Providing behind-the-scenes legal back-up for TV productions is fast-paced and diverse, says Sony Pictures TV Networks’ Jessica Deery
“The Apprentice Asia is the main production I’m working on right now,” says Jessica Deery, director of business affairs, networks, Asia, for Sony Pictures Television Networks, Asia.
Deery has been travelling around the region meeting contestants, briefing them and answering questions on legal obligations.
“We have now completed casting, during which my main task was to handle talent agreements, the filming releases and confidentiality agreements,” she adds.
Deery started working on the project months before Sony announced the production of The Apprentice Asia in 2012. For example, she had negotiated and drafted the production services agreement with FremantleMedia Asia and advised on sponsorship contracts. As production continues she will remain the first point of call for any legal queries that arise.
Deery has worked on other productions in the region, such as Cash Cab Asia, India’s Minute to Win It and Cyril’s Family Vacation.
To her, working on live productions is fun.
“It’s great to work on shows people enjoy watching and to see things come together behind the scenes,” she says. “TV production depends on teamwork and can involve multiple parties. It’s challenging because there are so many moving parts that are all connected.”
The shows must go on
Sony Pictures Television Networks, Asia is a subsidiary of Sony Pictures, itself part of Japanese conglomerate Sony, but headquartered in Los Angeles. The Asia arm, headquartered in Singapore, owns and operates seven channels including AXN, beTV, Animax and SET.
For a long time, most of the company’s Asia-related legal and business affairs were supported by the business affairs department in LA. Deery joined as the first member of the team dedicated to Asia at the end of 2010, from a similar role at ESPN Star Sports. Today, Sony Pictures TV’s business affairs team comprises 10 lawyers and three support staff, including Deery in Singapore and a lawyer in Miami.
“The department based in Los Angeles has been serving the region for some time,” says Deery. “Given the growing business and number of channels in the region I was appointed as the first member on the ground focusing on Asia, but it’s a close-knit team and provides support and resources to our Asian operations from a distance.”
As the only member of the team based in Asia, Deery has a wide range of responsibilities, from negotiating and advising on productions, services and sponsorships to acquisition and distribution.
“Apart from productions, content acquisitions and commercial deals are being done all the time,” she says. “There are requests coming in every day without warning. You never know what’s going to be on your desk the next day.”
Juggling the tasks is a delicate game of timing, skill and judgement, and Deery’s private practice experience with a focus on IP helps. She started her legal career in London, in Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s IP and IT team, and moved to Australia’s Allens for a brief period before landing up in Singapore with Baker & McKenzie in 2007.
“The media industry is fast and dynamic, which offers interesting and varied legal and commercial work,” says Deery. “My background lends itself well to media, particularly in terms of IP rights – licensing or acquiring them.”
Although based in Singapore, many issues are multi-jurisdictional. Take The Apprentice Asia. The production is mainly filmed in Singapore and Malaysia, involves 12 candidates from across Asia and will be aired in 21 countries.
“We have to consider all the laws in all the jurisdictions,” says Deery. “We generally consult external firms for specific local law and regulatory advice.”
The company does not have a legal panel for Asia, but Deery has worked with many firms in the region, such as Allen & Gledhill in Singapore and Lee and Li in Taiwan.
International media companies doing business in Asia have to be mindful of the varying levels of censorship in the region. As Deery points out, the restrictions on content and the advertising of tobacco and alcohol in many South East Asia countries provide good examples.
Apart from relying on local counsel, having a grasp of the latest issues is essential. Deery uses two main methods to stay on top of the region’s developing legal and regulatory regimes.
The first is through training, seminars and client alerts provided by external firms. The second is attending regulatory discussion groups of the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), of which Sony Pictures is a patron member.
“This forum provides a platform to exchange views and share experiences with peers,” says Deery.
According to Deery, the industry is paying close attention to two regulatory developments in Singapore, a regional operations hub for networks – media convergence and the Personal Data Protection Act.
“TV content was once delivered and watched on TV, but today more people consume it through mobile devices and the internet” says Deery. The regulatory framework in many countries only applies to the traditional media. We expect a lot more regulations and that will have a significant impact on our work.”
More immediate changes will be brought in by Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act, adds Deery.
“It will mean reviewing our privacy policies and our general licensing and marketing agreements and procedures,” she concludes.
Jessica Deery, Sony Pictures TV Networks, AsiaPosition: Director of business affairs, networks, Asia
Reporting to: Ricky Ow, executive vice-president and general manager, Asia, and Pamela Parker, senior vice-president, business affairs and acquisitions, Sony Pictures Television Networks
Size of global business affairs team: 10 lawyers and three support staff
Main external law firms: Allen & Gledhill in Singapore and Lee and Li in Taiwan
Associate general counsel, ESPN Star Sports
In November last year News Corporation and ESPN announced that News Corp had acquired ESPN’s partnership interest in the Asian regional sports pay TV network, ESPN STAR Sports (ESS).
Since then, the legal team at ESS has been assisting News Corp with the process of integrating the ESS suite of channels and services with Fox International Channels Asia (FIC Asia).
FIC Asia will manage the ESS business, along with their extensive portfolio of non-sports channels.
The process to date has focused on the rebrand from ‘ESPN’ to ‘Fox Sports’ in South East Asia, a change that was implemented on 28 January. To ensure the rebrand was successful, the legal team had to assess ESS’s contractual and other obligations that could be relevant for a multi-territory rebrand. The review focused on an assessment of: (i) relationships we have with our affiliated platforms – the third parties who carry our sports channels in each territory and make sports channels available to their subscribers; and (ii) any restrictions passed down from the owners of sports programming on ESS sports channels and services.
In addition to our contractual obligations, other areas of concern related to the regulatory implications of the rebrand to our up-linking and down-linking satellite licences in the region, and the practical process of ensuring that ESS consistently and effectively communicated the rebrand to subscribers of the Fox Sports channels and services.