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Listen: Propagate’s Ben Silverman, Howard T. Owens on Being ‘Bullet Makers’ in Content Arms Race

If anyone is able to navigate the booming global market for television content, it should be Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens. The pair, who are now partners in the Propagate production venture, made their mark two decades ago in recognizing the potential of U.S. adaptations of British TV hits including “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The Office.”

Propagate had a busy 2018 with an investment from Raine Group and its own acquisition of Electus, Silverman’s previous banner set up at Barry Diller’s IAC. At year’s end, Propagate recruited former All 3 America chief Greg Lipstone to help Silverman and Owens grow the business.

“2019 is the year we’ve got to elevate it and make it all work,” Silverman tells “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. “We’re not done with our acquisitions or our ambitions for growth.”

Propagate is planting its flag around the world producing programs in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hindi, in addition to its U.S. slate of shows, notably CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and “Charmed” and CBS’ “Blood and Treasure.” The acquisition of Electus also brought them a majority stake in the management firm Artists First. The proximity to the creative talent repped by the firm previously known as Principato-Young gives them opportunities to bring talent to the market through innovative content pacts.

“Having talent relationships as well as our international production platforms and our ability to work with brands and advertisers is important,” Owens says. “We can form a quicker and more efficient path to production with different and emerging business models. We’ve always believed there are opportunities to make programming around the world.”

Owens launched Propagate as a partnership with A+E Networks in 2015 after he left National Geographic Television. Silverman, the former NBC Entertainment chief, joined the following year as a partner after he parted ways with Electus.

During the wide-ranging conversation, the industry veterans talk about the pros and cons of being an independent “bullet maker” amid the content wars among the industry titans. Silverman and Owens also voice their regrets over the fate of “Planet of the Apps,” one of the first original series produced for Apple, and why they have no desire to return to the ranks of network executives. Their experience behind the desk, however, has proven invaluable.

“The depth of knowledge we have about our buyers, and their issues and their needs and their accounting — all of those things help us be better sellers. We know how to position things to work for them. … It’s also a way that you can call bulls— on somebody sitting in the other seat. We can short cut a lot by having been in those jobs.”

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