Published on: 18 June 2020 in Directors UK

Our foreign distribution: behind the scenes

Reading time: 12 minutes and 9 seconds

This month we completed our largest ever foreign distribution, with over £3.6 million distributed to 2,570 members, and over 300,000 payments processed. But how did it actually come about?

Most members eligible for distribution will know that at some point their programme airs on television, then further down the line a royalty payment arrives in their account from Directors UK. But the process in between is more mysterious, involving a small and dedicated team of staff crunching thousands of lines of data, extensively monitoring TV channels, and doing mountains of research.

Below, the Directors UK distribution team takes you behind the scenes of the foreign distribution process, how they’ve had to adapt to coronavirus, and what happens once a distribution goes out. 


How does my distribution payment reach me?

From the airwaves to members’ bank accounts — a lot goes into making sure that payments for uses of work are promptly and accurately delivered.

So, I’ve entered my credits via my profile. Why do I do that again?

Jonathan Hart, Acting Distribution Manager: Registering your credits with us is simply the fastest and most accurate way to make sure that we have your works in our database. Our team monitors the main terrestrial UK channels (I’ll let the team explain that), but for other channels we receive reports from broadcasters and need time to sort through the information they provide. If you enter your credits, we have the information about the programme up front from those who know it best. Having these works listed on our database makes it much easier to match to the reports we receive from sister foreign societies, UK broadcasters or production companies.

So, how do you find out about a work I’ve directed if I haven’t registered it with you online?

Emma Donald, Distribution Assistant: We monitor the main five terrestrial channels: BBC One, BBC Two, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, and every one of us in the team has their own channel to keep an eye on. Monitoring involves keeping track of what airs by skipping forwards and backwards through the channel’s schedule, noting down the run time, start and end time of each show, the episode title and — of course — who directed it. That will then go into our database, together with other key data about the programme. However, if a member sends in a registration form before the show has aired, then that will be the first bit of information we have about it, and it’s then a case of checking to make sure that those details are accurate. We do keep an eye on some other channels, and we also have the reports that get sent to us from the international societies, which will often include members works that aren’t in our database, because we aren’t able to monitor them manually. 

About those reports. Surely, once you’ve got those, it’s easy to tell who gets what?

Nikki Hopper, Head of Foreign Collections: Not always! In the case of foreign distributions, we receive reports from over twenty CMOs (Collective Management Organisations) and the quality of data we receive varies from one to the other. Some have lists with complete transmission details, including full work title and director, while some will have series titles but no episode titles (or titles in a foreign language), and they could be with or without director names. Occasionally we may even get a list of works with the channel, year of transmission and series title but no episode titles or director names. This is where our team will do a certain amount of detective work to make sure that members are getting what they’re due.

How do you decide how much these uses are worth, and what is due to me?

Nikki Hopper, Head of Foreign Collections: Most CMOs allocate an amount of money per work, using their own distribution scheme. For those that send us a fixed sum of money, we allocate payments using our own points scheme, which takes into account factors like genre and transmission duration — you can find out more about it here

Once you know how much I’m owed, how do you make sure the money reaches my account?

Richard Anderson, Distribution Administrator: Once we’ve got the allocations and we know the exact amount each member is going to receive, we then create the invoices and compile a big list of everybody who needs to be paid, what they’re going to be paid, and draw the members’ bank details from our system. That’s why it’s so important that members keep their bank and contact details up to date with us, as early as they can — because once this is all under way, it’s really quite difficult for us to reverse it or jump in and change anything. From there, we’ll log on to our online banking system and upload the information, and it’s all locked in! There’s a maximum we can pay out in any one payment instruction, so this will take place in stages.

We keep a very close eye on our statements and our incomings and outgoings, so if we’ve been given any incorrect bank details or the account is closed, we’ll spot that a payment has bounced back to us. We’ll then work hard to make sure it finds the right beneficiary.


How has coronavirus changed things?

On March 23rd, Directors UK made the decision to close our offices and have staff working from home as a precautionary measure. While the new situation has meant that some delays are possible, our distribution team has worked hard to make sure payments are processed in good time.  

Since coronavirus, what changes have you had to make to make sure distributions keep going out smoothly?

Simone Cammarota, Director of Distribution: As with most departments, we’ve had to change the way we operate, and at fairly short notice, implementing changes that would normally take months to set up, within the space of a few weeks. Things that would normally take weeks to set up are being done in days.  

Ensuring the team have the right equipment to continue their basic functions was the number one priority when we first went into lockdown – and that they had access to all the software that they needed. Once that was done, we needed to find the best way of communicating with each other remotely, not straight forward when we are normally used to just looking up from our desk and calling someone from across the room. We’ve also had to repurpose our database and mailing systems so that we can get invoices out to members via email rather than the usual postal route. And more generally, we’ve had to restructure how the team works – where member queries are directed to, which projects are prioritised, how we can train staff in order to ensure that we can continue efficiently distributing payments to members during this time. Of course, things are taking longer than usual to do, but we are committed to maintaining the high standards that members are used to.

How did you make sure that the distribution team could work from home?

Nicole Bandoo, Database and IT Support Officer: When we got news that we might possibly have to work from home, it was a case of working out with staff what equipment was required to set them up for remote working. We had to rapidly get all of this equipment configured — and where necessary we were rushing out to the shops to get more. Then we had to liaise with everyone to make sure they could connect to our systems remotely, get everyone used to working from home, and provide ongoing support. Then, when the time came to push ahead with the distribution itself, we had to explore ways we can could make that happen.

So, what support did you provide to make sure that distribution notices could be sent out electronically?

Bhavesh Mistry, Head of IT: We had to source software that would allow us to be able to electronically send 3000 encrypted email invoices to our members. In the background, we had been developing our systems to allow us to be a little bit more streamlined, so some of the work had already been started prior to the lockdown. But encrypting the emails was the key, as there are members’ statements and personal details on there, and we can’t just send emails out without that security. So, once we had that in place, we were able to use this tool to email each individual member’s statement securely. 

What’s been the hardest part of working under lockdown conditions?

Nick Roberts, Distribution Assistant: While everyone’s individual circumstances will differ under lockdown, personally I find the most challenging aspect to be the change from working full-time in the office environment, to now being in the home environment. While the Directors UK office provided a quiet space for work, house sharing with a multitude of people has proved a real mental exercise in blocking out noise to focus on the necessary tasks. A high level of concentration is needed amidst the volume of data we work with, so ensuring this is achievable from the home environment is a new challenge.

Molly Ulm, Distribution Assistant: Working from home daily means an adjustment to the way I have to communicate with my colleagues and members of Directors UK, as well as paying attention to how these changes may affect my mental health. Communication is an integral part of any workplace and is important in both a professional and emotional sense. Without telephones or being physically present in the office, I’m learning new ways to communicate while making sure members receive their payments in a timely manner, and simultaneously focusing on maintaining a healthy state of mind.

Simone Cammarota, Director of Distribution: Without doubt, it’s working while parenting a toddler. It’s a good day when you get fifteen minutes of uninterrupted peace to focus on the five spreadsheets you have open at once, trying to cross-reference 10,000+ lines of data to find the one cell that is causing your sum to not add up. Meanwhile, we’ve had an explosion of spices from the spice rack in the front-room, a TV being cleaned with a pastry brush, a magic wand left in the toilet, smacked on the head with an Ankylosaurus tail (I didn’t even know what its name was before lockdown), trodden on a toy car, listening to Pink Fong’s greatest hits on repeat (for the last eleven weeks!), trying to sabotage your work by banging on the keyboard, running away with your equipment, and that’s all before 11am. And don’t get me started on all of the guest appearances during video conferencing. 

A close second though is me trying to stay out of the goodie cupboard directly behind where I’m sitting!


After the distribution

Once a distribution has been processed, the team moves on to help with other tasks, and the next distribution is never far away...

The data has been crunched, and the payments have gone out. What do you do next?

Jake Sanders, Foreign Administrator: Due to the size of a lot of the distributions that we do (specifically for foreign payments), there is often not much time until we need to start thinking about the next one. Ordinarily, we have a bit of a debrief where we assess the specifics of the distribution, break down the numbers and discuss how things could have been improved. Then we begin preparing the relevant information and resources needed for next time.

Kate Parish, Membership Manager: From a membership team perspective, we’ll be working with the digital team to make sure that our online trace list is up to date. So, we get any new names that have had money allocated to them in this distribution onto the website as fast as possible, to make sure that people can see them. We also really look forward to hearing from non-members who have found out that they’re now on that trace list, or have heard that their friends and colleagues have had a payment and want to know if they’re eligible themselves. 

Emily-Jane Burrin, Distribution and Membership Assistant: There’s a lot to be getting on with. Usually, I’ll be supporting directors as they join Directors UK, and registering new members — including registering members on international databases so that our sister societies are aware that the director has claimed their copyright with us. Then there’s updating members’ contact information in line with GDPR regulations (the best way to help us with this is through our website, by logging into your Directors UK profile and updating), monitoring terrestrial channels, maintaining our database and more! 


Now that you’ve had a taste of how your distribution works, why not make sure that your fellow directors don’t lost out on theirs? Check our trace list today, and if you have a friend or colleague on there, let them know to contact Directors UK — we have distribution payments waiting for them.

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