Inside Story: TV's indie hit-makers

Six independent production companies dominate our screens. Lucy Rouse assesses their form
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(Subsidiary: Hot Animation)

Founded by Peter Orton in 1989, Hit bought US business Lyrick Studios, producer of Barney, in 2001 and Gullane Entertainment, owner of Thomas the Tank Engine, a year later. It established animation studio Hot in 1999. Sales of Bob the Builder made Hit the darling of the City until the weak dollar and Bob's year-long absence from US TV hit revenues. Last week, the company's non- executive directors fired chief executive Rob Lawes, as pre-tax profits fell by 43 per cent to £14.6m. Still the biggest independent producer by turnover.

Acting chief executive: Peter Orton

Hits: Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, Barney, Angelina Ballerina, Pingu, Guinness World Records

Misses: Rubbadubbers (merchandising failed)

In production: Developing a US pre-school channel

Turnover: £156.5m (year to 31 July 2004)

Offices: London, US, Japan, Germany, Canada


(Subsidiaries: Assembly TV, Bentley Productions, Cactus TV, Company Pictures, Lion TV, North One TV)

Formed in 2003 when former ITV colleagues bought out Chrysalis TV's production companies. This year, All3Media has bought Lion TV, producer of Time Commanders, and the Shameless producer Company Pictures. All the subsidiaries operate autonomously but programmes are sold internationally through All3Media. The group is expected to float on the Stock Exchange in due course.

Chief executive: Steve Morrison

Directors: David Liddiment, Jules Burns

Hits: Time Commanders (Lion), Black Books (Assembly), Midsomer Murders (Bentley), Richard and Judy (Cactus), Shameless (Company)

Misses: Castaway 2000 (Lion)

In production: Ghost Squad, Shameless two (both Company for C4); Midsomer Murders eight and nine (Bentley for ITV); Playing It Straight (Lion)

Turnover: £135m (2003)

Offices: London, Glasgow, Birmingham, New York, LA, Miami


(Drama and factual entertainment arms)

Formed from a series of deals which began when Pearson (now Fremantle) bought Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith's comedy production company Talkback for £62m in 2000. Pearson owned Thames TV, which used to run the London weekday ITV franchise but, by 2000, had been stripped of its broadcast licence and only really existed as the producer of ITV's The Bill. Thames and Talkback formally merged in 2003, bringing Thames' drama programming and game show library, such as The Price is Right, together with Talkback's raft of contemporary comedy and lifestyle programming. Owned by the European broadcasting group RTL, which also has a stake in Channel Five.

Chief executive: Peter Fincham

Hits: The Bill, The Lost Prince, Pop Idol, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Property Ladder, Jamie's Kitchen, Ali G

Misses: Des O'Connor Tonight, Sword of Honour, Would Like to Meet, Family Affairs

In production: Streets Ahead (C4); The Apprentice (BBC2); Green Wing series 2 (C4); Monkey Dust series 3 (BBC3)

Turnover: £131m (2003)

Offices: London, Amersham


(Subsidiaries: Initial; Brighter Pictures; Zeppotron; Victoria Real)

The UK arm of Dutch production company Endemol, which devised Big Brother. Evolved from a company called Broadcast Communications, bought by Guardian Media Group (GMG) in 1989. A year later, GMG bought Bazal, founded by Peter Bazalgette and famous for producing Ground Force and Ready Steady Cook. Initial was bought in 1992. In 1998, Endemol took a 50 per cent stake in GMG and bought the rest of the company in 2000, renaming it Endemol UK. New media producer Victoria Real joined the group in 2000 and Brighter Pictures was bought in 2001. Endemol was bought by Spanish telecoms company Telefonica four years ago. The Endemol founder John de Mol has since left.

Chairman: Peter Bazalgette

Hits: Big Brother, The Farm, The Match, Restoration, The Salon, The Games, Ground Force, Ready Steady Cook

Misses: Shattered, Fame Academy

In production: Celebrity Big Brother (C4); Ban this Filth and Cowboy Trap (Zeppotron for C4)

Turnover: £105m (2003)

Offices: London, Glasgow, Bristol


(Subsidiaries: Mentorn, Sunset+Vine, Visions, Hawkeye)

TV Corp started life under Terry Bate in 1995 when post-production firm Molinare merged with the sports producer Sunset+Vine. In 2000 it acquired Mentorn, the producer of BBC1's Question Time. It has since ditched Bate and replaced the new-ish chairman Michael Grade. Doomed investments and the disposal of the loss-making Molinare have hit its fortunes. But last month TV Corp announced marginal profits of £254,000 for the first six months of the year. The ad-funded Gillette World Sport, sold to more than 100 countries, has always been an asset. The Endemol founder John de Mol is building a modest stake in the group.

Chief executive: Jeff Foulser; Mentorn MD: Charles Thompson

Hits: Paradise Hotel; Britain's Worst...; Question Time; Traffic Cops; Unreported World; C4 cricket; BBC racing; Gillette World Sport; Five sport

Misses: Forever Eden (Fox)

In production: David Kelly drama (C4); Morgan & Platell (C4)

Turnover: £62.4m (2003)

Offices: London, Glasgow, Oxford


(Associate companies: Radar; Touchpaper)

Founded in 1993 by Stephen Lambert, the former BBC Modern Times producer, and David Frank, an investment banker turned BBC business journalist. The company started out making high-end documentaries, but, with Faking It, spotted a niche in formatted factual programming and now focuses on formats that it sells around the world. Channel 4 hit Wife Swap has just started a 20-week run on US network ABC. Took stakes in drama producer Touchpaper, maker of NY-LON, in 2001 and entertainment producer Radar, producer of Banzai, in 2002. Because of Frank's City background, the company is regarded as financially astute.

Chief executive: David Frank

Hits: Scrapheap Challenge, Wife Swap, Faking It, Holiday Showdown, NY-LON

Misses: The Block

In production: Brand New You (Five); Bed and Bardsleys (C4); Scrapheap Challenge series eight (C4); Families at War/Family Feud(C4)

Turnover: £55m (forecast for 2004)

Offices: Guildford, London, Los Angeles