Disney Television Studios president Craig Hunegs began his tenure at Disney last year with a diplomatic mission to carve a new template for talent deals that reflect the realpolitik of the current marketplace.
As Hunegs details in the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” the traditional construct of profit participation agreements is increasingly becoming outmoded in a marketplace where so many shows wind up staying in the walled gardens of SVOD or pay TV networks. The syndication windows that once generated piles of cash in success are now being bought out on the front end by platforms that want to control their content for 10- and 20-year time frames.
For Hunegs, finding a new path meant having frank conversations with a slew of the industry’s top talent agents and lawyers to develop different forms of compensation that recognize success in the new world order, in part paid through bonuses for viewership, longevity, awards and other metrics. Hunegs drew on his goodwill as a longtime industry dealmaker who had a 20-year run at Warner Bros.’ TV group before being recruited by Disney TV toppers Peter Rice and Dana Walden to run the content production units.
“We had to come up with a different way to share in success and to account to (creatives) in success,” Hunegs says of the diplomatic effort he spearheaded with major entertainment industry talent agencies and law firms. “We used to talk about profit participations, now we’re talking more about ‘success bonuses.'”
In the wide-ranging conversation, Hunegs also details the thinking that went into the decision to keep three separate imprints under the Disney TV umbrella — 20th Television, ABC Signature and Touchstone Television. The volume of production at the studio — which is anticipated to get as high as 100 series a year — was too much to flow through one imprint. Disney’s three TV shops operate with autonomy but are encouraged to share info and ideas, and pool resources, such as writers and actors when opportunity arises.
“We felt the business overall was best served to have three creative teams — each with their own set of talent relationships and talent rosters, each with their own taste and creative filter,” Hunegs says. “It feels like a big playground. We’ve made it possible and we’ve encouraged people to work across studios.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.