New ITV Chief on Reality TV's Ratings Struggles: "Chaos Creates Opportunity"

Courtesy of History; Courtesy of Bravo

CEO Brent Montgomery takes the unscripted behemoth's top U.S. job amid a tough era for the genre: "A lot of companies are struggling, and it's going to get worse."

This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Under new CEO Brent Montgomery, ITV America will depend in part on the power of celebrity.

Rather than focus on adding production companies to the ITV group, Montgomery and chief creative officer Adam Sher say they will seek entrepreneurial talents with whom to partner, including Bethenny Frankel and upcoming Fox reality star John Cena. Other priorities for Montgomery, tapped Dec. 3 to take the helm of the largest independent U.S. producer of nonscripted content, include ramping up development across the ITV portfolio, which includes ITV Entertainment (Fox's Hell's Kitchen), Gurney Productions (A&E's Duck Dynasty), Thinkfactory Media (Lifetime's Preachers' Daughters), High Noon Entertainment (TLC's Cake Boss) and DiGa (MTV's Teen Wolf).

Montgomery, 41, says he planted seeds for his new role when his New York-based Leftfield Entertainment was acquired by ITV for $360 million in May 2014. Over lunch with ITV CEO Adam Crozier, Montgomery said he would like to be considered if his boss, Paul Buccieri, were ever to move on. What he didn't know at the time was that Buccieri would announce in November 2014 that he was departing for a top job at A+E Networks. Months later, ITV managing director Kevin Lygo reached out to Montgomery, asking: “Would you have any interest in doing it sooner than we thought?” 

The appointment makes Montgomery the latest veteran producer to be put at the helm of an unscripted behemoth, following Thom Beers (formerly atop FremantleMedia North America) and Cris Abrego and Charlie Corwin (Endemol Shine North America). He has spent years amassing executive training, however, along with an unscripted empire at Leftfield, which houses five diversified companies including its eponymous flagship (History's Pawn Stars and Counting Cars) and Sirens Media (Bravo's The Real Housewives of New Jersey). Adding ITV's shingles appealed to Montgomery's entrepreneurial side, he says, and he was eager to see if he could apply the Leftfield strategy to a larger company. Plus, he adds of recent ratings slides for unscripted shows, "We're in a very chaotic time in the industry, and chaos creates opportunity."

Montgomery is pragmatic about the industry's prospects, citing challenges like a severe reduction in second-season renewals (most producers make little to nothing on a first season). "A lot of companies are struggling, and it's going to get worse because the network struggle takes six to 12 months to hit the production companies," he says, noting that producers often have less financial padding than networks. "What we're headed for is further consolidation, and the companies that have the best rosters of creative talent and run an efficient operation are going to have an enormous advantage over those who don't."

One way Leftfield has stayed well-positioned is by investing in its own development, a strategy Montgomery intends to bring to ITV. It allows him to move projects at his speed. "Every network is afraid to make bets, and therefore they're making things a three- to four-step process, and that process generally takes about a year — and often we're seeing the mandate and the network executive change over in that time," he says. "So where a network used to spend $100 on 10 projects, they're now spending $100 on 100 projects. It's a dangerous web, especially for new entrants into our space."