Former BBC TV Boss Danny Cohen Joins Len Blavatnik to Launch Access Entertainment

Dave Benett / Getty Images for Warner Music/Tim Ireland/Glasgow 2014 Ltd via Getty Images
Len Blavatnik (left) has brought on Danny Cohen (right) to lead Access Industries' entertainment investments.

As president of the new unit, he will look to make the company "one of the world's leading independent investors in the entertainment media sector," with plans to invest several hundred million dollars in the initial phase.

Len Blavatnik's Access Industries, the privately-held company with holdings in music, media and telecommunications, including Warner Music Group, has formed Access Entertainment and appointed former BBC director of television Danny Cohen to lead it as president.

The new division will focus on investments across the entertainment sector "with a concentration in high-quality television, films and theatrical productions," the company said. Cohen will develop opportunities across the company's various existing media and entertainment businesses and draw together talent to create "unique potential," while also looking for opportunities around the world beyond Access businesses.

Cohen, who was responsible for all of the BBC's drama, feature film, comedy, entertainment and unscripted content before leaving his post last year, is tasked with seeking out "creative and strategic business opportunities" throughout the world, the company said.

The goal is to develop Access Entertainment into "one of the world’s leading independent investors in the entertainment media sector," with plans to invest several hundred million dollars in the initial phase - from the possible acquisition of companies or stakes in them to investments in specific dramas or other TV shows, as well as film, theater or other projects or talents.

"Danny’s extensive experience and network will be invaluable as we identify and develop new media and entertainment investment opportunities," said Access Industries chairman Blavatnik.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be joining Len Blavatnik and the Access team," said Cohen. "Len has proven to be a visionary business leader across a wide range of industries, and we have plans to grow Access as an entertainment company. Our ambition is to work with the world's most talented creatives in environments that allow them to do their best work. Our investments will be wide-ranging: companies, people, television series, movies, theatrical productions and innovative digital opportunities. We will earn a reputation for quality, innovation and commitment to great talent.”

Cohen will work closely with Warner Music Group, the world’s third-largest music company, and other Access Industries-owned businesses. The company, among others, owns London-based independent film finance and executive production company AI Film (Mr Holmes, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Silence), a majority stake in Amedia, Russia’s largest producer of TV series, a third of Israeli TV networks and production company R.G.E. Group, a stake in music streaming service Deezer and a majority stake in digital sports content firm Perform.

It also has a joint venture with Sarah Stennett, the founder of music management company Turn First Artists, that is called First Access Entertainment. Turn First's clients include former One Direction member Zayn Malik, Iggy Azalea, Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora. Access Industries also partnered with Gregor Cameron, a producer on 2015 dark comedy/crime-thriller Kill Your Friends, starring Nicholas Hoult, and songwriter and former Epic Records president Amanda Ghost on Unigram, a production firm focused on music-oriented film, TV and multi-media content.

At the BBC, Cohen had a reputation for his strong relationships with creatives, including overseeing J.K. Rowling's TV output. He also ordered or oversaw such shows as Wolf Hall, Peaky Blinders and War and Peace.

"I had a range of opportunities, but as soon as I got the call from Len, I felt this was incredibly exciting," Cohen tells THR about how he decided on his next career step. "Len has had such an extraordinary business career. The global perspective of the role was something that I really liked. I will be based in London, but get to work across the U.S. market, the European market and beyond. And what I was also excited by was he scale of the investments we can make and the opportunity to work across television, movies and theater and digital innovation."

In his new role, he says he can "draw together talent across a wide range of entertainment sectors, and I really like this idea." Explains Cohen: "As the industry becomes more conglomerated and disrupted, the opportunity to bring together different talent is a huge opportunity. And we will try to make sure that different parts of the business work together as effectively as possible and take up all the opportunities they have."

It also is a natural next step after his BBC work, says Cohen. "The key is to work with great talent and great storytellers, which has always been at the heart of my philosophy," he explains.

Discussing the entertainment assets that Access already owns, he says he sees "the opportunity to leverage talent, creativity and ideas across a range of sectors." After all, "we already have a number of interesting assets that we can work with, and we are going to look to expand further."

Could he look for investments in the distribution sector as well? "My primary focus at the outset will be content creation and talent relationships and how we build those," says Cohen. "When it comes to distribution, we would look for flexible models and different ways of distributing in different circumstances, so that I imagine we will have a range of partners."

Cohen tells THR that he has known Blavatnik for about 10 years and got a call from him on Christmas Day to discuss the career opportunity. "Len has a very good record and instinct for the creative industries. He invested early on in Hamilton, for example," says Cohen. "We had a series of conversations and realized we shared a vision for the investment and creative opportunities that are out there."

Asked to compare his new role to working inside the big BBC organization, he says at Access Entertainment, he will work with Blavatnik and Access Industries CEO Lincoln Benet. "It's going to be very different," he says. "I hope I did bring entrepreneurial spirit to the BBC, and ultimately all of these roles are about working with the very best people and creating the conditions for them to do their most dynamic work."

Before being in charge of the BBC's TV output, Cohen was controller of flagship network BBC One and, before that, controller of BBC Three, head of E4 and head of documentaries for Channel 4. His commissions in these roles included Skins, The Inbetweeners, Call The Midwife, Happy Valley and Dickensian.