How to Submit your work to TV stations

Submitting your work to one of the major TV stations (or their networks) is a tough long process. It requires resilience, persistence and patience. The problem is that commissioners don't have much available screen time for "new" material - and to be fair their careers are based on getting their viewers to watch... so they are likely to book similar work.

So to cut through the rest of the people who are also trying to sell "new" programmes to a TV station you are going to need something really outstanding - but similar to what they already have.

1. Exclusive access to the core of your proposal - so if you want to do a documentary about Churchill you will need some exclusive material never seen before (family photos, cine film, letters).

2. A compelling format that only you can deliver

If you don't already have a relationship with the commissioners, then expect to be saddled with a production company that they trust to deliver the programme.

However - in the UK we now have a range of fledgling local TV stations who need local programmes. They won't have any money for your production (to start with). Again the power will be with the person who greenlights projects (probably the head of broadcast - as none of these stations have a solid structure yet.)

Talk to these stations and see what sort of program they are looking for and who they see as their audience.

Read and comprehend the Ofcom regulations for Advertiser funded programmes. This will allow you to see that your budget doesn't have to come from the broadcaster. A single contributor (or multiple ones) can pay to feature in a programme. By doing so they must not unduly influence the programme and is editorial content.

Look at how you can make these restrictions work for you. A good producer or director will see this as a positive challenge. Can you design a show around the sort of content that a client would be willing to pay for a corporate video for? But also allow you to edit them into a TV Programme?

Many companies may be willing to pay a little bit towards your costs for an edit of their bit in a show that can go on their website. At one station they work with local estate agents to do a property listings programme with some short overviews of the local areas, schools and facilities... this led to other work...

So now you have a set of companies related by some sort of theme - it's time to write up your pitch, your outline and an example of how the show will work as a commercial programme. Remember you will need to keep things to time (to allow for the adverts that make the station its money)... This will help the TV station see you as a production company that understands their technical needs as well as their artistic ones. As part of your outline, you will need to identify how your programme fits the broadcaster audience profile, the aspirations of the broadcaster for the slot you want it to be shown in. Plus you will need to show that you are a safe reliable responsible team to make the show - again and again, and again.

Expect to be knocked back a number of times, redesigning the show to fit the broadcaster better. This is all part of the process - and it takes time. As you go along the broadcaster will want you to prove that you have the content lined up, that you have the skills and crew available to do the work. Expect to jump through hoops you never thought were there.

Please don't make a show or a pilot without going through this - as it only has a 1 in 10 million chance of being accepted. If a broadcaster asks to see a pilot makes sure you have some sort of commitment from them, they are engaged with you - your show - your vision... and it fits them (really fits them... not just you convincing yourself it does) - so a local TV station isn't going to commission a 7 part documentary about Uganda, if they don't have a large strong Ugandan Diaspora in their region and also have business that want to advertise to that audience (and that last bit is as powerful as the first part).

If you do get to the pilot situation - remember more than 90% of pilot shows go no further. Many never get to screen (until they are seriously popular and there is a retrospective - think QI, it's an international hit - but only a few years ago did some of the pilots get shown... the full episode has never been shown.

So, in summary, know the limitations of what you are going in to, know that it will take time, and know that a good production company (Producer/Director) works within their limits imposed by the situation - and makes them work for them - rather than against.

Having run the commercial department of a local TV company the only measure of success is the revenue it brings - to the station - to their customers.

Written by: LewisEric Webster - Visit author's website

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