This briefing note is aimed at prospective creative talent who intend to pursue a career in producing
programmes and is intended to inform this audience of the key elements in what is typically the first
stage of having a programme idea brought to life- from the proposal of your idea to providing
development work under a Development Agreement to further your idea into a potential
programme for broadcast.
Purpose of a Development Agreement:
A Development Agreement is a contract in which it is expressly agreed that you will develop and
further your programme idea into something more tangible to enable, typically, a broadcaster to
assess whether the idea is worth commissioning as a programme to broadcast. Development
Agreements are issued by the broadcaster and define the relationship and rights between the
parties to the Agreement. Given the Development Agreement will affect the rights you will have in
your work/programme idea it is advisable that you seek legal advice as to (i) your rights in your
work/programme idea being sufficiently protected, and; (ii) your liabilities under the Agreement.
There is no set time within which you must sign a Development Agreement from when the
broadcaster issues the same to you. However, it is reasonable to say that you should not
unnecessarily delay in signing the Agreement and which in any event is only likely to delay you
receiving the funds you might be in need of to carry out the work under the Agreement.
Assignment of rights:
The important detail for you to be aware of is that a Development Agreement is for an assignment of
all your rights in the work agreed to be delivered under the Agreement (the Development Work) to
the broadcaster. Do not be alarmed – the reason why the Agreement is for an assignment of all your
rights is because the broadcaster funds and purchases that Development Work carried out by you.
The broadcaster’s purchase of the rights in the Development Work prevents you from taking the
idea elsewhere until what is known as Turnaround is affected.
All Development Agreements have a provision for Turnaround. You will agree with the broadcaster a
period of time following delivery of the Development Work by which the broadcaster should either
communicate their intention to commission you to produce the Development Work into a
programme for broadcast or express their intention that it will not be taking the Development Work
any further. Once this time lapses, or if earlier when the broadcaster gives you notice that they do
not want to commission you to produce a programme, the Development Work then goes into
Turnaround which means you are entitled to submit your programme idea/the Development Work
to other parties and to repurchase the Development Work back from the broadcaster for the
amount they agreed to fund you, reassigning to you the rights in the Development Work save for
that work or material which was inputted by the broadcaster- each party keeps their original work
and there should be a clause within the Agreement reflecting this position. Importantly, it also
means you should keep a record of all documents and work that contributed to your input in the
Key Components of the Development Work:
There are several main components to the Development Work for you to consider and which are
typically requested by a broadcaster under the Agreement to enable them to decide whether to
commission a programme from your idea, or not- the Deliverables:
(a) The Tangible Asset- very often, you will be delivering to a broadcaster a short recording of
your programme idea, featuring potential/intended cast, scenes and storylines (A Taster
Tape) giving the flavour and potential of the programme, if commissioned. Sometimes, you
may instead be requested to provide further research into how the Programme would
actually work in practice and/or to source potential contributors for your programme idea.
(b) Consents and Access Documents- These are often the most crucial component of the
Development Work. For all contributors you intend to feature in your programme, if
commissioned, you should seek to obtain full and irrevocable consents allowing you to
exploit material featuring them in any way you wish and as required in your programme.
Usually, this would be a waiver of all moral and legal rights; there is no point in featuring a
contributor in your Taster Tape, for example, and giving a broadcaster the expectation this
contributor will be available if you have not obtained adequate consent and thereby
enabling them to refuse permission of material they feature in being used in your
programme. The same goes for access; if you intend to record certain locations or
companies, and including employees of the latter, ensure you obtain sufficient access that
allows you to record what you would like to feature for the purpose of your programme.
(c) Treatment- This is typically a more detailed document of the proposal first given to a
broadcaster to consider your idea. It should typically include a programme synopsis, target
audience, details of episodes ideas if a series, the type of format and the overall objective of
the programme. If you are producing a scripted drama, you should include some storylines
and/or character scripts. In any event, each programme is individual and the personnel of
the broadcaster would advise on what they require in order to get a full flavour of your
(d) Personnel- You will need to identify to the broadcaster who the main personnel producing
the Development Work will be. It is also important to note that these same personnel should
generally all be available to work on the production of your programme, if commissioned,
and that the work they provide as part of the Development Work will also have its rights
assigned to the broadcaster until Turnaround is affected.
(e) Budget- Given the broadcaster will be funding the Development Work, you will need to
provide an outline budget detailing the costs you expect to incur in carrying out the
Development Work to justify the level of funding due to you under the Agreement.
Warranties and Undertakings to the broadcaster:
It is typical that you will be expected to warrant and undertake that the Development Work as
provided under the Agreement will all be original material, owned by you and/or your personnel;
that nothing in the Development Work shall be defamatory toward any person or company and does
not infringe the personal or legal of any person or company; and is fully compliant with the rules and
regulations set down by the UK media regulator, Ofcom. You will also be held to indemnify
the broadcaster against any and all claims, costs, loss or damage arising from the Development Work
you provided under the Agreement.
THE BIG SCARE- What if a Producer takes my idea and uses it themselves to create a programme?
It is often asked why a broadcaster will not sign a confidentiality agreement? Or what happens if a
broadcaster uses the idea from your Development Work to create a programme themselves?
Addressing the former question, it can be considered then that the Development Agreement is also
a relationship of trust. In the main, it would be counter-intuitive to the interests of a broadcaster to
disclose to another competitor broadcaster about the work it is doing. However, being aware that a
broadcaster may wish to take your idea and broach this to a preferred producer, your claim to your
work is in the copyright. Therefore, it is essential that you document and date all material you
provide in the Development Work so that should there be any conflict as to ownership you can easily
prove your rights to the idea and/or work and such remedy would serve greater protection than
would a confidentiality agreement.
By Damian Kent (LLB)
Image: Nadia Lee Cohen: www.nadialeecohen.com