Behind the Scenes: James Burstall on Diversified Content Production at Argonon Group

james burstall Vitrina Interview

Behind the Scenes: James Burstall on Diversified Content Production at Argonon Group

Behind the Scenes: James Burstall on Diversified Content Production at Argonon Group

We recognized the importance of tapping into various genres and formats to capture audience interest across different demographics and regions.

Greetings Vitrina Community,

We interviewed James Burstall, CEO of the Argonon Group, who discusses the company’s journey and its focus on diversified content production. The group has seven production companies that cover a wide range of genres, from high-end documentaries to reality and entertainment shows.

Vitrina: Could you share with us the journey behind founding the Argonon Group and how it has evolved into a global production powerhouse since its inception in 2011?

James Burstall: Certainly. The story of the Argonon Group begins with a vision to create a versatile and globally impactful production entity. Founded in 2011, our headquarters in London serves as the epicenter of our operations, strategically positioned to access key markets. From the outset, our goal was to establish a diversified portfolio that could cater to a wide range of programming needs. We recognized the importance of tapping into various genres and formats to capture audience interest across different demographics and regions.

As we expanded, we set up offices in Liverpool, Glasgow, New York, and Los Angeles, ensuring a strong presence in both the UK and the US, which serve as the axes of our core expertise. This deliberate diversification has allowed us to not only capitalize on the unique strengths of each location but also to establish a truly global footprint. Selling our shows to 167 countries around the world has been a testament to our success in achieving this global reach.

Within the Argonon Group, we operate under the umbrella of seven distinct production companies, each specializing in different aspects of content creation. From high-end documentaries exploring science, technology, and space, to reality TV and entertainment shows, and from scripted dramas to investigative current affairs programs, we cover a broad spectrum of programming. This diversity ensures that we remain agile and responsive to evolving audience preferences and market trends.

Central to our success is our team of 20 top creative minds, carefully curated from across the industry. These individuals bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the table, allowing us to push the boundaries of creativity and innovation. We foster a collaborative environment where ideas are exchanged freely, and talent is nurtured and supported.

Of course, our journey has not been without its challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic brought production to a standstill, presenting unprecedented obstacles for the industry. Additionally, we have navigated through periods of mass inflation, global crises such as those in Ukraine and Gaza, and the ongoing climate change events. However, in the face of these challenges, we remained committed to our core values of creativity and excellence.

To ensure our continued success, we have implemented robust management practices and infrastructure to navigate the complexities of the ever-changing global landscape. While creativity and artistic expression are at the heart of what we do, we also recognize the importance of financial sustainability. Winning over 130 international awards is a testament to our creative prowess, but equally important is our ability to generate revenue and ensure the long-term viability of our business.

In summary, the journey of the Argonon Group has been one of evolution and adaptation. From humble beginnings, we have grown into a global production powerhouse, driven by a passion for creativity, a commitment to excellence, and a relentless pursuit of innovation.

Vitrina: The establishment of Rose Rock Entertainment appears to be a strategic maneuver. Could you enlighten us on the backstory behind its inception?

James Burstall: Absolutely. The events of the past few years, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shifting political landscape, prompted us to reassess our approach and explore new opportunities for growth. In the midst of these global challenges, we recognized the need to diversify our business and reach audiences beyond traditional coastal hubs like New York and Los Angeles.

The idea for Rose Rock Entertainment emerged as a result of a unique convergence of circumstances. Joe Weinstock, an experienced American executive producer, had relocated to Oklahoma from New York due to the pandemic. His expertise in male-skewed prime time programming, coupled with his geographic location, presented an opportunity for us to tap into a demographic that often feels overlooked by mainstream media.

We saw Rose Rock as a way to bridge the gap between our existing coastal-centric content and the interests of millions of Americans living in the heartland. By focusing on themes like cowboys, pilots, and Americana culture, we aimed to create programming that resonates with a broader audience base.

The joint venture model, which we’ve successfully utilized in the past, provided the framework for this endeavor. It allowed us to combine our resources, expertise, and financial backing with Joe’s creative vision and local insights. This collaborative approach not only mitigated risk but also fostered a sense of ownership and empowerment among all stakeholders involved.

Ultimately, Rose Rock represents our commitment to adaptability and innovation in an ever-changing industry landscape. By identifying emerging trends and seizing strategic opportunities, we strive to stay ahead of the curve and deliver compelling content that resonates with audiences worldwide.

Vitrina: How does your philosophy of ensuring key players have "skin in the game" influence your approach to acquisitions and joint ventures?

James Burstall: Our philosophy of ensuring key players have “skin in the game” is foundational to our approach to acquisitions and joint ventures. From the inception of Argonon in 2011, we were committed to building a different kind of media group, one where talent and business executives are not just employees but have a vested interest in the success of the company. This means offering them shares or share options, providing them with a stake in the company’s performance.

When it comes to acquisitions, our guiding principle is to seek out businesses that complement and diversify our existing portfolio. We look for companies that offer expertise in areas where we may be lacking or can enhance our current offerings. Similarly, in joint ventures, we partner with entrepreneurs who bring additional value and are willing to invest their time, effort, and resources into the venture. These joint ventures allow us to access new markets, technologies, or business models that we may not have pursued independently.

Overall, our aim is to add value to any business we acquire or partner with, making it bigger and better than it was before. We don’t just want to maintain the status quo; we want to innovate and push boundaries, bringing in new ideas, technologies, and relationships to drive growth and success.

Argonon

Vitrina: How did the diversification of your portfolio help your company weather the challenges of 2023, particularly amidst the Hollywood strikes?

James Burstall: The diversification of our portfolio played a pivotal role in helping us navigate the challenges of 2023, especially amidst the Hollywood strikes and broader industry disruptions. In an industry where trends and preferences can shift rapidly, having a diversified portfolio ensures that we’re not overly reliant on any single market segment or genre.

During 2023, when the Hollywood strikes left many scriptwriters without work and caused disruptions across the industry, our diversified portfolio allowed us to remain resilient. While some sectors of the industry experienced significant downturns and closures, we were able to sustain ourselves by continuing to produce our long-running successful series and exploring new avenues for original content.

Moreover, our diversified approach enabled us to adapt to changing market demands and capitalize on emerging opportunities. We observed a shift in the industry landscape, particularly towards the latter part of the year, with renewed interest in original content development and production. This shift allowed us to secure new commissions and projects, indicating a positive trajectory for the future.

Overall, the diversification of our portfolio provided us with stability and flexibility during challenging times, reaffirming the importance of having a broad range of offerings to weather industry disruptions and capitalize on evolving trends.

Vitrina: Can you shed some light on your business strategy, particularly regarding factual formats?

James Burstall: For factual formats, there’s indeed a growing demand. We’re strategically positioned to cater to this demand, leveraging our international co-production model. This approach allows us to produce high-end documentaries cost-effectively by distributing production costs among multiple international buyers. It’s about meeting the audience’s desire for premium content while ensuring affordability for broadcasters worldwide. This innovative business model requires trust, diplomacy, and strong negotiation skills to navigate the complexities of international partnerships and deliver exceptional results for all stakeholders.

Argonon

Vitrina: What types of collaborations are involved in international co-productions, and how does the distribution of intellectual property (IP) work in these partnerships?

James Burstall: International co-productions encompass a diverse array of collaborations, ranging from direct sales to networks to partnerships with production companies holding original intellectual property (IP) or access. Our approach involves a blend of strategies to ensure the widest possible reach for our content. For instance, we engage in direct sales to networks, enabling us to deliver content directly to clients who have a clear understanding of their audience’s preferences and budgetary constraints. Through this approach, we gather valuable feedback on audience expectations, which informs the creative process.

Moreover, we maintain a network of buyers across the globe, facilitating direct engagement with clients worldwide. In addition to direct sales, we collaborate with production companies possessing unique IP or access to talent. This collaborative model allows us to tap into the nuanced understanding of local audiences while leveraging our expertise in content creation and storytelling.

The distribution of IP in these partnerships is a carefully orchestrated process. When entering into agreements with buyers in different territories, we structure the IP distribution such that each buyer acquires a license for a specified number of transmissions. For example, if a buyer in Scandinavia invests 20% in a co-production, they would obtain a license for a set number of transmissions. Once the agreed-upon transmissions are completed, the IP rights revert back to us, enabling us to retain control of the content. This model ensures that we maintain ownership of the IP while maximizing the global distribution and revenue potential of our productions.

Vitrina: Could you elaborate on future plans for expansion into new genres, regions, and business models, as well as the utilization of AI technology?

James Burstall: Our future plans for expansion are multifaceted, encompassing both geographical and creative dimensions. Geographically, we are keenly focused on identifying emerging markets and content creators with innovative ideas. For instance, we are closely monitoring regions like South Korea, Israel, and Turkey, where we see a surge in creative talent and compelling content offerings. By forging partnerships and collaborations in these regions, we aim to access unique IP and leverage local expertise to develop captivating content for global audiences.

Creatively, we are exploring opportunities to diversify our content portfolio and venture into new genres and formats. While we have a strong presence in genres like lifestyle, documentary, and reality TV, we are actively seeking to expand into areas such as scripted drama and factual entertainment. For example, we see immense potential in producing high-quality sports documentaries, capitalizing on the global appetite for behind-the-scenes insights into the world of sports personalities and the business of sports.

Additionally, we recognize the transformative potential of AI technology in content creation and distribution. We are exploring ways to harness AI algorithms to optimize our back catalog, unlocking new revenue streams and maximizing the value of our content library. By leveraging AI-driven solutions, we can enhance the discoverability of our content, tailor it to evolving audience preferences, and extend its lifespan across multiple platforms and formats.

In summary, our expansion strategy is characterized by a combination of geographical diversification, creative innovation, and technological integration. By staying agile and adaptive, we aim to position ourselves at the forefront of the ever-evolving media landscape, delivering compelling content experiences to audiences worldwide.

Get in touch with Argonon Group

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