One day after placing John Symes in charge of its new MGM Worldwide TV Group, the studio has named James F. Griffiths president of international TV distribution and MGM Networks.
Griffiths is ankling CAA, which he joined in 1994 and where he has headed the entertainment ventures group since its creation in 1995. In that role, he essentially was a corporate agent at CAA, working on strategic alliances such as the joint phone company video venture Tele-TV. He also was crucial to the launch of the Sundance Channel.
Before CAA, he did a nine-month stint as managing director of News Corp.’s Star TV in Asia. Sources say he left that job because of differences with owner Rupert Murdoch’s international chief Sam Chisholm.
Griffiths began his career at Price Waterhouse, and also has worked as president of international homevideo and pay TV for 20th Century Fox and VP of film programming at HBO.
At MGM, Griffiths will oversee worldwide pay and free TV, including distribution, channel ownership, TV co-production and co-financing. He’ll also oversee MGM Gold and the studio’s other international channel investments. Griffiths, who sources describe as aggressive and savvy, reports to Symes.
While MGM’s channel operations abroad are bleeding red ink, Griffiths believes acquisition of the Orion library will help improve things. “What’s critical to profitability of TV networks is the cost of programming,” Griffiths told Daily Variety. “Because MGM now controls the largest post-World War II film library, we’re able to program more efficiently.”
Sources at CAA say the agency has no plans to replace Griffiths, and Sandy Climan, who recently returned to the agency from MCA, probably will assume many of Griffiths’ duties. The corporate clients at CAA never turned out to be as profitable as many thought, so the area isn’t a huge priority. Tele-TV, for instance, has been dismantled.
“Three years ago, people thought corporate clients were big money,” one CAA source said. “It’s been a bit of a disappointment, so other agents will probably absorb that area.”