18 September 2019

New chief executive has transformed the super-indie’s ‘dysfunctional family’, says Harry Bell

Tern TV managing director Harry Bell has hailed a new culture of collaboration between the Zinc Media companies, claiming the super-indie has transformed from a “dysfunctional family” to a “unified company”.

Bell, who is also an executive director at the parent company, said chief executive Mark Browning has been a key catalyst for change and helped recharge the business.

“Zinc is our beating heart and all the labels come off of that.We never had that sort of nucleus before,” he said.

The managing directors of the group’s five labels now meet every five to six weeks, and there is greater sharing of audience intelligence, post-production resource and commissioner information. Zinc also tries to ensure its labels are not all pitching the same ideas.

“I don’t think many super-indies do all that,” said Bell.

Browning, former managing director of ITN Productions, joined Zinc earlier this year, taking over from David Galan.

“Mark has come in and is really good with people” said Bell. “He has encouraged everyone to pick up the phone and have meetings with each other and work together.”

Bell suggested there could be significant co-production and co-development between Zinc’s labels in future, adding that the group has already benefited from Emergency Helicopter Medics producer Tern developing a closer relationship with stablemate Reef Television.

The two companies co-produce BBC1 daytime show Critical Incident, which is based in Northern Ireland and has just been supersized from 10 x 45 minutes to 15 episodes for its second series.

Reef and Tern have collectively won £4m of new and returning work in the blue-light genre in the current year, and Zinc is looking to create more popular factual formats, with an eye on distributing the shows internationally.

“The group strategy is to continue to do current affairs and news singles, but I think we’ll also look to produce more six- and 10-parters that we can sell worldwide,” said Bell.

Critical Incident

He added that “there’s never been a better time to be a nations producer”, and that Tern’s staff numbers have quadrupled since it was acquired by Zinc in 2017, growing from 20 to 85.

“We are aiming to grow Zinc significantly via the nations because of Tern’s strengths and the needs of Channel 4 and the BBC in particular,” he said, pointing to the indie’s Belfast office securing 15 hours of network television for C4.

“I’m so used to going through bad times because being outside of London can be really tough – you’re perceived to be in the sticks. At the moment, the tide is coming in, and it feels good.”