The Distribution Revolution will be Televised

TV rights marketplace TRX launched worldwide this week. It’s been a huge project for us over the last three years and consensus at Mint Towers is that it’s the best piece of work we’ve ever done. I want to capture the excitement of the moment so here’s some thoughts on why it feels so significant.

Genuine market need

The TV rights market is worth £20bn annually yet lacks automation. TV rights are currently sold like this:

  • Buyer and seller make contact, sometimes on the phone and sometimes in person;
  • Buyer and seller talk about a deal;
  • Buyer and seller go back to office and try to articulate what they think was discussed/agreed;
  • Seller manually checks availability of rights that buyer wants (this can take weeks or months if you’re a small less important buyer);
  • Seller arranges access to screeners of the show(s);
  • Buyer and seller negotiate terms and contracts are drawn up.

There are two big problems:

1. Deals take a long time

The back and forth and complexity of paperwork means that a single deal might take 6–12 months to complete.

2. Many deals never happen

Since the process is so labour intensive, sellers have to optimise their sales teams to concentrate on the highest value parts of the catalogue being sold to the richest buyers. The long tail of content remains unsold regardless of whether there is demand. If you are a buyer from a smaller channel or a VOD platform, good luck getting attention of the major distributors — even if you’ve got a decent budget. The distributors are frequently too busy dealing with the paperwork from their big clients to respond to your email.

TRX solves both problems: deals can be done in minutes and entire catalogues can be easily bought and sold. It’s rewarding to be working on something where we can solve real problems that real people struggle with all over the world every day.

Simplicity in the face of complexity

A TV Rights marketplace is complex because rights are negotiated on multiple fronts simultaneously. Imagine you own the rights to Game of Thrones and are looking to sell them overseas. The requirements of potential buyers will vary:

  • Territory — Buyer 1 might want the rights to Game of Thrones in Ukraine and Poland, whilst Buyer 2 wants the rights to Game of Thrones in Eastern Europe;
  • Type — Buyer 1 might want the Live TV rights only whilst Buyer 2 wants Live TV and Video on Demand rights;
  • Exclusivity — Buyer 1 wants the exclusive rights, Buyer 2 wants the non-exclusive rights. What if Buyer 3 wants to buy the right to prevent a show being shown in a certain territory?
  • Duration — Buyer 1 wants the rights for 6 months whilst Buyer 2 wants the rights for 18 months. What if Buyer 3 wants to buy, not for 6 months, but instead for 6 viewings?
  • Price — people want to offer and counter-offer different prices for various packages, to feel their way to a deal.

In addition, most deals actually happen around packages of shows, rather than individual shows, adding a whole extra layer of complexity.

The best digital products take complexity and make it simple. We’re proud of the trading system we’ve designed and developed.

When we show potential clients the product, it’s a Wow! moment. Suddenly, they see how a trade that has been taking them months of back of forth could now happen in minutes.

TV rights bought and sold in minutes rather than months

The simplicity of the system has evolved over months of hard work. Dozens of iterations with dozens of customers. Multiple whiteboarding sessions between Mint designers and the TRX product team. And more broadly, the supporting infrastructure had to be good: the web platform had been built in a way that facilitates the desired interactions, TRX the company had the relationships that allow us to talk to buyers and sellers on a friendly basis.

That simplicity is brilliant in its own right; the goal of product design is to make life better for users. But it’s also brilliant because it points to the number of things that are being done right under the surface. It takes many business disciplines acting in concert to deliver really good design.

A user-centred voyage of discovery

The senior management team of TRX have deep TV knowledge. They have excellent founder-market fit. But they were new to digital product development. The rate TRX has learned has been astonishing. They have become first class at user-led product development. TRX’s Chairman, David Frank, recently said “The words ‘I think’ have become almost forbidden in our office. We now focus on what would the user needs and how can we validate that insight”.

This has been rewarding for Mint to see: we have gone from teaching customer-led development techniques to learning how to better apply them.

From its origins

When we started, TRX was a PowerPoint presentation. The earliest stages of a startup is when there are the most unknowns and the risk is highest. But it’s also the most rewarding. Our goal as product developers is to make people’s lives better. It’s more thrilling to go from 0–60 rather than from 50–60.

Hard work, deep domain knowledge, continuous user feedback loops, a relentless pursuit of a better product. It’s been an exhilarating 3 years. We’re proud to have played our part and excited to see what happens next.

Thank you to Matthew, David and all at TRX for being such brilliant clients and giving us this opportunity. I hope we’ve repaid the trust you’ve shown us, and we hope to keep growing together.

Mints and TRXers combine for launch drinks

Originally published at mintdigital.com.