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This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Hanging above Scott Koondel‘s desk on the CBS Radford lot in Studio City is a framed photograph of Secretariat. Taken at the 1973 Kentucky Derby, it has proved to be a good luck charm for CBS Corp.’s chief corporate content licensing officer, a former rider himself. “It’s there to remind me that you have to run faster than everyone else and be super competitive,” says the New York native. In the ultracompetitive field of off-network and subscription video on demand (SVOD) acquisitions, Koondel, 51, has needed to be innovative, too. The married father of four has not only cut landmark multiplatform deals for CBS series like Elementary — which is believed to net roughly $3 million per episode from cable (WGN), SVOD (Hulu) and broadcast — but also pioneered SVOD deals for summer shows Under the Dome, Extant and June 30 newcomer Zoo, allowing them to be profitable from day one.
What’s the deal you’re most proud of?
Although it’s not a “wow” deal with the $3 million per episode number that you see for some of the other shows, I’m proud of the deals for Under the Dome, Extant and Zoo because they’re changing the way people look at network TV during the summer. When I first started in the industry, you used to deficit-finance every show. You put it on the network and everyone’s nervous: “Should we renew it or not? If we don’t, what are we going to get in syndication?” Now the business has evolved to where I can add value right at the beginning.
Koondel keeps a surfboard signed by the cast of Hawaii Five-0 on his shelf. “I think we sold that [into syndication] after 12 episodes,” he says proudly.
But what will be the long-term impact of first-season SVOD deals? Do you risk hurting your sales to cable later?
We’re as data-reliant as the SVOD services are. With shows like Criminal Minds, all the cable plays are doing better now that it’s on SVOD. SVOD is providing a new audience for a lot of these shows, and cable has not been affected.
How has the ancillary revenue pie changed?
The international market’s been great. The fact that Netflix is going into all these markets heats them up. In the SVOD market, as long as we can demonstrate that we’re reaching new people, it doesn’t really affect cable that much. Do I think at some point [audiences] might intersect? Maybe. But for now, a lot of these cable networks are building their brands, and a lot of the SVOD services need girth.
He keeps photos of Secretariat winning the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in his office; he was there to witness the latter Triple Crown race.
Where do you see the big opportunities?
I see everything reversing a bit. I see cable buyers realizing they can’t run their networks on [only] originals — that model’s not sustainable. If you look at A&E, for example, when they made their move four, five years ago to become a top 10 cable network, they had CSI: Miami and Criminal Minds. Those were two big shows they used to run in multiple time periods and also as a platform to launch originals. Now, their originals aren’t repeating well, they’re not a top 10 network, and they didn’t prepare for the future.
What’s the trend you wish would go away?
All the media hype about originals. If you look at the finale of Mad Men, they had only like 3 million viewers! I’m sure it did well in SVOD, but it doesn’t repeat well and there’s no cable deal really to speak of on the show, either.
But cable nets build brands on originals.
The only way a head of a cable network is going to get a job at a broadcast net is if they have an original hit in cable.
Koondel’s office houses this globe, plus a scooter, signed Led Zeppelin and The Clash albums and an Any Given Sunday poster.
How has the lack of audience data impacted negotiations with SVOD outlets like Netflix?
I have the numbers on my shows. Our top-performing shows [on Netflix] are Dexter and Criminal Minds. Blue Bloods is performing well, too. It varies on how long it’s been on the service.
What’s the thing that keeps you up at night?
My biggest fear is that buyers will run out of money. But they haven’t yet.
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