This new Q&A feature, debuting in realscreen this issue, spotlights execs from all sectors of the non-fiction content industry. Here, Grant Mansfield, CEO of Zodiak USA (formerly RDF USA), discusses how the company has fared post-acquisition, Secret Millionaire’s upcoming debut on ABC, and the company’s priorities for the year ahead. (Photo credit: Dave Bentley)
How has the acquisition by Zodiak impacted the U.S. branch’s business thus far?
We’ve become part of what’s now the third biggest production company in the world, and that gives us access to hundreds of different formats from Europe and beyond, from about 50 different companies. What that means is we’ve been able to bring tape of existing shows to the U.S., complete with the ratings history and that potentially makes a sale a lot easier. It’s no coincidence in my view that the year we just finished was our busiest ever - we produced more than 200 new episodes and sold 16 new titles last year. About half of those were Zodiak group formats, so there were 50% created by the U.S. development team and 50% by the wider Zodiak group.
As someone who oversaw the original UK version of Secret Millionaire, how will this upcoming season on ABC differ from what aired on Fox? Did you take more of a cue from the UK version for the ABC series?
For me, it celebrates the generosity and simple goodness of not just the millionaires who give the money away, but the recipients. All of them are unimpeachably good people doing vital work in the community. So while I think the emphasis of the Fox show was on the millionaires, they’re still a big part of the ABC show but so are these everyday heroes. Working with John Saade and Vicki Dummer at ABC [SVPs, alternative series, late night and specials], they’ve encouraged us to make a few tweaks to up the emotional ingredients of the show, and I genuinely think the version we’ve done for ABC is the best version of the format yet.
You came to RDF USA a year ago. Over the span of that year you brought in Natalka Znak and have focused on moving production for all series in-house as opposed to outsourcing to third-parties. What other priorities did you have over the course of the year?
My main priority was to invest in our core strength which is our creativity and our ability to generate great ideas and execute them. Hiring Natalka was an important part of that strategy, but we’ve completely reorganized the business here in the last year, which in my view had become rather too focused on transactions and deals and perhaps not enough on developing and making great shows. Of course we have to make good deals but the most important bit of the equation is to make great shows.
What’s ahead for this year?
We’ve finalized a first look deal with Kelsey Grammer to develop and produce shows in the unscripted space. Also, one of the things we’re focused on is that yes, we want to make shows for the big broadcast networks, but the cable market is very exciting. One of the things that struck me as a Brit coming to North America was how accomplished many of the big cable networks are now. You look at that and want to be a part of it. Barry Walsh