TWC looks to diversify to offset feature biz volatility

Harvey Weinstein is back in familiar stomping grounds this week — Cannes — for his first go-round at the Mipcom global TV sales market. If current trends at the Weinstein Co. continue, he could become as much of a fixture at the fall TV confab as he is at the glitzy spring film fest.

Weinstein’s keynote address to the Mipcom crowd today signals the growing importance of television production to TWC’s fortunes. The company has a dozen series projects in various stages of development and production, including its unscripted franchises “Project Runway” and “Mob Wives” (and their offshoots); a new foodie reality skein, “Supermarket Superstar,” hosted by Stacy Keibler; and “Trailer Park Lives” for TLC.

On the drama front, the Weinstein Co. has teamed with Ryan Seacrest Prods. and Gotham gumshoe Bo Dietl to develop a private eye vehicle for FX. A big-budget priority for the company is its ambitious costume drama “Marco Polo,” which has a 10-episode order from Starz and is set to lense in China next summer for a 2014 bow.

Weinstein, co-chief of TWC, is engaged in the creative development of skeins with his longtime lieutenant Meryl Poster, who heads TV operations. He’s enjoying working in a different medium, and as a businessman, he believes that diversifying into TV will help his 7-year-old indie weather the inevitable volatility of the feature biz.

“The financial model of TV is incredibly appealing,” Weinstein told Variety. “The ability to make a ton of money is there at any given moment. We can take these shows like ‘Project Runway’ and ‘Mob Wives’ and build huge franchises around them. Every idea you have for a show can become three if you play it right. It’s invigorating.”

Weinstein Co. and its Miramax predecessor had dabbled on and off in smallscreen biz for years, but the effort to build up a dedicated TV division was galvanized two years ago when former Miramax production prexy Poster rejoined the Weinstein fold. This time around, Poster told Weinstein that her interest was in television. That was all he needed to hear.

“Meryl coming back rekindled the best creative relationship I’ve ever had,” Weinstein said.

Perhaps the most impressive part of TWC’s TV biz is that the company has maintained ownership of its shows and its copyrights. With “Marco Polo” and other scripted development, the Weinstein Co. has demonstrated its ability to deficit-finance when necessary.

In the unscripted arena, where many production companies are essentially doing work for hire, the Weinstein Co. insists on retaining control. Under the direction of chief operating officer David Glasser, TWC has walked away from deals in the past over the ownership issue.

Controlling the copyrights allows Weinstein Co. to profit from international sales, format licensing, merchandising and other ancillary businesses. It even has a team focused solely on orchestrating product placement deals for its shows.

This year, TWC is also taking control of international TV distribution for the first time, after pacting in the past with outside distribs like Fremantle and Ben Silverman’s Electus. Glasser has been pleasantly surprised to find that the company already has relationships through its feature business with many key Euro buyers such as Germany’s ProSieben.

“All of these partners that we’re already doing business with on the feature side, their doors are open to us for TV,” Glasser said. “It’s great to come into the market with shows we control that already have (U.S.) series orders.”

The growth spurt in TV comes as the 7-year-old TWC has also enjoyed a solid run with its feature slate during the past few years. But Weinstein’s been in the biz long enough to know that all hot streaks come to an end. (With characteristic enthusiasm, however, Weinstein assures that the pic slate for the coming year is “looking better than the last four years put together.”) At some point, he concedes, the company will need to lean on the sturdy cash flow provided by successful TV series.

“Two years from now or so I’m sure we’ll hit a rough patch,” Weinstein said. “Building a strong independent TV business that doesn’t tap too much of our financial resources will really smooth the ride for all of us financially. I only regret that we didn’t start doing it earlier.”

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