the profits; they're a strategic owner, they're a broadcaster; they’re a content producer; and they’re distributing sales overseas.” And that distribution channel “was something that really attracted us,” along with the expertise of the ITV executives.
“They understand the business,” he said. “They understand the challenges of reality production and programming, both scripted and non-scripted.”
But the ITV acquisition has even more far-reaching implications for High Noon, and indirectly, the production industry in Colorado. Cable channels are one thing – and a very big thing at that. But broadcast channels are still to be conquered, and ITV has been there.
“Let's start with factual, our reality programing,” Berger said. “Now we have a partner at our side when we go into pitch shows in the U.S.” High Noon already has solid business relationships with 18 cable channels. “However, we would love to be in business with the networks, with the ABCs, the CBSs, NBCs of the world,” he said, adding “that's always been a little difficult because we haven't done a show for them.”
But ITV has, he points out. “ITV currently does Kitchen Nightmares for Fox, and they're an accredited network producer,” he said. “That will help us with our credibility to be able to produce big broadcast shows.”
The ITV-High Noon mash up also opens up their reality production capability to a wide range of show formats from around the world. (In show business, these formats – show structures – often are owned and licensed for production elsewhere; much of what U.S. viewers see are show formats that originated elsewhere on Earth, then brought to America – shows like The Apprentice, Dancing with the Stars, etc. No, Virginia, not all TV ideas originate here.)
“Now that our owner is ITV, we will have access to formats that are being created in Europe and other ITV territories, so we will have the opportunity to take some of those successful formats back to the U.S.,” Berger said.
“Before that, I would normally go to MIPCOM, the international TV market, every October just by myself to try and option some formats that we felt could be sold in the U.S.” he said. “Now, we are in business with a big player with access to lots of formats that might be working in their territories, whether it's Sweden or France or Germany or Australia - their many territories – and that might work in the U.S.”
What does that mean for High Noon, and possibly Colorado? “It means more business,” Berger said, adding that he already is investigating a foreign-produced game show format that might work well in the United States.
Berger also sees the ITV acquisition as a path to expanding the ideas and concepts for new programming. “We have a very strong development team, four teams across the country, but it is always super helpful to have access to other ideas and other formats that are already working in countries overseas,” he said. “So we'll have access to more ideas, successful shows that have been produced in other territories that are now part of our group. It helps our development effort because now it's not just us developing our shows anymore. It's us and all the territories in our company.”
While High Noon is primarily focused on producing unscripted reality programming, Berger notes that
“ITV is one of the most prolific scripted producers in the world,” and that they want High Noon to begin developing scripted reality shows as well as unscripted – again, a path to expanding production business.
And looking ahead?
While nobody in the production business ever gets too excited about looking down the road, Berger did reveal an understandably guarded wish list.
“If you look out two years from now, if we're fortunate enough, we'll be in business with 20 buyers instead of 18, we'll have increased our show production and, with any luck, we will have a scripted series going,” he said. “A little hopeful there, but I would love to be doing that. I think that High Noon can be around for decades if we do our job right. Now that we have a 50 year old partner I don’t see why not.”
Novelist, journalist, and long-time corporate video producer Richard J. Schneider writes about industry developments for the CFVA. His latest novel (set in Colorado), WATER: A Vic Bengston Investigation, is in Colorado indie bookstores and on Amazon. The next in the Bengston series, VOTE, is due out this fall.