Digital disruption comes to TV production with new online "stock market"

William Turvill
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David Frank, now leading the TRX project, was formerly chief executive of Zodiak Media

Watch out, TV production industry: digital disruption is coming. At least it will be if David Frank, the founder of independent TV production company RDF Media and former chief executive of international company Zodiak Media, is successful in his new venture.

Three years after stepping down from his position at Zodiak, Frank along with his brother, Matthew, is embarking on a new mission: to create an online stock exchange for TV programming. His company, Dial Square 86, has created a new online trading platform for programmes to be bought and sold on called TheRightsExchange (TRX).

One of the main advantages Frank believes TRX can bring to those in the market, both broadcast buyers and production sellers, is speeding up the process. He estimates that it currently takes between six and nine months for a deal to complete. TRX can cut that time down to one month, he says.

Read more: Channel 4 and Sky invest in startup selling British TV content overseas

Why should TRX be taken seriously? In addition to Frank’s experience, which meant he was considered among the most influential media industry figures in the early 2000s, it has £8m in backing, including a co-investment from Channel 4 and Sky. Announcing the deal earlier this month, Sky’s group business development director Emma Lloyd backed the startup to “transform the TV landscape”.

Frank, a former investment banker and a BBC reporter, tells City A.M.: “We started attending some of the trade fairs... back in the early 90s, [and what was striking to us] is that today, in 2016, the way in which those transactions are handled, and the processes, are exactly the same as they were 25-30 years ago.

“In other words: very inefficient, it’s people-to-people, there’s no automation, virtually every time we do a deal you basically create a new contract.

“So [it is] crying out for the kind of intervention that we have been part of ourselves: Matthew and me, both working in the City, had seen [the] big bang and the automation of all forms of commodity trading… and we just thought it was a very natural progression.”

Frank’s ambition is for TRX to become “a second-hand phrase for dealing in TV rights – a bit like people would talk about eBay or the stock market or something like that... a place that you carry out your transactions in certain types of commodities”.

It is still early days for TRX. It has so far soft launched in Asia and has around 100 sellers on its system, including the likes of Discovery, Sky and All3Media, which makes Gogglebox.

But Frank has big ambitions.

He says: “In success, this could go from a nought to a company [with] transactional values in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, in three to five years.”

Read more: With BBC forced to shop around, ITN is ready to pounce

Disrupters, by their nature, tend to offend those being disrupted.

“On the sell side, some of the bigger distributors are suspicious,” says Frank. “But we think there is a big pie out there at the moment of which 50 per cent of the pie is being exploited, the other 50 per cent isn’t. TRX will help you exploit the other 50 per cent.

“So, yes, it introduces automation. But what it means is the same sales force you’ve got today could do twice as many transactions – not, ‘let’s cut the sales force in half’.”

“We’re the transaction,” he says, adding: “I don’t think we’ll have any long-term enemies.

“If you go back to exchanges... the London Stock Exchange itself doesn’t threaten the livelihood of the principles in the business – the buyers and sellers.

“In fact, they welcome it because it makes everything happen more quickly and efficiently.”

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