Former National Geographic Channel president Howard T. Owens and A+E Networks international and digital media exec Sean Cohan discussed their unusual business relationship during a keynote talk at MIPCOM on Monday.
Last year, Owens launched the LA-based production company Propagate Content with equity investment from A+E Networks. Unlike when he founded The Biggest Loser producer Reveille with a first-look deal with NBC, he wanted to find a network partner that would be more hands off.
“While we are independent we have no first-look at A+E. We have no obligation to bring them anything. They don’t have an obligation to really do much with us,” he said. “Our relationship is born out of creative symmetry and business linkage. Where we see opportunities, we will take advantage. We are free to work and shape our business as we see fit.
“Having an international media company as a strategic partner is something I feel in today’s climate is incredibly helpful and almost essential,” he added.
Owens liked that A+E Networks, which operates channel brands A&E, History, Lifetime and FYI, was expanding its international presence in both scripted and unscripted, in addition to having an established U.S. portfolio.
The media giant has upped its presence at the annual Cannes market this year, christening a new space in the Palais de Festivals with an event for press on Sunday night that featured cast members from dramas such as UnReal, SIX and Knightfall.
Cohan, who called A+E’s investment in Propagate “significant,” said the deal was indicative of recent agreements in that there is no longer a one-size-fits-all model the media company looks to when partnering with producers.
“Being shackled with one model would be difficult and prohibited in terms of creativity,” Cohan said. “Whether we support their distribution efforts, whether they help open doors on international formats, whether we collaborate in in an Asian territory to put out a shingle together.
“We’re past cookie cutter time,” he said.
Much of the ads that plaster the side of the Palais are touting high-end drama fare such as Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope starring Jude Law. Several factual distributors are attempting to cut through the narrative hype by bringing robust slates to the market.
“You’ve had a delightful crossover. We don’t conform to these lines anymore.”
However, Owens noted that the lines between non-fiction and fiction programming has become increasingly blurred. He cited the Propagate-produced horror series Lore as an example.
Based on Aaron Mahnke’s podcast of the same name, the non-fiction horror anthology series explores disturbing true events that have spawned modern-day nightmares. It was picked up by Amazon Prime and will debut in 2017.
Calling it a “scripted, non-scripted alternative show,” Owens said the streaming service will program complimentary horror programming around the series. “We took it out to everyone and Amazon stepped up in an amazingly confident way and took it off the market,” he explained.
Digitization of content has also helped break run-times free from an ad-break structure to more story-driven lengths. Cohan added that the trend to historical drama series has also meant a blurring of the lines behind the scenes as well.
“There’s a blurring of the historical lanes producers stayed in. Historically you had Hollywood producers who only did drama,” he said. “You’ve had a delightful crossover. We don’t conform to these lines anymore.”
“There’s premium now and there’s everything else,” added Owens. “There’s no longer a race to the middle. Most network groups want their flagships.”
In terms of global markets, Owens said Propagate has deals in Turkey with Canal D and KBS in South Korea. The company is also working in Colombia and Venezuela and the Middle East.