When ITV CEO Carolyn McCall unveiled her strategy refresh late last year, content was one of three key pillars. That put ITV Studios firmly in the spotlight, and its boss, Julian Bellamy, is the exec tasked with delivering growth across the production business.
International expansion is in the cards, but on the home front, ITV Studios is coming off a banner year. As Bellamy speaks to Variety at ITV’s new digs in London’s Holborn district, where the company moved after vacating its previous home on the banks of the Thames, ratings figures have just landed.
Five shows made by production companies that are part of the ITV Studios stable – “Bodyguard,” “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here,” “Vera,” “Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway,” and long-running soap “Coronation Street” – were among the top 10 most-watched shows in the U.K. in 2018.
The list doesn’t include sun-and-fun reality program “Love Island,” which was a breakout hit for ITV2, a smaller network. But that show will be remade in the U.S. for CBS in 2019 after having already gone into Australia, Germany, and Sweden and others.
“It’s been a terrific year. We are making more hours than we have before,” Bellamy says. “The fruits of a lot of work are beginning to come through.”
M&A has been a quick and obvious way to bolster output and financials – ITV Studios now has more than 50 production banners under its wing – but Bellamy notes that underlying growth has been running at about 7% annually. As for the deal-making, he pinpoints the £355 million ($450 million) acquisition of Talpa Media in 2015, which brought “The Voice” into the fold, as a key moment.
“Revenue has grown by something like 80% in the international division in the last couple of years or so, and a lot of it has been because we have brought in new management and we have made investments,” says former BBC, Channel 4 and Discovery exec. “One of the key ones has been Talpa. It has had a halo effect for us.”
He cites the example of “The Voice” in France. By bringing production in-house, ITV Studios was able to sign “Fort Boyard” producer Franck Firmin-Guion to run the local business. “That gave us additional weight and credibility in the market, and that in and of itself generates more business,” Bellamy says.
Although ITV Studios now has “a lot of firepower,” Bellamy is open to further acquisitions. “It has got to be the right creative talent, the right cultural fit,” he said. “And we’ve got to get them for the right price.”
Bellamy is heading into his fifth year at ITV, having joined to run the U.K. content operation before stepping up to oversee ITV Studios’ overall international business. Just as former ITV CEO Adam Crozier put an emphasis on expanding ITV Studios, McCall’s refresh under the motto “More Than TV” makes boosting global production and distribution a priority.
U.S. drama expansion is a key goal, even though “we’ve been quite open about how we’re not pursuing a scale acquisition in scripted in the U.S.,” Bellamy says. Growth is likely to come through fresh deals with well-known talent. ITV Studios has partnered with Marty Adelstein at Tomorrow Studios, which has already yielded TNT and Netflix show “Snowpiercer,” ITV Studios’ biggest and most ambitious drama to date.
There are also deals with Jason Blum and Blumhouse Television, and with “The Walking Dead” exec producers Circle of Confusion. ITV Studios’ U.S. team is scouting for more opportunities “to partner with more great creative talent,” Bellamy says.
At home in Britain, the 2019 drama slate includes an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic “War of the Worlds”; “Noughts and Crosses,” produced with Jay Z’s Roc Nation; “Wild Bill,” with Rob Lowe; and “World on Fire,” starring Helen Hunt.
ITV Studios’ overall business remains weighted towards unscripted, with the likes of “Hell’s Kitchen,” and “Dancing on Ice.” While that remains important, growing the drama side is key, not least because the FAANGs are in town.
British broadcasters, including ITV, have talked about joining forces to combat the threat posed by streamers, and ITV’s own SVOD strategy is another pillar in McCall’s strategic plans. But Bellamy sees the FAANGs as “unambiguously a huge opportunity” with their huge demand for content. “Two years ago, ITV America had two projects with the FAANGs,” he says. “Today that’s something like 15.”
The benefit goes beyond boosting the bottom line, he adds. “There is an incredible storytelling and creative opportunity that is really opening up for producers, writers and showrunners,” he says, citing next-generation projects such as “Skam” and “Bandersnatch.”
This year’s biggest highlights for ITV Studios are likely to include “Snowpiercer,” “World on Fire” and “Zero Zero Zero,” Bellamy says. “One’s in the U.S., one’s in the U.K., and one’s in Europe,” he notes. “That tells you how the business has changed.”