Feature: Exclusive interview with Breakthrough Entertainment's Nat Abraham
Business Review Canada speaks to Nat Abraham, head of distribution at Breakthrough Entertainment, on how he has prospered from the ever-evolving landscape of television production and distribution…
Nat Abraham is head of distribution at Breakthrough Entertainment with more than 19 years of experience in the acquisition and distribution of television programming.
In addition to his 11 years at Nielsen Media Research Canada, as Group Sales and Marketing Manager, Nat has also served as Vice President with 20th Century Fox/Astral Distribution, and was Co-President at Audiotrack, a broadcast intellectual property watermarking company based in Toronto with clients including Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and Sony.
Abraham is a frequent speaker on television distribution at various television industry associations and institutional media learning programs and his clients include Columbia TriStar, HBO, Showtime, Dick Clark Productions and ZDF.
Beyond Canada, Abraham has also initiated licence commitments with major US networks and cable channels including Discovery, CBS, Lifetime and A&E. Although the industry is in a state of constant change, Abraham and Breakthrough Entertainment are buoyant. So, how has Abraham successfully navigated some often-choppy waters?
“One of the key factors that differentiates Breakthrough is that our content covers a wide range of genres,” he explains.
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“Everything from award-winning kids’ series to narrative TV drama, comedy and lifestyle. More recently we have been involved in the production of feature films in a variety of themes including horror, family and drama.
“With a broader range of content, we can serve virtually every segment of the industry, differentiating us from other producers who perhaps choose to specialize in a specific area. Over our 30-year history we’ve developed into more of a studio than just a production house and our size and the breadth of our content helps give us a competitive advantage.”
TV production and distribution has experienced the most dramatic technological changes with the televisual landscape almost unrecognizable from five or six years ago. Abraham has stayed ahead of the curve primarily through recruitment and an open-door policy with regards to content.
“Breakthrough has tremendous resources in terms of experienced staff and their specific skillsets, yet we can be nimble enough to adapt quickly to emerging industry trends,” he says.
“As the linear broadcasters, especially in Canada, are becoming increasingly more conservative in their commissioning of original programming, we are experiencing more opportunities and rapid growth in the digital market and are creating brand new concepts for some of the OTT services.
“It’s an exciting time for us to be pushing the envelope far harder than we could previously due to the conventional broadcasters’ mandated content restrictions, which often confined the types of programming they can create. We still continue to do a great deal of work with our linear broadcasters, however, but we are really enjoying some of the creative freedom in program creation for some of the new platforms.”
Aside from the creative and performance related aspects to TV production, there is also an extensive logistical and procurement element to the business.
“Every project starts with an idea,” Abraham says. “Whether it’s a book, a screenplay, or a stage play. With television content, what initially begins as an idea is then transformed into a written treatment to give it a feel for what the show is eventually going to look like.
"It’s basically a short-form overview, similar to the foreword if you wanted to compare it to a book; intended to give you an idea of the tone of what that particular show is going to look and feel like and who the characters are, and what the premise of the show is. The look and feel is important and from there, we will approach writers well known in that particular genre.
"We will talk to directors who we feel may be the right fit for the project, and that’s where a story starts to take shape because the experience of the people that you bring on board is what transforms it into a completed film or series.
"The magic of turning something from just an idea on a piece of paper to a film or television show is all due to the talent and team that’s attached to it.
“Before a single episode can be produced, generally, the entire season is written and planned out. You plan a production by keeping all of the episodes in mind so you can keep the cast and crew on a tight schedule.
"There is an enormous amount of planning that goes into a production from all of the departments and they will prep for months before they actually go to camera. Once an episode is shot you then have the editing, colour correction, sound mixing etc. – all of the post production to make sure the episodes are presented in the best possible form and are delivered to the broadcasters according to their technical standards.”
A man used to working on several projects at once, Abraham has to tackle problems from short, middle and long-term productions. “As Breakthrough is involved in producing so many different genres, we have teams who specialize in each of those types of content... We keep those experts involved in their field of expertise and as a result, there are different teams working on each project that can simultaneously handle different projects.
"Most of the talent and the crew are contract workers and will work on this show before moving onto another. Our in-house teams manage the development of the projects, production, post production and sales and distribution, but all of the rest is typically contracted out.
“This company is unique in the diversity of our content offerings, everything from kids to family to lifestyle, drama, thriller and horror movies. We have also been working with our international buyers for decades and have a good handle on content that meets their needs both in the established broadcast environments as well as the now emerging digital markets.
"We are able to weather the economic storms that pop up from time to time in different territories because of the diversity of our offerings and having our collective finger on the international pulse.
“The first installment of our L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables trilogy property, for example, has been sold to broadcasters in nearly 20 countries this year including HBO Europe and PBS in the United States.
"It’s a tremendous property for us and we expect the second and third installments to sell just as well. Combine that with our award-winning kids content, our genre films through our partnership with Black Fawn (now 8 films in), who have a achieved cult following in the horror community and you start to see the strength of our catalogue. We have over 40 feature films and over 4000 episodes of programming that we can continue to sell and resell in territories worldwide.
“That’s really what seems to differentiate us from most of the other players in the industry who tend to specialize in one or two areas. Breakthrough has always been proud for creating content for everyone’s taste and not just a select group. It’s sort of been our key to success as a company.”
How changing your company's software code can prevent bias
Two-third of tech professionals believe organizations aren’t doing enough to address racial inequality. After all, many companies will just hire a DEI consultant, have a few training sessions and call it a day.
Wanting to take a unique yet impactful approach to DEI, Deltek, the leading global provider of software and solutions for project-based businesses, took a look at and removed all exclusive terminology in their software code. By removing terms such as ‘master’ and ‘blacklist’ from company coding, Deltek is working to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of their organization.
Business Chief North America talks to Lisa Roberts, Senior Director of HR and Leader of Diversity & Inclusion at Deltek to find out more.
Why should businesses today care about removing company bias within their software code?
We know that words can have a profound impact on people and leave a lasting impression. Many of the words that have been used in a technology environment were created many years ago, and today those words can be harmful to our customers and employees. Businesses should use words that will leave a positive impact and help create a more inclusive culture in their organization
What impact can exclusive terms have on employees?
Exclusive terms can have a significant impact on employees. It starts with the words we use in our job postings to describe the responsibilities in the position and of course, we also see this in our software code and other areas of the business. Exclusive terminology can be hurtful, and even make employees feel unwelcome. That can impact a person’s desire to join the team, stay at a company, or ultimately decide to leave. All of these critical actions impact the bottom line to the organization.
Please explain how Deltek has removed bias terminology from its software code
Deltek’s engineering team has removed biased terminology from our products, as well as from our documentation. The terms we focused on first that were easy to identify include blacklist, whitelist, and master/slave relationships in data architecture. We have also made some progress in removing gendered language, such as changing he and she to they in some documentation, as well as heteronormative language. We see this most commonly in pick lists that ask to identify someone as your husband or wife. The work is not done, but we are proud of how far we’ve come with this exercise!
What steps is Deltek taking to ensure biased terminology doesn’t end up in its code in the future?
What we are doing at Deltek, and what other organizations can do, is to put accountability on employees to recognize when this is happening – if you see something, say something! We also listen to feedback our customers give us and have heard their feedback on this topic. Those are both very reactive things of course, but we are also proactive. We have created guidance that identifies words that are more inclusive and also just good practice for communicating in a way that includes and respects others.
What advice would you give to other HR leaders who are looking to enhance DEI efforts within company technology?
My simple advice is to start with what makes sense to your organization and culture. Doing nothing is worse than doing something. And one of the best places to start is by acknowledging this is not just an HR initiative. Every employee owns the success of D&I efforts, and employees want to help the organization be better. For example, removing bias terminology was an action initiated by our Engineering and Product Strategy teams at Deltek, not HR. You can solicit the voices of employees by asking for feedback in engagement surveys, focus groups, and town halls. We hear great recommendations from employees and take those opportunities to improve.