Mipcom: Lionsgate TV’s Kevin Beggs on ‘Orange Is the New Black’s’ Foreign Appeal

Kevin Beggs
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CANNES — Lionsgate Television chairman and CEO Kevin Beggs spoke about the foreign appeal of “Orange Is the New Black” and the company’s global outreach during a keynote Wednesday at Mipcom.

In the past 10 years, Lionsgate Television’s biz has grown from $8 million to $500 million in sales, and according to Beggs, the international market has been a driving force behind that growth.

“Before anything goes out the door, we have to have a feel that it will work internationally,” Beggs said. “There are certain shows we can’t get behind because the international market can’t get behind them.”

Beggs said Lionsgate expected “Orange Is the New Black” to do well abroad from the start because the series’s showrunner, Jenji Kohan, has a humor and sensibility which works around the world.

“Orange Is the New Black” is indeed the most-watched show on Netflix in France and Germany, where the digital service launched last month.

Beggs noted Kohan’s previous series, “Weeds,” clicked with international auds because it poked fun at America’s war on drugs.

The exec said international sales help Lionsgate recover a sizable deficit on the shows (they) produce.

In markets that have strong local TV industries Lionsgate is also involved in format sales. Latin America, the U.K., Israel (for instance) are interested in optioning the “Mad Men” and “Nurse Jackie” formats.

The Lionsgate TV topper noted that European pay TV channels such as French paybox Canal Plus are more and more willing to ramp up their slate of English-language series.

“We are talking to everyone and we would love to find the perfect show to commission or co-commission for a French, U.K. or German pay TV network,” Beggs said.

Lionsgate is already sourcing talent and interesting formats abroad. Beggs cited Lionsgate’s recent acquisition of Jo Nesbo’s crime novel “Headhunters,” which the company will develop as a television series for HBO.

Beggs also gave marketgoers some perspective on working with a streaming service compared with a network. He said while streaming players may be look to push the envelop further and go for edgier content, they’re more cautious than network when it comes to investing in first-timers.

“Netflix is banking on experienced creators, filmmakers, people that have a track record that actually dovetails into their entire algorithm. They’re interested in things that already have some value to their customer base.”

He added, “A network is churning out many more series, so far, than Netflix is doing, so they have to inherently maybe take a lot more risks. … Netflix is very targeted, picking things that they already know should work.”

That being said, services like Netflix are less likely to act as micro-managers on a show, per Beggs.

Working with streaming services also allows creators to test new narrative grounds because there are no advertising restrictions and commercial breaks, Beggs pointed out.

In “ ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ (Kohan) is taking a lot of digressions… but you can do that (on Netflix) because you know that people are going to go back and rewatch, it gives you a lot of freedom to tell stories in a more novelistic way.”

Lionsgate is also looking to expand its presence in Asia. “We are looking at developing shows that could find itself in the market now. It’s a priority for the company, but it is also an emerging market for us, that will go a long way at making us strong,” Beggs said. “Shows like ‘Orange Is the New Black’ in China represent a huge revenue growth for us, which before was pretty close to nothing,”

Commenting on the straight-to-pilot model, Beggs said Lionsgate Television was a “big believer in that model. We’re focused on getting things out of development and into production, so a straight-to-series model is very attractive.”

The only setback with that strategy is that “you often start with the international market and work backward. But it’s very important for the American buyer to invested in a show emotionally, and treat it as original development, not just an acquisition,” Beggs told Variety in a separate interview.

Looking ahead, Beggs said he anticipates the launch of many more streaming players because the entry barriers have gone down. “In two years there’ll be six or seven legitimate players sitting here rather than three or four. Maybe more than that.”

He added, “On a pay basis you don’t need that many subscribers to get you to breakeven.”

Big brands are also bound to play significant role in scripted originals, per Beggs. “If traditional 30- or 60-second commercials are less popular, (brands are) gonna want to get inside shows that people are talking about. And a lot of those shows are going into these streaming and premium environments.”

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