In the world of TV dealmaking, 2014 might as well be ancient history, as indicated by the saga of “The Expanse.”
The fantasy drama series that drops its fifth season finale Wednesday has had an epic journey through the content pipelines at NBCUniversal’s Syfy and at Amazon. The story of how a linear-only rights deal at Syfy wound up prompting the show to move to Amazon in late 2019 is detailed by “Expanse” executive producers and Alcon Entertainment co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson on the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”
“After Season 1 we made a deal with Amazon for the SVOD rights after (each season’s) airing on Syfy,” Johnson says. “The issue was, more and more people were finding it more attractive to see it on Amazon. So the economics for Syfy just for their window and the advertising they were collecting in their window started to not make sense. They didn’t have the global rights to justify the cost of the show.”
The fact that Alcon Entertainment owns the sprockets outright on “The Expanse” is a testament to the business built by Kosove and Johnson at Alcon, which launched in 1997 with backing from Fed Ex founder Fred Smith. Seven years ago, when the deals for “Expanse” were coming together, it was possible for a producer to cut a linear-only deal and retain streaming and international rights, although it helped tremendously that Alcon brought its own deficit financing to the table.
“That deal is kind of a relic today,” Kosove says. “It was just at the moment when streaming was starting to take hold.” “The Expanse” will conclude its run with a sixth and final season on Amazon next year. But that won’t be the end of the road for Alcon.
“Once the show is done on Amazon and has aired for a handful of years, all the episodes come back and are part of our library,” Kosove says. “We own the underlying IP for interactive, graphic novels, continuing storytelling in features. … It’s such a rich world. We’re considering all kinds of interesting possibilities.”
Most of Alcon’s activity over the past 20-plus years has been in the feature arena. After expanding into TV a decade ago, the Alcon principals have been struck by the contrasts between the growth of TV content and the struggles of the traditional movie business.
“The feature business is more of a random hit or miss, high-low — a lot of unpredictable activity,” Johnson says. “Television is actually a business with more steady cash flows and whatever. It certainly has its share of unpredictability but once a show is going, it’s a business. There’s sustainable cash flows that come in pretty regularly as opposed to a movie in which you’re relying on everything working on a single weekend, generally speaking.”
Kosove says frankly that the the “economics of the business have deteriorated from 2011-2012 to 2020.” But he feels optimistic that changes to release windows and other moves forced by the pandemic conditions of the past year will be a boon to the big screen experience long after the quarantines are lifted.
“We think the economics of film will improve substantially post-pandemic because it has brought forward certain changes to the business that will ultimately benefit everybody involved by making the economics more tolerable,” Kosove says.
Alcon even braved COVID protocols and a mountain of PPE to shoot a modestly budgeted horror movie, “Lullaby,” in Toronto last fall. The distribution plan for the movie is not yet determined, which is unusual for Alcon but also a sign of the times. The pair wants to keep their options open as they watch the progress of multiplexes reopening this year.
“A big part of our job is risk management,” Johnson observes.
Kosove stresses that the Alcon trio maintains “tremendous love and belief in the theatrical experience.” Because of that, they want to be part of the post-COVID rewiring of the theatrical sector.
“It is incumbent upon everyone who loves film as an art form and is in the business of financing films to come up with better models that work for everyone more efficiently than they have,” Kosove says.
“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.
(Pictured: Alcon Entertainment’s Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson)