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Griffiths bolting for bunny biz

Former Lion exec pumped by Playboy's opportunities

Jim Griffiths, president of MGM’s worldwide TV operations, is ankling the Lion to assume the newly created post of senior exec VP of Playboy Enterprises. Griffiths will be responsible for business development across the company as well as for global TV and location-based entertainment.

In his new position, Griffiths will be based in the company’s Los Angeles offices, effective Jan. 20. The announcement was made Monday by Christie Hefner, chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, to whom Griffiths will report.

Griffiths, 49, spent six years as president of the Hollywood studio’s worldwide TV activities, overseeing the global distribution of movies and TV shows and supervising the company’s cable and satellite channel ventures.

He categorically denied that his exit had anything to do with persistent rumors that the Lion is up for sale, pointing to his longtime relationship with and interest in the Playboy brand, which started when he was an agent at CAA.

Griffiths told Daily Variety that he was pumped by the new opportunities at Playboy to leverage so many different assets, including publishing, channels, apparel, online and TV production. Some 100 employees will now report to Griffiths.

Growth opportunities key

Hefner told Daily Variety that expansion of the Playboy portfolio and changes in the media biz led her some eight months ago to seek an exec who could pinpoint growth opportunities and leverage the company’s assets. She pointed to Griffiths’ “focus,” “deal-making skills” and “familiarity with Europe and Asia” as ideal talents for the job.

It’s no secret, she added, that the company is looking at location-based “brand experiences” and that Las Vegas is an obvious venue for such an initiative.

“It really is a Playboy world,” Hefner said, adding that there’s “a comfort around sexiness” that Playboy, as a global consumer brand, is in a perfect position to take advantage of.

Having reacquired equity ownership from its erstwhile foreign partner Claxson, the company is now in a position to exploit its TV assets in Europe and Asia outside of its ongoing arrangement with the conglom in Latin America. This, per one media analyst, should give Playboy more flexibility in its dealmaking abroad.

Griffiths will partner with Playboy’s current senior managers, including Jim English, president of the Entertainment Group, and Dick Rosenzweig, chairman of Alta Loma Entertainment, to build on the outfit’s international TV biz.

‘Unique status’

“Playboy’s global brand recognition gives it a unique status,” Griffiths said. “The company’s strong management team and the opportunities across its business lines make this an even more attractive position,” Griffiths said.

Meanwhile, back at the Lion, three veteran MGM execs will divvy up Griffiths’ former duties without changing titles: Jim Packer, exec VP, television distribution-North America; Simon Sutton, exec VP, international television; and Bruce Tuchman, exec VP, MGM Networks.

The three execs will work closely with Hank Cohen, prexy of MGM Television Entertainment, in running MGM’s Worldwide Television Group.

They will, as did Griffiths, report directly to Chris McGurk, vice chairman and COO of MGM, and will continue the company’s ongoing efforts to expand and strengthen the studio’s TV operations both domestically and abroad.

Under Griffiths, MGM bid for and won foreign distribution rights to NBC-owned series, complementing the Lion’s ongoing movie product line and creating the basis for other Lion-Peacock initiatives.

Long-term deals

In addition, Griffiths fashioned several solid long-term output deals, including an ongoing one with Showtime, which in turn sparked productions as varied as “Stargate” and “The L Word.” And thirdly, the company moved aggressively to launch movie-themed branded channels in key foreign territories under his tenure, upping the number of territories covered by the Lion’s footprint from 20 to 100 in three years.

“We wish Jim Griffiths all the best with his new responsibilities at Playboy, and thank him for all the great work he’s done for MGM’s television distribution over the years,” McGurk said.

“Most importantly, he’s left a terrific management team in place. Jim Packer, Simon Sutton and Bruce Tuchman are three experienced and talented execs who have been integral to MGM’s successes. Now they’ll take on some new responsibilities with much higher profiles both inside the company and out.”

Griffiths joined MGM from Creative Artists Agency, where he served as director of the Entertainment Ventures Group and helped create Tele-TV and the Sundance Channel as well as other business and content opportunities.

Griffiths began his professional career as a senior accountant with PricewaterhouseCoopers and was recruited to HBO, where he spent eight years. Griffiths later served as president of worldwide pay TV and international homevideo at Twentieth Century Fox before joining Star TV 1993 as managing director in Hong Kong.

The search on behalf of Playboy was handled by Mike Speck, global practice leader, media and entertainment, for headhunters Heidrick & Struggles.

Packer and Tuchman joined MGM in 2001 as exec VPs. Sutton joined MGM in 1996 and was promoted to exec VP in 2001.

Griffiths’ send-off from MGM will take place Saturday night in Las Vegas on the eve of the NATPE confab.

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