ITV "Can't Afford" Netflix-Style Deals, But Will Give Talent "Autonomy," CEO Says

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ITV CEO Carolyn McCall

Carolyn McCall also discussed Simon Cowell's ITV shows, the planned U.K. launch of streaming service Britbox and the death of a former 'Love Island' star during a lunch time meeting with reporters in London.

Global streaming giants Netflix and Amazon are able to attract big-name creatives, such as Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Jordan Peele and Robert Kirkman, with big-money deals, but ITV can still sign talent looking for alternative arrangements, the U.K. TV giant's CEO Carolyn McCall told reporters during a lunchtime meeting Thursday in London.

“We have a lot of talent deals," the exec said at an event organized by the Broadcasting Press Guild when asked about the competition from streamers. "Netflix and Amazon … are like the big film studios of old. Not everyone wants to be part of that. We have done a deal with Marty Adelstein in the States. ... He didn’t want that. He wanted to be independent and he wanted to have creative autonomy. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse TV, same thing."

Added McCall: "There are different models for different organizations, and we can’t afford to do a Netflix-style deal with Shonda Rhimes. So that’s not our model, we can’t even try to emulate that.”

Discussing the strength of production arm ITV Studios and possible further acquisitions in the U.S., the ITV chief exec said "we are not looking for acquisitions in unscripted" and reiterated that on the scripted side, "we will not make a major studio acquisition in the States, because it is not a world we know."

"We want to expand in scripted" organically, she added. McCall also said her team's focus has been on consolidating and strengthening its current production labels with an increased focus on making content for streaming.

The exec also reiterated that ITV passed on buying production powerhouse Endemol Shine Group last year, sharing that "we looked at Endemol, and we said no, because it came down largely to valuation." Overall, she said "there is less and less really out there to buy."

Asked about Liberty Global's 9.9 percent stake in ITV, McCall said the U.K. TV giant has a "constructive" relationship with John Malone's international cable operator, which has signaled no interest in selling or boosting its stake "at all."

ITV and the BBC recently said that they are in the final stages of talks to bring their BritBox subscription VOD service to the U.K. The goal is to launch the service, offering "an unrivaled collection of British box sets and original series," in the second half of the year. While the partners haven't shared pricing plans, they said that pricing "will be competitive." They also said that additional partners could join the collaboration as British TV and other companies have been looking to take on Netflix's dominant position in the streaming space, such as Channel 4 and Viacom's Channel 5.

McCall previously emphasized that the service is not designed to replace global streamers Netflix and Amazon. "We have never said that this is the British equivalent of Netflix. Netflix is global, it commissions globally," while BritBox will commission for local audiences, she said. "It is complementary to Netflix ... we are not a substitute for Netflix."

McCall on Thursday explained that would be part of the streaming service's appeal in Britain. "I think the thing that is going for Britbox is that is not American content," she said. "It’s not Starz, it’s not Showtime, it's not HBO. It's none of all the stuff that you are getting on Sky [or] you are going to get on Apple. ... This is distinctively British-originated content."

McCall added that the more niche-focused Britbox service in the U.S. and Canada is "a completely different product" for an audience that "loves hyper-Britishness." She also shared that Britbox North America has already started turning a profit earlier than anticipated.

In that context, the exec has also reiterated ITV's guidance that the launch cost of the U.K. Britbox service will lead to a loss of up to 25 million pounds ($33 million) for the company this year and then peak at up to 40 million pounds ($52 million) in 2020 before declining. 

McCall was also asked about ITV's long-running relationship with Simon Cowell and his shows Britain's Got Talent, which has remained a big ratings draw, and The X Factor, whose ratings have been declining. Asked if Cowell was holding ITV ransom and forcing it to pay for The X Factor due to the success of BGT, the exec responded, "He is not holding us to ransom. He wants to work with us, and we want his shows." McCall added that Cowell wants to transform The X Factor, and "we would like to see it change" for this fall season. She acknowledged that while the show's ratings are "massively down" from past highs, it does "amazingly well with some of the audiences we really, really want to attract," and sponsors always line up.

McCall on Thursday was also asked about the death by suicide of Mike Thalassitis, who was on the 2017 season of the dating reality show Love Island.

“It was devastating to them. The Love Island team [members] work grueling hours" and interact with the people on the show and sometimes develop friendships," she said. "It was tragic."

McCall also highlighted that "I don't think that anybody has made a direct link between what happened to Mike and Love Island, and I think that is very important. ... He was very happy on Love Island, and all his mates have actually said that."

She added that "we did have a duty of care. We had clear processes and procedures." McCall continued that the "pace" and "sometimes nastiness" of social media today requires constant updates to such processes, and that the network would put increased effort into offering reality show participants help, especially when they get trolled.

"We would scan what was going on on social media," but "we weren’t in a structured way contacting all" of the participants from the last season, the ITV boss said. "That will be one big change for us. We will either have them tell us or, if we saw someone being trolled, the team would then reach out and say, 'Do you need some help'?"

Concluded McCall: "We will do much more in a much more structured way."