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Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau, founders of Montreal production house Incendo.
Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau, founders of Montreal production house Incendo.

Report on Small Business magazine

Murder! Infidelity! Treachery! International sales! Add to ...

Thanks to an aggressive sales team, the sun never sets on Incendo's productions. The thrillers screen in English on the Toronto-based Movie Network and Movie Central, and as French-dubbed versions on Montreal-based Super Écran. As well, they show up on the Lifetime Networks in the United States and on channels in South America, the Middle East, Asia and across Europe. Indeed, the short list isn't where Incendo films are sold, but where they're not sold. The exception is noteworthy: China. “We believe the pricing isn't always fair [in China]” says Greenberg. “The way we look at it is, we want to make the right deals now. We don't want to look at this in just the short term. The Far East is poised to explode. It will open up to more outside programming as additional satellite services are offered there. We want to make sure that when we sell there, we put it in the right hands, given the copyright issues.”

Now that Incendo is moving into its second decade, Greenberg and Bureau point out that a sales pitch to a new market becomes that much easier. “This has [always]been our goal,” Greenberg says. “We've built a library. We've sold our next two years of films that have not been made yet. The broadcaster can also acquire rights to our back library. We have 45 films to sell. Those films that we did nine years ago are being sold again and again around the world.”

Since Incendo products are constantly being resold and recycled to new markets, it's difficult to assess exactly how much money is made per film. Greenberg and Bureau will only say that each movie is “solidly profitable,” and given that they are sold to so many regions and continue to be rebroadcast on various platforms, the films are making approximately three or four times their budget.

While Incendo's fortunes are growing, the company has not been immune to the pressures and challenges facing the cultural industries. The past decade has been brutal, with the music industry, the pornography industry and, more recently, print media devastated by the get-it-all-for-free model of the Internet. And then, to add another blow in what's become a perfect storm, came the severe economic downturn of the past few years, which saw TV ad revenues plummet. “What protects us in part is that the minute our films are finished, they are delivered immediately to our different markets, and broadcast within weeks,” says Bureau. “Yes, you will find our films on the Internet, but these are not the feature films the pirates are usually looking for. Each one of these movies is specifically made for TV. Unless you're a huge fan of the star of the film, you're probably not going to find it.”

“There are other people in the industry who took a different route than we did,” notes Greenberg. “When financial times got tough, they cut their budgets. We held firm on budgets, because you've got to deliver the quality that your clients are expecting. We've been told by our clients that they want the Incendo product. Cutting is a short-term strategy, but not really a smart one. Everyone's been hurt in the past couple of years. We made the decision to hang in.”

And Greenberg insists something has been lost in the discussion around new technologies and new ways to transmit and broadcast content. “The core of everything you do is programming. People don't watch wires. They watch programs. How you watch them, how you transmit them, that's all changing. But whether you watch it in a movie theatre or on your hand-held device, the creation of content is the cornerstone. Without the content, you have nothing.

“Our library keeps growing. They play on pay TV, they go to free TV or cable, or both. There's a great resale market here and around the world. The ratings are solid, which gives our clients immediate gratification. The films are working and that's why everyone's back on board for more.”

This feature originally appeared in the June, 2011 issue of Report on Small Business magazine.

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