The road to American TV for more than 50 BBC shows goes through Madison

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Posted by on July 05, 2009 at 19:54:38:

London Bridge: The road to American TV for more than 50 BBC shows goes through Madison advertising firm.

Tom Alesia | July 2, 2009 | 77 Square

The route for many British TV programs coming to America runs through a barely marked office in Madison.

More than 50 British Broadcasting Company shows, ranging from popular spy thriller "MI:5" to family friendly drama "Lark Rise to Candleford," have their 30-second promotional TV ads created by Tilt Media, a Madison firm that seems as far from London as the moon.

Since last fall, the three-person Madison video production company on the city's west side has become the go-to place for BBC series and documentaries -- some current, some not -- seeking to entice more than 100 public television stations in the United States to air their shows.

"We get boxes of British shows every week," said Tilt Media founder Rich Rubasch. "Our job is to convince (Americans) to watch them."

Working for two U.S.-based distributors of BBC programming, Tilt creates arresting short promos to encourage PBS member stations to buy the programs and, with "MI: 5," "Lark Rise" and other series, develops 30- or 20-second on-air spots ("Next time on 'Poirot' . . .") for viewers.

"As much as TiVO changed the landscape," said Tilt's Jon Hornbacher, "the most effective way to get the word out about a show for a TV station is still a promo. It's not looked at as an advertisement. Viewers like promos."

Hornbacher, who spent nine years with Wisconsin Public Television as video promotions manager, has done more than 300 spots at Tilt for BBC shows since last October.

"The challenge is that you start with 60 minutes of material," Rubasch said. "From that, you have to decide how much of the story you can tell in 30 seconds. There are threads of the story that you can't get into because it's too complicated. Jon's skill is watching a show and pulling out soundbites and images, then writing some narration."

Tilt has worked with shows such as the newest incarnation of "Dr. Who" and the famed detective series "Poirot." As a result, Hornbacher watches plenty of British TV at Tilt's offices. He's become a big fan of "Lark Rise" and "MI:5." The latter provides ample materials for good, brief promos.

"I watch each show and maybe I end up with two or three minutes of clips that have real good one-liners," Hornbacher said. "There are things they say that sometimes are just so obvious to use -- 'London is just about to be destroyed by a bomb.'"

Hornbacher's connections in public television helped Tilt to get promo work from British TV distributors in America. Not every show is terrific. An Audrey Hepburn documentary wasn't top-notch programming. "The subject matter is phenomenal," Horbacher said. "She has so many great photos and clips from movies. But (the documentary) wasn't well produced. That was a challenging promo."

So he highlighted Hepburn's pristine face?

"That's what you use. And I had a couple of cute clips, too."

Tilt hires "voice artists," who record Tilt's written narration at their homes in Maine, New Jersey and Florida. But the shows' deep British accents can pose a problem when Tilt tries to use snappy dialogue clips in promos.

And the Madison company, which handles a significant amount of corporate video work, is planning to make its own television special on the eco-friendly construction of a local "green" building.

For now, Tilt employees keep their eyes on British programming. Tilt won a local advertising award for its stunning promos of the BBC's four-part intense documentary "Age of Terror."

"You want to make someone remember to watch the show or if it's on as you flip through channels you stick with it," Hornbacher said. "That's what I love about the 30-second spot. The only goal is to make people watch a show. It's a simple idea."

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