Lionsgate TV Chief Credits Diversified Growth for Syndication Success
BANFF, ALBERTA – Lionsgate TV Group chairman Kevin Beggs took to the stage at the Banff World Media Festival on Monday for what was expected to be an applause-filled victory lap.
But the 15-year Lionsgate veteran, who has helped the mini-studio grow to major Hollywood status with TV hits like Mad Men, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Anger Management and Orange Is the New Black, didn't come to brag.
Instead his simple keynote message to Banff delegates was Lionsgate TV is just catching fire.
"We view ourselves as just starting," Beggs told the Banff Springs Hotel audience as he answered questions from the iconic former CBS newsman Dan Rather.
To be sure, increasing demand for Lionsgate TV shows has put the mini-studio's TV group in an enviable position.
But Beggs told The Hollywood Reporter after his keynote address that he goes to work every day assuming he leads a startup.
"And you have to act on these opportunities as if, should they not work, you will be out of business," he added.
Beggs' apparent startup, however, is driving toward a goal of $100 million in annual profitability, underpinned by the longevity of its hit shows.
The key to success, he adds, is taking advantage of a rapidly expanding array of digital platforms that takes Lionsgate well beyond the traditional confines of American network TV.
"It all happens much sooner. The windows open up sooner. People want content quickly. Carriers that we're selling it to want to hold onto it. That's the new battleground, between stacking and SVOD and who gets what, when and what's the value," Beggs said, describing an unfolding TV landscape.
Unaligned with a major network, Lionsgate as an outside supplier thrives by converting ongoing rights to TV shows it produces into digital revenue.
So while Lionsgate has a hit in Nashville, which is headed to a third season on ABC, it's also headed toward syndication and second cycle windows on other TV titles via innovative streaming deals.
A case in point is the binge-watcher Orange Is the New Black, whose second season has just debuted on Netflix and already has been renewed for a third season by the U.S.-based video streaming giant.
"They will watch the whole season. And then they will wait for another year. And that will be painful," Beggs said of fans watching each season of Orange Is the New Black in one go, or until sleep overtakes them, as opposed to scheduled, extended viewing.
And Beggs points to Deadbeat proving a hit with international buyers at the recent Los Angeles Screenings after being picked up for a second season on Hulu on the heels of its first-season launch.
The evolution of the Deadbeat deal is instructive in how Lionsgate puts itself front and center with new digital platforms as they arrive on the market, often first with library film sales, before eventually supplying original series.
Beggs recalled an early lunch with Hulu programmers, who were eyeing original series but couldn't fully finance them.
But Hulu did have a script it was developing, Deadbeat, a supernatural comedy from co-creators Cody Heller and Brett Konner, who previously worked on FX's Wilfred.
Lionsgate COO Sandra Stern, the dealmaker in Beggs' division, spent months figuring out a business model for Deadbeat, playing with the rights and window needs and the need to cobble together financing from different partners.
"It's all from scratch, as opposed to pick up the phone and call Turner, with whom you've been doing business for 15 years, where it's X dollars and this percentage," Beggs said of this new world TV financing models.
In the end, five written scripts, rather than a pilot, earned a 10-episode order for the half-hour Deadbeat series, which is produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment and is the first co-production for Hulu and Lionsgate.
At around $500,000 an episode, Lionsgate is getting a much lower online network license fee than from a Nashville or an Orange Is the New Black.
But Beggs' TV group emerges triumphant with yet another new buyer, and yet another innovative financial model to allow Lionsgate to capitalize on yet another accelerated window.
Ultimately, it's horses for courses, as Beggs explains some networks want a mansion, and you build that for them with a Nashville or Orange Is the New Black.
And another network might want a one-bedroom studio, and you build that with a Deadbeat.
Still, the bottom line, Beggs insists, is the Lionsgate TV Group is just kicking the division into gear.
"I come to work every day with the assumption that we're a startup. And you have to act on these opportunities as if, should they not work, you will be out of business," he argued.
Earlier, Beggs told the Banff delegates during his keynote what keeps him up at night. Surprisingly, it's the expanding universe of new digital platforms out there that he and his team are hard-pressed to reach with pitches for new shows.
"We're running ragged trying to keep up with the amount of buyers. Our biggest concern is we don't have enough time in the day to sell all the product we have," Beggs insisted.
"It's a happy anxiety, but I'm still awake," he added.