Fremantle head of legal and business affairs: MediaTelly scope
28 May 2012 | Updated: 28 May 2012 9:29 am
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Jacqueline Moreton has a wide-ranging role as head of legal and business affairs at FremantleMedia, the company behind blockbusters such as The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and The Apprentice
Life is hectic in the media industry, particularly when you are head of legal and business affairs of the UK production arm of FremantleMedia.
No stranger to working in the UK division of a US media company, Jacqueline Moreton joined Fremantle from the UK arm of CBS Paramount in 2008, but it was her tenure at Viacom where she developed a real passion for production.
“I worked at Viacom for eight years, including two years in New York as the general counsel for the Sundance Channel, and this is where I first had the chance to work on production matters,” says Moreton. “I really started to enjoy the corporate side of things.”
Perhaps one of the biggest changes affecting the legal team since Moreton has joined has been the recent launch of a new label structure. In January 2012 the company rolled out a new label structure for the Talkback Thames brand, which is split into four groups: Thames (entertainment), Talkback (comedy), Retort (scripted comedy) and Boundless (factual).
This has had a huge impact on Moreton’s team, since each label not only requires a managing director, a head of development and a head of production, but also a senior and junior lawyer.
“With the growth of certain areas, such as the Retort label, more support was needed and that inevitably meant more legal support,” Moreton explains.
As she notes, the legal team is increasingly involved in every phase of the production process.
“We have to be involved at every stage, from preparation to coming up with the concept and the idea for a programme to issuing scripts and negotiating contracts,” she says.
As well as managing the legal department, Moreton leads Fremantle’s entertainment department. This involves working alongside executive producers on programme policies and procedures.
“It involves issues including compliance,” she says. “And being both head of this department and of the overall division gives me a good overview of the business and how to maintain commercial consistency across genres.”
As for the more unusual aspects of her role, Moreton notes that a whole host of legal issues are thrown up by many of Fremantle’s programmes involving contestants.
“There’s a duty of care to contestants and issues come up that are unpredictable,” she says.
Moreton cites the example of former X Factor contestant Gamu Nhengu, who was threatened with deportation while she was a contestant on the talent show.
“The legal team was brought in at the start and we tried to stay one step ahead,” recalls Morton. “But there were also legal issues related to getting her visa in place and even just dealing with all the press attention. I spent a lot of time talking to Gamu’s mother as well as to immigration lawyers and partners on the production team.”
The number of programmes involving contestants also means the legal team has to liaise closely with Fremantle’s press department.
“The press is based in production, which involves both creative and legal,” she says. “This is useful, as for programmes like The X Factor and BGT [Britain’s Got Talent] we have to speak to the press regularly and work closely with legal teams at ITV, Syco, the BBC and so on.”
Although litigation cases are rare, when they arise Moreton tends to outsource the work.
“We’re focused on the productions and litigation’s a specialist area, so we tend to go to outside counsel when we have a case,” she explains.
In 2010 a disability discrimination claim brought by BGT contestant Emma Czikai against Simon Cowell and Fremantle saw the company retain DLA Piper, which instructed Matrix Chambers. For other shows it is the timing that makes things challenging from a legal point of view.
“With The Apprentice, the tasks make it full-on,” says Moreton. “They throw up a lot of trademark issues that have to be checked and cleared by our group’s dedicated trademark specialist. We also have to be careful not to breach the Ofcom code relating to any reference to a business or their products or services. It’s harder than you think, but even [Lord] Alan Sugar catches himself at it now.”
Sometimes, it can be hard to convince producers that their drive for creativity goes against the legal grain.
“There was one time when the Celebrity Juice creative team wanted to incorporate the Olympics into a show, but legislation prevented them,” she relates. “We told them it couldn’t happen and it got to the point that we had to start quoting legislation to make them understand what a big deal it was.”
Since Moreton’s team is exposed to so many legal issues and genres, she believes it is vital that all her lawyers get a taste of the action.
“The legal issues are diverse, so it’s important my lawyers rotate around the labels approximately every two years,” she stresses.
Digitisation has had a big impact on Fremantle, inspiring the company to launch a digital division.
“It’s an important department and, what with apps, second screens and commercial websites, the legal team has to work even more closely with broadcasters than before,” says Moreton. “We always have to keep up with, and stay ahead of, what the industry is doing, and protecting our IP’s part and parcel of this.”
Jacqueline Moreton, FremantleMedia UK
Position: Head of legal and business affairs
Reporting to: Chief executive Sara Geater
Employees: 150, plus 400 freelancers
Legal capability: 18 (seven lawyers in the FremantleMedia UK legal team and 11 in FremantleMedia Ltd)
Ben Irwin, group legal counsel, UK and Europe, UBM
UBM’s portfolio has evolved significantly in the past few years: the shift to online and digital media is a trend that common to our B2B markets and consumer media. It is this shift that, coupled with UBM’s focus on exhibitions and live events, drives my work.
As a group we have completed in excess of 20 M&A and joint venture transactions in each of my past two years with the company. Every one poses challenges, but the common theme is balancing our need for robust terms with local market norms in a number of jurisdictions.
There are also the familiar challenges for any public company doing business in growth markets that lack the kind of regulation seen by the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or the UK Bribery Act.
I work with a group development and M&A team that is lean, to say the least. Given the cyclical nature of cashflow in many of the businesses we look at, deal timetables are often compressed, and being light on our feet at the diligence and execution stages is key.
There have been cultural lessons along the way, and being close to low-level issues that arise forces you to analyse your approach. Usually, maintaining transparency helps you find solutions more quickly, and that is an approach I value in external firms too.
David Turnbull, VP, legal and business affairs, RCA Label Group and Syco Entertainment
Every in-house lawyer entering the entertainment industry quickly finds out that advice is required on a wide range of issues and urgently, at any time of the day or night.
At the heart of almost every contract and negotiation lie copyright and rights and the thought that each deal may generate content that is loved for decades. My favourite week included signing a record deal with Santa Claus and wrangling over very specific rider requirements for an animal act on the Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) live tour, while trying to conclude a contract with one of the world’s biggest-selling recording artists.
A great deal of my time is devoted to Syco Entertainment’s TV formats, The X Factor, BGT and Red or Black, and their development throughout the world, so I have the opportunity to be puzzled by a number of foreign legal systems as well as our own.
I am amazed by my team’s ability to deliver the apparently impossible in response to the creative imperatives. What is clear is that, although content providers such as Syco can be sure their contribution will continue to be sought and valued on an aesthetic level, the legal and business affairs role will grow more important as focus intensifies on protection and deployment of our key IP assets.