Former National Geographic TV president Howard T. Owens has launched a content production venture with financial backing from A+E Networks.
Owens (pictured left) has tapped former A&E Network g.m. David McKillop (right) as a partner and chief creative officer of Los Angeles-based Propagate Content. A+E is an investor in Propagate, but it will operate autonomously from the Disney and Hearst-owned cable group with a goal of fielding projects for a wide range of TV and digital outlets.
Owens and McKillop have quietly been reaching out to buyers and talent reps in the past two weeks as they finalized the deal that has been in the works for some time. The company will focus on unscripted programming at the outset, but it has ambition to expand into scripted series and international distribution.
Propagate has recruited three seasoned reality showrunners — Jarrett Lambo, Brad Tiemann and Charlie Marquardt — as full-time employees to ensure that it can move quickly in developing and producing projects. Owens sees plenty of possibility for a startup production venture, so long as it has the goods.
“Quality content has never been more in demand,” Owens told Variety. “We think there’s a chance to look at television (production) a little differently than it’s been done in the past. You have to give people a reason to go find your show in this environment. And you have can’t just have digital content that is a website that serves to market your shows — you have to have something that elevates your show.”
Owens has startup experience from his years as a founding partner with Ben Silverman and others in Reveille. He left Nat Geo TV last April after three years in a shakeup that also saw the departure of his boss, David Lyle.
Owens knew he wanted to launch an indie production venture after leaving Nat Geo TV but he took his time in talking to various potential partners. A+E felt like a fit because CEO Nancy Dubuc understood Owens’ desire to be able to work as a a free agent, as a means of generating the best material from creative partners.
The timing of Propagate’s launch also dovetailed with McKillop’s exit as general manager of A&E in February. Owens and McKillop have known each other for many years and have complementary skill sets.
“I jumped at the opportunity to bring someone like David into the fold,” Owens said. “There are very few people who are consistently able to take an idea that is good and make it great.”
During his run at A&E and History, McKillop spearheaded such notable series as “Duck Dynasty,” “Pawn Stars,” “Bates Motel” and “Swamp People.”
Owens is in the mist of finalizing office space for the company in L.A. At present A+E Networks is the only investor in Propagate, with a minority stake in the company. McKillop is also an equity partner.
The biggest opportunity, and the biggest challenge, that Owens sees is making sure that Propagate is attuned to the “evolving needs of the consumer.” He’s counting on his range of producing experiences at Nat Geo and Reveille and his early days as a WMA agent to help him see around corners now that he’s his own boss.
“I’ve been always been fascinated with the way people engage with content,” Owens said. “The consumer experience is changing so much, with people being entertained on their smartphones and their laptops. Now we can see what it is that propels people to seek out content. This forces you to think about your audience in different ways.”
As for the Propagate Content moniker, Owens said he thinks his daily jog past the famed Watergate apartment complex while he was living in Washington, D.C. for Nat Geo may have seeped into his subconscious.
Citing the definition of “propagate,” Owens added: “The hope is that by putting some great minds together we’ll get something greater than the actual parts of the equation.”