Endemol Shine Group CEO Sophie Turner Laing sat for an international keynote at NATPE in Miami this morning and made it clear she’s pleased the past year is over. The production and distribution giant is the result of a merger of Endemol, Shine and Core Media which has gone through a period of integration in the last 12 months or so and will see the departure of some key executives including President Tim Hincks. Turner Laing addressed the growing pains of the merger along with re-stating her view of programs as brands; and discussing the worldwide demand for quality drama and innovative unscripted formats — especially when it comes to OTT.
Earlier this week, the FT wondered whether bigger really is better when it comes to making the next generation of TV hits. Today, Turner Laing said, “In a lot of creatives’ eyes, big equals evil. But it’s not about size, it’s about your network. If you have a beautiful piece of content, we are the people who can turn it into a global hit.” With great programming now coming from all over the world, she said, “We can just pick it up and put it through the network.” Among ESG’s giant stable of programming that’s been made into local versions are Big Brother, Master Chef, Broadchurch and The Bridge. The umbrella now includes some 120 production companies in 30 countries and about 5,000 employees.
But putting the pieces together has been no small feat. “To deliver 715 productions in the middle of a merger, that’s what I’m the most proud about,” the CEO said. The first year was approached “carefully… We tried to keep the logistics away from the creative producers.” As for the layoffs that go hand-in-hand with mergers, Turner Laing said the idea was to move quickly. “Being in limbo and not knowing if you’re in or out is horrible. It was tough, there were lots of really good people. Some have left voluntarily, some we had to ask to go.”
Looking ahead, she said she feels “that 2016 is our first year, with none of the distraction of the integration.” The team is coming together and she highlighted that co-CEOs of Endemol Shine North America, Cris Abrego and Charlie Corwin, have signed new deals to continue in their roles and been named Co-Chairmen, Endemol Shine Americas. The U.S. Hispanic market is new ground for ESG, Turner Laing said, with drama El Vato just given the go-ahead for NBC Universo. Turner Laing described it as “the equivalent of a Mexican Entourage.”
Speaking of the importance of shows as brands, Turner Laing echoed something she mentioned in her Mipcom keynote address last October. At the time, she said, “We need to focus on building a direct relationship with our customers and that means moving our center of gravity even further towards a focus on our programs as brands. The power of brands has never been more important.” Today, she added, “In a world of infinite choice and delivery pipes, it’s the program brand that us as a viewer go searching for.” She cited the global success of Big Brother and Master Chef and noted the question she is forever asked is “when is the end of them?” That seems like a valid question in the case of some aging franchises, and especially as networks have been looking for the next big thing in recent years with little success. But, Turner Laing said, “CBS had its 17th year of Big Brother last year and there was no ratings drop. There is a familiarity with these superbrands.”
Still, with the proliferation of content and platforms, what does TV have to do to remain relevant? The former Sky exec quipped, “I think the word broadcaster is probably outdated. With catch-up, online and SVOD, all channels are trying to make sure content is available on all platforms. To remain relevant, you have to keep the audience there and there is definitely a migration of younger viewers to mobile.”
With regard to drama, Turner Laing said “budgets are not decreasing and there’s a real pull on talent because you’re waiting for writers… You see it in the U.S. — half of our actors from the UK are on screens here.” To keep those costs down, “co-production” is still the buzzword. “In order to put that money on screen, you need to partner.”
A new challenge that also comes with the cost of drama is what non-scripted means in OTT. “Nobody’s really cracked that. It’s a lower cost option,” and here she pointed to Amazon’s deal to bring the erstwhile Top Gear trio of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May to its service. “That again is about a brand. How do we exploit that and see actually what could work? I have an archive of glittering jewels of IP, so I’ve challenged the guys to figure out how you do game shows on Snapchat.”