Shingle will deficit-finance scripted projects

EXCLUSIVE: Endemol has launched Endemol Studios, an inhouse shingle that will focus on scripted TV production with a gameplan that includes deficit financing of series.

The division will further develop current Endemol USA projects while also adapting Endemol programs from around the world, all with the potential of directly reaping the ongoing financial benefits of their success. Co-production partners will become involved on a case-by-case basis.

Philippe Maigret, who has been exec veep of North America acquisitions for Endemol since March 2010, will run Endemol Studios, reporting to Endemol North America chairman David Goldberg. Jeremy Gold, who in 2008 launched Endemol USA’s scripted TV development division — which recently developed AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” set to bow Nov. 6 — will serve

as Endemol Studios head of creative affairs.

Endemol Studios was created “for us to be able to internally develop with significantly more resources, so we can buy projects, buy scripts and … deficit on those projects and move forward,” Goldberg told Variety. “Endemol USA’s scripted division has been essentially developing all sorts of scripted programming (without) a facility to actually finance projects if and when they become realized.”

Maigret said the unit’s experience to date gave execs the confidence to move forward aggressively in the scripted arena.

“When we were looking at our success in 2010 and early 2011 and looking at how we were going to scale it up, (we concluded) the right thing to do is to build your own capability,” he said. “There is only so much strong commercial content that we can acquire that we can co-finance.”

While “Hell on Wheels” wasn’t the sole reason for the creation of Endemol Studios, it illustrates the motivation to expand and the willingness to weigh risk.

“In that and through other experiences, we realized that it’d be unlikely we’d see any significant upside in scripted unless we have skin in the game,” Goldberg said. “I think we’ll develop aggressively but invest conservatively, particularly in the beginning.”

Maigret said: “We took time to develop a plan to launch this business that the management team would endorse, at a level where we could build a meaningful business but with limited downside. We have made broad assumptions in terms of developing projects (and) deficit-financing some of these projects and potentially some third-party projects that come to us already developed. … Not 20 or 30 of them — we’ll ramp up, but we have the resources to do that.”

Maigret added that Endemol will take advantage of its “strong distribution platform,” Endemol Worldwide Distribution, which handles such exterior rights acquisitions as TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” and TNT’s “Leverage.” EWD will shepherd TV and homevideo rights for Endemol Studio productions (under Maigret’s oversight), while Endemol Worldwide Brands will manage all ancillary rights.

Goldberg emphasized that without making any hard-and-fast rules about genre, Endemol Studios will initially focus on hourlong cable drama with international appeal, an area that he says is a little less expensive and has a higher success rate than broadcast series and half-hour comedies do.

“So we’re not walking out saying, ‘We’re in every business in every price point regardless of the content,’ ” Goldberg said. “We don’t have the same pockets and resources of a major studio, and we’re going to do it in a more conservative fashion. But of course, like our growth on the nonscripted side, we’ll expand when the business warrants that we do so.”

Maigret pointed to the increased demand for scripted dramas on cable and alternative platforms including Netflix, Hulu and even direct consumer services like Walmart’s, relative to the relatively few producing studios (such as Lionsgate and Entertainment One) involved.

“We’re looking at strategies to grow our business,” Maigret said. “There’s a strong sense that the U.S. scripted TV business will do just that. … Even with ‘Hell on Wheels,’ we have such a limited presence in the biggest segment of television expenditures in the world’s biggest market.”

Endemol Studios will also aim to better exploit Endemol projects from outside U.S. borders, with Goldberg noting that “a number of the things that we have in the development pipeline are existing properties from our sister companies abroad.”

Endemol’s well-established nonscripted side (“Big Brother,” “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” “Wipeout”) will remain housed with Endemol North America. Funds from Endemol Studios won’t be used as seed money in nonscripted, Goldberg said, but the fact that he is overseeing both areas “makes it very symbiotic.”

Goldberg offered no specific timetable for when the new arrangement would yield programming, but said, “we’re open for business.”

“As we all know, the scripted business moves a bit slower than the nonscripted business because of the mechanics of that development process,” Goldberg said, “but as soon as it’s reasonably possible to finance scripted programming, we will.

“It’s exciting for us because we obviously need to continue to evolve and diversify our business, and I think it’s exciting for the community that there’s another entity that exists where you can bring your product — and I think we’ll be very conducive to working with the creative community.”

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