Re: Beatles documentary

Daniel Bickley (
Tue, 28 Jul 1998 10:02:33 -0700


It is my understanding that the reasons why so many British programmes do
not make it into educational distribution has to do in part with economic,
cultural and legal traditions there and in part with who originates
documentary productions. In the USA, a large percentage of documentaries
are indie productions, or at least are indie-originated, even when they
appear first on PBS or a PBS station. That means that the indie producer,
however he or she manages to round up funding, typically negotiates deals
with all the rest of the "technical talent" involved, as well as deals for
any footage, music, other "intellectual property," etc. Much of the time,
the indie producer has the good sense to realize that there are many
potential markets for his/her work, including TV, nontheatrical
(educational), home video, etc., and therefore locks up all those rights in
perpetuity at the outset. This paves the way for uninterrupted educational
distribution down the road, assuming a reliable distributor becomes

In the UK, in contrast, a large percentage of docs originate at television
organizations, such as the BBC. The folks there care little (for a large
variety of reasons that intertwine political, economic, and cultural
factors) about "ancillary markets" other than worldwide television and
therefore rarely secure these "ancillary" rights (which by tradition cost
more) or if at all do so only for a period of about five years. This is why
many BBC and other British docs don't make it into educational distribution
at all, or if so are only in educational distribution for a relatively
short time (everyone knows of classic BBC productions which once were
available and are no longer so, such as the "Tribal Eye" series).

Although the cultural and educational differences between the USA and the
UK play a large role in this issue, I believe that the primary problem has
to do with television organizations originating such a large percentage of
documentary productions. The reason I believe this is that even in this
country, when a PBS station originates a documentary production, the same
problems often occur. I know of many excellent docs whose educational
rights expired after about five years simply because the PBS stations that
originated them didn't think to secure the necessary rights in perpetuity
or were unwilling or unable to pay for those rights. Then, when the time
came to renew the nontheatrical rights, the renewal costs were higher than
anyone could expect to have returned to them from educational distribution,
and so were allowed to lapse altogether.

There seems to be a tradition among rights holders and television
organizations all over the world to sell and buy rights in five-year (or
other multi-year) increments, whereas (at least in this country) there is a
countervailing tradition for independents to sell and buy rights in

However, at bottom there is, unfortunately, one underlying issue: In the
vast majority of instances there is so little money made from educational
(or home video) distribution of documentaries that television producers --
and especially those in other countries -- are simply unwilling to risk any
extra money to secure the rights needed for such distribution....

Hope this helps, Gary.

Dan Bickley

>A lot of times filmworks which are broadcast on TV (public or otherwise)
>never make it into wider
>[video] distribution. The reason for this is usually economic in nature:
>the cost of paying off all the intellectual property stake holders (the
>music guys, the stock footage guys, the performers, etc.) is simply too
>steep to justify trying to negotiate "non-theatrical" distribution...
>Sometimes, negotiating a video distribution deal simply isn't feasible for
>other reasons. In any case, the lamentable result of all this is the
>frequent non-availability of great programming. I've found that
>BBC/Granada stuff very never makes it into video distribution...more often
>so than domestic public broadcasting programming, certainly.
>Maybe someone out there (Dan Bickley???) knows why this is so.
>Gary Handman

Daniel Bickley
University of California Extension
Center for Media and Independent Learning
2000 Center Street, Fourth Floor
Berkeley, CA 94704
510-642-1340; fax 510-643-9271