After less than two years in business, television production company Shine has broken into the US market with three deals. And it was the opportunity to work on deals like this that attracted Simon Vyvyan to Shine. Vyvyan’s recent promotion from director of legal and business affairs to commercial director symbolises his other chief reason for joining the small start-up.
“It was a fantastic opportunity. It was the bigger role I was looking for after finishing my MBA during my last year at Granada – to get away from the very straitjacketed in-house legal role and into what is now a commercial director role,” says Vyvyan.
Vyvyan and chief financial officer David Surtees make up one half of the core management team headed by two high-profile directors. Chief executive officer Elisabeth Murdoch was previously managing director of BSkyB Networks, a company owned by her father Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Labour peer and executive director Waheed Alli was the managing director of Carlton Productions and launched Planet24.
Vyvyan leads a team of two other lawyers. “The point of having an in-house legal team is not to outsource and waste good money. Television production deals are what I do,” says Vyvyan. Since he became commercial director, however, his two in-house lawyers have taken on the bulk of the legal work. Ninety per cent of the television production deals are done in-house.
“TV is very deal-intensive,” Vyvyan explains. “There are numerous contracts that come into play. There is a contract between the production company and the script writer; a contract between the production company and the broadcaster; and contracts between the production company and the performers, composer, director and others.”
This inevitably means that very little work is outsourced. However, Vyvyan has a number of firms that he goes to for specialist advice, and the particular challenges of setting up shop have led Vyvyan to a host of law firms. “In the first year as a start-up it’s [a case of] plugging all those areas where you need more expertise,” he explains.
“When you’re hiring people you need employment lawyers,” he continues. Vyvyan knew Jon Keeble of Eversheds from his Granada days so gave him early instructions. But as Keeble is based in Manchester Vyvyan has turned to Kathy Pavey of Davenport Lyons, and says he has been very impressed.
Shine is based in a converted church in Notting Hill, a grand old listed building that brought with it particular heritage issues. “We were initially looking for offices in Soho and Covent Garden. Chris Wilkinson of Maples Teesdale did a fantastic job for us. He literally got on his moped and came round with us and looked at the leases. This was the best, in terms of cost and location,” says Vyvyan.
The company was launched on the back of a venture capital deal with 3i and an output deal with Sky. The latter committed to commissioning a certain number of programmes over a two-year period. “Those two foundations were enough to kick us off,” says Vyvyan. Olswang advised on those initial deals and continues to provide corporate advice. Murdoch has known Olswang’s Mark Devereux for some time and Vyvyan has since built up a relationship with corporate partner Graham Seed, who advised on the 3i deal.
“Most of my law firms have come from word-of-mouth recommendations. Now that I’m 10-years qualified, a lot of my friends are popping up in partnerships at major firms,” says Vyvyan. “I think if we did a big corporate deal I would do a beauty parade, but it would be quite tempting to go back to the three or four people that I know.”
Another recommendation from a friend is Reno Antoniades at Lee & Thompson. “Antoniades has helped us out a great deal on the company’s feature film work,” says Vyvyan. Shine’s legal team has a great deal of television experience but film is a different proposition.
The US market is also a whole new realm for the company. Shine is developing a dating gameshow for Fox Television, which is also part of the Murdoch empire, and is developing a drama for HBO. Twentieth Television signed a development deal with Shine:M, the company’s joint venture with communications group WPP. Under the deal, Shine will develop four pilots for Twentieth to distribute in the US syndication market and provide Twentieth with a first look at all series for potential US syndication.
Shine keeps Jeanne Newman of Los Angeles firm Hansen Jacobsen Teller Hoberman Newman Warren & Sloane on a monthly retainer. Vyvyan and Newman have a ‘no deal, no fee’ arrangement, but the small monthly retainer means that Newman can continue as Shine’s “eyes and ears in Los Angeles”.
“If they secure a big deal for us with a network, and we go ahead and produce it and that production generates revenue, they take a percentage of the revenue retrospectively to pay for fees,” explains Vyvyan.
While it would be too soon to describe this role as the pinnacle of the career of one as young as Vyvyan, it is a job that he has been moving towards his whole working life. After starting out at Richards Butler, Vyvyan read a few feature film scripts and thought this would be a good way of fusing his passion for English literature and his interest in law.
Vyvyan then joined Granada as a legal and business affairs executive. The legal affairs part of the job involved issues such as defamation and programme content. “That’s a part of the job I’ve always moved away from. It sounds terribly glamorous but it’s incredibly boring, in my humble opinion,” he says.
“It’s quite negative. It’s telling people what they can’t do. Business affairs is helping people do things that they want to do, like hiring people for their production or clinching a deal with a broadcaster. I find that more interesting than poring over tapes and taking out swearwords or consulting the ITC codes,” he adds.
Vyvyan experienced a period of great growth during his seven years at Granada and began to experience the wider media world from deals done with the BBC, among others. “A key difference is that lawyers at a big company, such as the BBC, often have to refer upwards to get things ticked off and approved. At Granada you were given a lot of power to negotiate and you can multiply that by 10 here [at Shine]. You are driving the business forward,” he says.
At Shine he has been involved in everything, from putting chairs underneath the desks to negotiating the finance deal with 3i. The company is now approaching the end of the startup period and its primary aim is to break even as quickly as possible. With Murdoch’s contacts, the force of a respected creative team and Vyvyan’s deal-making abilities, that moment should come sooner rather than later.
Shine and Shine
|Organisation||Shine and Shine|
|Employees||30 plus freelancers|
|Commercial director||Simon Vyvyan|
|Reporting to||Chief executive officer Elisabeth Murdoch|
|Main law firms||Davenport Lyons, Grant Thornton, Lee & Thompson, Hansen Jacobsen Teller Hoberman Newman Warren & Sloane, Kilburn & Strode, Maples Teesdale, Olswang, Richards Butler, SJ Berwin|