Lionsgate Television has been riding the peak TV wave for the past few years with a growing slate of shows produced for myriad outlets.
Now that the Starz pay-TV group has been acquired by Lionsgate, the TV division’s roster is expanding still more with the goal of using Starz as the launch pad for programs that can be sold to buyers around the world.
Lionsgate Television chairman Kevin Beggs recently spoke with Variety about the new opportunities through Starz and the expansion of the studio’s activity in international markets.
At MIPTV your distribution team will be shopping two new Starz series, “Vida” and “Sweetbitter.” How has having Starz in the family changed your outlook on the global TV business?
It’s all been quite seamless. The Starz distribution group has been integrated into our team led by [president of worldwide TV and digital distribution] Jim Packer. From a purely creative standpoint, the projects flow through the same development channels as they always have. We have a bunch of exciting shows coming up, [like] “The Rook” and “The Continental,” which is an expansion of the John Wick universe. And there are many more in the pipeline. Obviously as a studio we remain wildly agnostic as a supplier to all networks, but by virtue of our close proximity to our Starz colleagues we have a very good forecast of what they need. Our goal is to be as big a supplier to them as we can be, but strictly on a demand basis. We’re one of many suppliers to Starz.
How has the prospect of selling shows overseas affected development activity?
The international market is a huge, critical component of every show that we bring to the market. We look at what’s going on domestically, what’s going on internationally that will make it profitable. Now with Starz, all of Lionsgate is part of the equation, for the studio and the network. Successes are exponentially better and the failures hurt even more. You’ve got to be pretty mindful of the market and making sure what you’re selling is going to work for all parts of the equation.
Is it becoming more challenging in an environment where big spenders like Netflix and Amazon want to control global rights? This is a big shift from the market-by-market sales approach.
We have many shows with Netflix — “Dear White People,” “Orange Is the New Black” and now “The Joel McHale Show” and Norm Macdonald [talk show]. They’re amazing partners. It’s just a different kind of deal for us. In our view, we like to put our shows with the place that is most aggressively interested in it from a creative standpoint. It’s not just a financial decision. We think about where a show will thrive and stay on the air as long as possible. That isn’t always the place that offers the most aggressive upfront financial deal. Happily in this environment you usually have multiple network buyers interested rather than in the rather than the old days of just being happy that you could find a way to sell something to one buyer.
Lionsgate has been building up its U.K. operation and investing in production companies such as Potboiler Television. Do you see local series production in the U.K. and other territories as a growth market?
I think the world is really shrinking creatively in a good way. I think “Downton Abbey” was a threshold moment for television when we saw a PBS show score broadcast numbers. That felt like it opened the floodgates for U.K. shows to penetrate the U.S. It takes a while for things to come through the pipeline though. There’s lots of blocking and tackling to be done but we have high hopes for good things to come to fruition for us in the U.K.
Outside of English-speaking regions, what are some of the territories where you see the most promise for the studio to do business?
I marvel at the growth and all the cool things coming out of the Scandinavian territories. Relative to OTT, they’re light years ahead of everybody.