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Will Packer Crafts Content Production Pact for ‘All Screens’

Will Packer wasn’t satisfied with his options for setting up a new TV production pact. So he tackled the problem like an entrepreneur, setting up an unusual partnership with Discovery Communications, OWN, and Universal Pictures that gives him much more flexibility to tackle film, TV, and digital projects in all shapes and sizes, from miniseries to short-form branded digital content.

The wide-ranging pact to launch Will Packer Media was unveiled Tuesday, hot on the heels of the strong box office debut this past weekend of Packer’s latest Universal Pictures release, “Girls Trip.”

“We wanted to put ourselves in a position to expand beyond the traditional TV model and produce content for all screens and all formats,” Packer told Variety. “We wanted to get our production business in line with the democratization of media that is happening right now. We want to be able to get the right content to consumers in the way they want to consume it.”

Discovery and Universal are equity partners with Packer in Will Packer Media (WPM). Financial terms weren’t disclosed but Packer assures that it is an eight-figure deal.

The deal includes a first-look arrangement for TV content with OWN (a joint venture of Oprah Winfrey and Discovery) but he retains plenty of room to produce a wide range of projects for non-Discovery outlets. The Will Packer Productions banner maintains a separate first-look deal with Universal Pictures, even though it involves non-theatrical production. Bringing Universal’s film arm into the WPM tent is designed to streamline business dealings. The impetus for the new arrangement was the recent expiration of Packer’s previous overall TV development and production deal with Universal Television.

In connection with the launch, Packer has acquired Narrative_, a branded content studio founded by Russell Simmons and Tricia Clarke-Stone. Clarke-Stone is joining WPM to spearhead branded content initiatives.

In essence, Packer hopes the partnership will give more flexibility at the ideation stage.

“When we find a great piece of content, we want to take it wherever we think it will fit best,” he said. “We’re trying to look at everything we do through that lens. Not as a film project or a TV project but as content first. This deal allows me to do that.”

Discovery came into the picture as Packer and his reps at CAA and Ziffren Brittenham were shopping for partners. Packer felt immediately in sync with Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s view of the evolution of media, and he sees big strategic benefits in Discovery’s immense worldwide reach.

“His vision for the need to diversify and expand the footprint of his linear and digital channels, the need to establish direct-to-consumer relationships is a good fit with how we see the world,” Packer said.

WPM will aim to produce a range of content for Discovery channels other than OWN as well. “We will be very, very important strategic partners for (Discovery) but we’ll also be able to do that for other networks and cable channels,” Packer said.

Packer sees a big opportunity in digital short-form content that is supported by brand integration. WPM aims to build its own “digital destination” featuring original shorts and series.

“It’s more important than ever for these brands to organically reach consumers,” he said. “There’s real value in short-form digital material that doesn’t feel like an ad. It’s also an opportunity for us to build a direct relationship with a consumer whether there’s a brand attached or not.”

The ability of content producers to connect directly with consumers is a game-changer for the industry, Packer said. He felt it this past weekend as “Girls Trip” — an R-rated comedy starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, and Tiffany Haddish — began to build momentum toward its $31.2 million domestic opening. He credits that to the concept and the affection that fans have for “Girls Trip” stars.

“People were so passionate about going to see this movie,” he said. “It’s really resonating with women in a way that is beyond my wildest dreams. I’m happy about that.”

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