Platform One CEO Katie O’Connell Marsh will become founder and chairman of Platform One, and she will also take on a leadership role at Toronto-based Boat Rocker. Boat Rocker was formed in 2016 by the principals at Temple Street Productions, Ivan Schneeberg and David Fortier, which made its mark as the home of BBC America’s buzzy drama “Orphan Black.” Boat Rocker has made numerous acquisitions during the past three years with the goal of diversifying its content portfolio and sales operations.
Last year, Boat Rocker bought unscripted production banner Matador Content, known for the global hit “Lip Sync Battle,” and the kids and family division of FremantleMedia. In March, the company invested in talent management firm Untitled Entertainment. Schneeberg and Fortier are co-founders and co-executive chairman of Boat Rocker. John Young serves as CEO.
Based in Los Angeles, Platform One got off to a fast start by nabbing series orders from Showtime for “Rust,” a drama series toplined by Jeff Daniels, and a series order from Apple for a sci-fi fantasy vehicle from scribes Simon Kinberg and David Weil. It also has a series in the works for Spectrum Originals and a pilot ordered at Showtime with “Game of Thrones” alum Lena Headey on board to star. Platform One last year set a first-look deal with Laura Dern’s Jaywalker Pictures.
O’Connell Marsh’s existing team will stay intact and the Platform One imprint will operate with autonomy under the Boat Rocker banner. Elisa Ellis, Platform One’s chief creator officer, and Steve Lescroart, head of finance and strategy have been promoted to Co-Presidents of Platform One, reporting to O’Connell Marsh.
“The way Boat Rocker is structuring their business lanes was really interesting to me,” O’Connell Marsh told Variety. “They’ve got Untitled in talent management, Matador in the unscripted space, and a kids division. It felt like a really interesting company for us to slot in to fill their scripted needs. There’s a lot of access to resources that will be important to the talent I’m in business with. I think there will be a lot of opportunities to work across different (Boat Rocker) divisions and share resources.”
The Platform One deal came together as a result of Boat Rocker’s purchase of Matador Content. Matador was funded in part by TPG, parent company of CAA, and Evolution Media Capital. Evolution Media has since become an investor in Boat Rocker, which also has funding from Canadian private equity firm Fairfax Financial Holdings.
After the Matador and Untitled deals, it became clear to the Boat Rocker team that there was a hole in the portfolio to be filled by a strong scripted production operations in Los Angeles. O’Connell Marsh’s success in getting numerous projects ordered in barely two years time made Platform One an attractive option.
“When we looked at all the different possibilities for growth, it was just screaming for a world-class scripted business out of L.A. to squeeze the lemon on that side of the market,” Fortier told Variety.
As Fortier and Schneeberg got to know O’Connell Marsh through their mutual connections at Evolution Media Capital, they realized her team would stylistically be a good fit with the rest of the Boat Rocker operation. The company has an international sales arm, a formats division devoted to developing new unscripted concepts that can travel the world, and a big focus on franchise brand management.
“As we started to talk to Katie about the ambition of Platform One, we saw a lot of synergy and alignment,” Schneeberg told Variety. “We could tell that we might be the solution to a lot of the things that Katie and her team were trying to do.”
O’Connell Marsh previously worked as a programming executive at Imagine Television and NBC. In 2010 she was recruited to build a U.S. TV arm from the ground up for France’s Gaumont Television. Gaumont TV yielded Netflix’s international hit “Narcos,” as well as “F is for Family” and “Hemlock Grove” for Netflix, and NBC’s “Hannibal” before she exited in 2016 to launch DreamWorks Animation’s live-action unit. Platform One Media opened its doors in July 2017.
Fortier and Schneeberg were working as entertainment lawyers in Toronto before they decided to move into production in 2003. The pair launched Temple Street in a 500-square-foot office above a carpet factory in suburban Toronto. Today, Boat Rocker has about 800 employees spread over offices in Toronto, New York and London. The Platform One deal will give the company a crucial foothold in the heart of the entertainment industry.
“It was always important to us that we build a production company that was based in Canada, not a Canadian production company,” said Schneeberg. “We don’t think there’s another company out there that is quite like ours. We’re not encumbered by any of the legacy businesses that some of our competitors are encumbered by.”
Boat Rocker’s status as an indie outfit able to play the field among global content buyers was important to O’Connell Marsh.
“The spirit of independence is incredibly important to me as a philosophy as we go about moving through the global media space,” O’Connell Marsh said. “Boat Rocker’s independent spirit made us feel really comfortable with them. My business does not change in this deal and my team does not change. We’ll operate independently within our lane (at Boat Rocker). It’s a great marriage for us.”
Boat Rocker is attempting to build an indie studio of size at a time when the biggest buyers of TV are focused increasingly on vertical integration and maintaining ownership of the shows carried on their platforms. Production-distribution outfits of Boat Rocker’s size face an uphill climb in cutting deals that allow them to retain enough rights or commend a high enough upfront premium in the license fee, to make the business profitable over the long haul.
The dealmaking marketplace is challenging but not impossible to navigate, especially when a property draws multiple enthusiastic bidders, the Boat Rocker duo asserted.
“As two guys who started out just trying to make television shows, we know the pain of selling of rights just in order to be able to make your content,” Schneeberg said. “One of the best things about growing to the size that we’ve grown to at Boat Rocker is we can take a look at each project on an individual basis and say ‘What kind of leverage do I have here.’ We’re not beholden to a particular deal structure or methodology. If we come across a massive property that we think has massive legs, we’re willing to go to bat on what we should hold on to.”
(Pictured: Platform One Media chairman and founder Katie O’Connell Marsh)