Michael Yudin C21 International Trade Interview

Michael Yudin, founder and CEO of MY Entertainment in the US, discusses the mixed ecology driving the unscripted producer’s slate and the realities of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Over the years, New York-based MY Entertainment has built working relationships with numerous overseas producers, spanning South Korea, Scandinavia, Spain, Israel, the UK and Poland.

This isn’t the traditional route for many US producers, who, with the world’s biggest TV market in their back yard, tend to be largely focused on serving their domestic audience.

However, rights ownership for US producers still pales in comparison to those enjoyed in markets such as the UK, meaning MY Entertainment has been keen to foster international connections as a way to keep hold of more rights.

“It’s a strategy that offers international producers a route into the US market with the added bonus of allowing us to own more IP in the global market,” says founder and CEO Michael Yudin.

MY has bi-weekly calls with about a dozen international producers, during which they share key insights into what the US networks are looking for and discuss how they might collaborate to serve them, as well as fund development.

Yudin believes that as the world has become more easily connected globally, it has also become more tribal. As a result, he says it has never been more important to think globally and seek common ground.

“We producers, as cultural gatekeepers charged with creating new stories for multi-platform audiences, can help buck the divisive trend by putting aside our tribal loyalties and working more closely with one another,” he says.

Yudin points to the format Pregnant & Platonic, which MY co-developed with Israel’s Gil Formats, making it an Israeli/US co-developed and co-owned original format, which aired last year on BBC2 in the UK, followed by Nelonen in Finland.

“I’m not aware of too many examples like this of independents joining forces to create unique concepts with clear global appeal and a possible route back into the US,” says Yudin.

“Reaching out in friendship brings real commercial and creative benefits and there are huge rewards for producers prepared to put in the time and spadework needed to create a two-way transatlantic street and forge trade relationships that reflect how we believe international partners should be treated.”

Of course, like every other production company in the world right now, MY Entertainment is facing up to the realities of life under lockdown, and how you keep independent businesses running during the coronavirus crisis.

Yudin is one of the lucky ones in that his company does have series in post-production, and 14 edit suites have been moved out of the company’s New York office into employees’ homes to facilitate that.

But another clutch of series are on hiatus, including the 18th season of Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, which was due to start shooting on March 18.

“The commissioning editors we deal with have been positive and helpful. They don’t know any more than anybody else, but if you can do something in isolation they’re open to putting it on and buying it,” he says. A one-off episode of Ghost Adventures, based in Zak Bagan’s Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, is being self-shot by the star to that end.

“They know they’re going to need product; they’re moving things around the schedule. We have a show that wasn’t due to air until later in the year that’s being moved up. In terms of timing and if they’re cutting budgets or going to buy more right now, it’s unknown,” Yudin adds.

The tipping point for companies like Yudin’s, he believes, will be if the crisis extends beyond six months. “Two months is one thing, six is quite another,” he says.

“The good news is we have contracts for 100 hours this year, and that’s without selling anything else. If this stops and we can start making them we’re going to be in great shape. If it continues, so far I haven’t had to do any lay-offs or anything like that, but at some point in time you have to do what you have to do.”

Referring to the US$2tn bailout bill passed by Congress this week, Yudin says: “My feeling is I’ll never see any of it. It’ll go to General Motors, AT&T – they’ll do stock buybacks and nobody will get anything. The big issue right now, other than airlines and hotels, is people who work in the service industry. The focus is rightly on restaurants and the hospitality business. Twelve million people could be out of work there.”