Lionsgate TV Exec Eyes More Co-Productions With Foreign Partners

Christina Gandolfo
Lionsgate Television Group president Sandra Stern

TV Group president Sandra Stern plays up making series for international networks to be sold back into the U.S. market.

Eyeing more co-productions, Lionsgate is pressing ahead to develop and produce U.S.-style shows for international partners, despite a waning appetite among domestic networks for procedural dramas.

Lionsgate Television Group president Sandra Stern on Thursday told Canadian indie producers gathered in Ottawa that her studio is meeting a demand in the international marketplace mostly ignored by the U.S. networks.

"We have been very active in trying to find partners in the international markets for us to produce [procedurals] directly for them, with the hope that we can then sell back into the U.S. market for perhaps a reduced licensed fee," Stern told the Prime Time in Ottawa conference during a keynote address.

Her comments coincide with a continued global expansion of Lionsgate’s TV business. In the U.K., the studio recently invested in production companies Primal Media and Kindle Entertainment, co-financed the hit Channel 4 comedy Damned and hired former ITV executive Steve November as creative director of U.K. Television.

Lionsgate U.K. more recently ramped up its TV business by buying a stake in Andrea Calderwood (The Last King of Scotland, HBO’s Generation Kill) and Gail Egan’s (The Constant Gardener) new TV drama producer Potboiler Television.

Stern said her studio is hedging its bets by exploiting international co-production opportunities at the same time it turns out originals like Netflix's Orange Is the New Black and Hulu's Casual. The studio also produces Nashville, Graves, Greenleaf and the upcoming Netflix series Dear White People.

"We're now in a lovely time where the American networks, including cable and streaming, are open to co-productions," Stern said. "The American audience has a great appetite for global stories."

Putting together international partnerships is hampered by Hollywood not having official co-production treaties like producers in Canada, the U.K. and other major international markets already have. At the same time, Lionsgate has begun to make Canadian TV shows and pilots north of the border, as it increasingly taps opportunities overseas.

That is especially so in international TV markets where Stern insisted she spends most of her time pitching possible co-productions with global networks. "Unlike most North American executives, in the days I was coming up, I actually didn't really believe America was the center of the universe. I really liked the opportunity to work with the international marketplace, to produce television that would resonate on a worldwide basis," said the exec.

The Canadian Media Production Association's Prime Time in Ottawa conference continues through Friday.

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