How the FT landed a deal with PBS

An exclusive look inside the arrangement between FRONTLINE and the financial outlet

More than a year ago, and as one of the major final acts of Lionel Barber’s (@lionelbarber) tenure at the top of the Nikkei-owned outlet, the Financial Times (FT) began negotiations with the US’ leading current affairs show. 

The idea to approach PBS’ FRONTLINE originally came from a former accountant turned Emmy-nominated broadcaster, Shaunagh Connaire (@shaunagh), who works in the FT’s content studio Alpha Grid, an outfit which only began making documentaries in 2018.

“Over the years, the FT had considered working with broadcasters – we’d been approached a few times but wanted to make sure that it would be a relationship that was positive and beneficial to both brands involved,” Kayode Josiah (@DigitalKay), Director of Commercial Development at the FT, told FN

The jointly investigated project, Opioids Inc, looked at the role one pharmaceutical company allegedly played in “fueling America’s epidemic of opioid addiction” and first aired on 23 June. 

Neither FT or PBS has disclosed how much investment went into the project, but FN understands that the initiative involved a “large team” drawn from both organisations and the FT’s New York-based pharma and biotech reporter, Hannah Kuchler (@hannahkuchler), in particular spent “countless months” digging into the story. 

For its part, the FT heavily promoted the investigation and, among other actions, published a magazine story in tandem with the release of the documentary film. Josiah also noted that negotiations to get the deal and the project off the ground were a “team effort” across the outlet’s business development, editorial, legal teams, and Alpha Grid teams. 

The foray into filmmaking with one of the best-known brands in the business marks a major development for the FT, which has recently faced spending and pay cuts (all non-editorial staff earning £50,000 or more will see a 10% reduction in working hours and salary from 1 July) despite a 50,000 bump in digital subscriptions. It should be noted that FT chief executive John Ridding has taken a 30% pay cut himself. 

So does the Pink ‘Un plan to work with PBS and FRONTLINE again? “We would love to,” Josiah said. “The entire partnership was extremely cross-collaborative, not only with PBS but also within each company. The results speak for themselves.” And for other broadcasters? “Absolutely - we’re actively discussing all opportunities that come our way.” 

💼 Jobs and biz

  • Quartz has a new homepage.

  • The New York Times has pulled out of Apple News.

  • The Big Issue is back on sale in-person. FN previously reported on how the outlet was forced to go digital due to the Covid-19 crisis. 

  • The UK’s competition watchdog the CMA has published a long-awaited report into the digital ad market. In short, it looks like the CMA has mirrored the findings of a government-backed report from Professor Jason Furman, the former Chief Economist to President Obama. The CMA has also mooted that Facebook and Google should hand over some of its data to its competitors, something that is highly unlikely to happen. Also, as an important side note, Google mostly dominates search because Yahoo virtually bought up all its search competitors and then Google beat it. 

🔬 Research

  • Report reveals racial bias is English football commentary. 

  • Here’s how ad blockers can benefit websites, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

🎧 Podcasts

🤖 Technology

  • Facebook public affairs chief Nick Clegg was forced to deny a Washington Post story that the social media platform sought to accommodate Donald Trump in the past as “nonsense on stilts”. The ad boycott continues. 

📧 Contact

For high-praise, tips or gripes, please contact the editor at iansilvera@gmail.com or via @ianjsilvera.