Ford didn’t plan to build AGC Studios until he left IM Global in an acrimonious exit last August. The dispute was with Donald Tang’s Tang Media Partners, who a year earlier bought IM Global for $200 million. But now, thanks to backing from Latin America’s MediaNet Partners, Symantec CEO Greg Clark and Image Nation Abu Dhabi, Ford thinks AGC is a better mousetrap.
He comes to Cannes with at least two $100 million budget pictures and will continue to play that game. But he fully expects the growing demand for content from streaming services to become an increasingly large part of AGC’s focus in the coming years. It provides a better opportunity for his and other companies that relied on pre-sales.
“It all comes down to versatility of content and in financing of that content,” he says. “Instead of being wed to a particular financing structure, which IM Global and most independent companies were in the past, the better route is to have maximum flexibility as to how you finance your content from a development perspective—from a production financing perspective—building in to your infrastructure and your capital structure that ability to pivot in all sorts of different directions.”
If you’re overwhelmed by the content choice on offer now, Ford says, you ain’t seen nothing yet. “My personal thesis is that in five years we’ll have a look back and say, ‘Oh my God, can you believe that there were only 400 TV series a year being produced five years ago? And only 800 feature films being financed?’ I think it’s going to go through the roof.”
Studios, after all, are plugging into OTT platforms like never before. “Disney and Fox are already doing it and commissioning and producing original content,” he notes. “That’s the trend that’s going to cause the most excitement for this business. Studios are hampered by only having the infrastructure to release 12 to 15 feature films a year through the traditional theatrical model; those blocks come off as they get more into the digital streaming universe as Netflix has done. They’re going to be buying up huge amounts of content, and content companies, so that they have access to their pipeline and their talent.”
Then there’s the emergence of Apple’s content strategy as well as new players from around the world, including the UK and Asia. “It seems inevitable they will all become top tier players. You look at the way kids view content, and it makes you feel that the independent film business—that was so reliant on stars and guaranteeing theatrical distribution in the US—is beginning to seem like a very dated notion now.”