eOne CEO on Working With Netflix, Hollywood's Harassment Scandals (Q&A)
Darren Throop, hot off three Oscar nominations for 'The Post' and 'Molly's Game,' also talks investing in midrange films and policing employee conduct, post-Harvey Weinstein.
Having gotten his start operating a chain of music stores out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Darren Throop was named CEO of ROW Entertainment in 2001; ROW then morphed into the Toronto-based Entertainment One in 2007. Since then, the company, which has 1,100 employees and is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has continually grown, moving from music and DVD distribution to theatrical distribution (first in Canada and then expanding to the U.K. and Australia), and then to licensing film, TV, family entertainment and music throughout the world. Recently, eOne has jumped into production, taking a $133 million, 51 percent stake in Mark Gordon Productions, which produced Molly's Game, up for an Oscar, and a minority interest in Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners, which has given it distribution rights to films like The Post (two Oscar noms) in multiple territories, and backing Brad Weston's Makeready Productions. While Throop, 53, and his wife, with whom he has two grown daughters, make their home in Toronto, he spends at least a third of his time in the firm's Beverly Hills office in addition to stops in New York, London and Nashville. When not cheering on the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, he spends his free time outdoors — gardening, hiking, fishing and swimming: "I know how to turn it off."
What's the pitch you use to attract filmmakers to eOne?
We are not a platform, we're not a channel. We are a production entity with international sales capabilities. So we're a pure-play content company that says, "Here's the canvas," which is attractive to a lot of creators. We know the international marketplace and the domestic marketplace very well, so we can help guide those projects into the hands of the right distribution outlet.
In 2017, you combined your film and TV operations. Why?
I had a film business, a TV business, a family business, a music business, and each one had its own leadership team and infrastructure. Over the past number of years, it's become more and more evident that the lines are blurring at every level of film and TV. So the first step for us was to consolidate sales. From that came the thinking that if we've done it on the sales side, why wouldn't we do it on the production side?
Didn't Sharp Objects — the Amy Adams HBO series debuting in June — start as a film project?
It was a book on the film side and then moved over to TV and then became a miniseries. We just couldn't get the script right — there was a lot more story than we could jam into a one-hour, 50-minute feature, so we said let's blow it out into six or seven hours.
It's being directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose Big Little Lies started as a limited series but now has become an ongoing series. Is that the plan with Sharp Objects?
I can't say that won't happen, and I'm hopeful that it does. The first couple episodes are in the can, and it looks fantastic.
Through your deals with Mark Gordon and with Amblin Partners, you're involved in Molly's Game and The Post. What's the value of midrange, $20 million to $30 million movies like that?
If you look at the results of Molly's Game and [movies we've distributed like] Eye in the Sky, they did quite well theatrically. They certainly aren't the blockbusters, but there's an audience for that kind of intelligent drama. And down the stream, the platforms and pay channels certainly want them as programmers. There is a large segment of the population that is not going to watch five Marvel movies a year, but they still want to enjoy something for two hours that gives them a start, a middle and an end.
Your first TV project with Mark Gordon was Designated Survivor. Did you have concerns with how a movie about the American presidency would translate overseas?
The premise of the show was an interesting reality — this designated survivor piece is something that's actually part of the U.S. government. And Kiefer Sutherland is a huge global star. Netflix, our global partner outside of North America, is very happy.
Does it play on foreign TV networks before it goes to Netflix?
No, it's day-and-date on Netflix with its U.S. broadcast. It's one of the few shows that they actually release episodically on Netflix. It's a piracy issue for them.
How involved is eOne in music these days?
We have our own label, eOne Music, and develop and release new artists. Last year, we did around 80 new records. Our biggest band was The Lumineers, whose album Cleopatra led the charts for 12 or 13 weeks. And we have libraries like the Death Row library. Streaming is finally starting to have a positive impact on music. Of course, that growth is coming off a smaller base, but it's nice to see growth again.
How did you become involved with the kids' property Peppa Pig?
We bought a company called Contender, which was largely a TV-on-DVD business in the U.K., in 2007. They had a nascent family business with a couple of properties, one called Peppa Pig. One season had been produced of five-and-a-half-minute interstitials. The guy who was running the business said we needed to do a second season. It was on the bubble because it was about 3 million pounds [$4.2 million], but we decided to do a season two, and the ratings kept going up, and in 2009, we put some toys on the shelf in the U.K., and it took off. We now have over 300 episodes produced. If you look at a dollar profit generated from Peppa Pig, about 80 cents of that dollar is coming from license and merchandising; the rest comes from broadcast and digital. Peppa Pig averages 1.3 to 1.4 billion page views a month on YouTube, which makes it one of the biggest properties on the internet. And it's in the top three preschool brands in every territory around the world. We've signed a deal with Merlin Entertainment, where they are rolling out Peppa Pig theme parks, Peppa Pig hotels, Peppa Pig everything.
Do you have other kids' brands?
We optioned a book out of France called Pajamas, and we developed it internally into PJ Masks, which is also one of the top three preschool brands in the world right now. So we have two out of the three, the third one being PAW Patrol. [PJ Masks is] three little superheroes. They're kids that change into their costumes at night and go out and solve problems and crimes. And it's exploding. It'll probably parallel or surpass Peppa Pig in merchandise sales this year at about $1.5 billion.
In the current climate, does it make you anxious to be in business with productions you can't police?
You can't, and it does. We had an output deal in Canada with The Weinstein Co. There's no way I can police Harvey's behavior. But that was the point I made at our recent town hall: "Guys, your behavior outside of this building is as important as it is inside, and if you see things going on on any set where we're involved, you have a responsibility to report it."
You've said you want to double the size of the company. How far along are you in that goal?
We want to double the size of the business from an earnings standpoint. In 2015-16, we were making about 100 million pounds [$139 million] in EBITDA, and by 2020, I said to the street, we'll make 200 million pounds [$277 million]. I don't need to buy anything to do that. When our fiscal year ends in March, we should be at 175 [million] pounds [$243 million], and we've still got 2019 and 2020 coming, so I'm pretty confident we'll hit that.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.