David Abraham, former CEO of UK’s Channel 4 and boss of U.S. cable network TLC, has opened the doors of his new company Wonderhood Studios with two new hires and an aspiration to bring together the TV and advertising businesses.
Abraham has hired BBC creative director Samantha Anstiss and Emma Lorenz, previously director of development at All3Media’s Lion Television, to kick off its push into non-scripted television. Anstiss, who ran the BBC’s Auntie Productions, joins as Creative Director of Unscripted, while Lorenz joins as her deputy.
These hires come after Abraham unveiled the company in April, which he will lead as CEO, with Sachin Dosani, founder of media-focused investment bank ACF on board as managing director.
Abraham told Deadline that he wanted to work with the top creative people and believes that he can “build a better mousetrap” than some of the other, heavily consolidated production groups. “I felt the consolidation models within television and advertising were running their course and weren’t necessarily optimizing the creative output of talent, whether it was crunching production companies together into larger and larger groups with more and more debt,” he said.
Wonderhood Studios aims to sell TV shows to the big broadcasters in the UK and U.S. as well as competing with the big advertising agencies to win accounts. “The principal is not to force people to work exclusively together on projects that are ad-funded programming, because I don’t think we’ve arrived at a good model for branded content, most of it is pretty bland. But if you took the very top people in the ad world, and put them in a room with some of the people who have created the most interesting TV shows, then I think in terms of influencing and supporting each other in a Pixar-style, peer review approach, we’ve got a better chance of coming up with ideas that can cut through in markets that are quite separate,” added Abraham, who founded creative advertising agency St. Luke’s before moving into TV.
The company will start with factual and entertainment with Antiss using her chops developed on series such as Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby and Life and Death Row and Lorenz coming on board having worked on series including Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed with Mary Beard and Popstar to Opera Star. It will then move into scripted.
Abraham also believes that over the next few years there are opportunities to work with the global SVOD platforms, which currently do not participate in branded content. “There’s an awful lot produced through co-production arrangements that could have different kinds of partnerships in the future. At some point, in order to justify the share price of Netflix, some more sophisticated forms of brand partnerships may begin to emerge. Who’s to say they won’t acquire content if it’s really good that’s produced with different partnerships,” he added.
In the U.S., Wonderhood will also be operating in a similar space to WME-backed Droga5 and Ben Silverman’s Propagate Content. “There are so many different funding models for producers in America, partly because of the rights position, in a way that is completely organic and not problematic to commissioners,” he added.
The venture has seed backing from unspecified “UK and international” private investors, a deliberate ploy after Abraham ruled out making major acquisitions to establish the new group. “One of the things I looked at last summer was to raise a ridiculous amount of money and go and buy a production company and an advertising agency and work to mould them together, but it’s not as straightforward to work out the cultural fit,” he said.
After establishing the television and advertising businesses, Abraham will look at moving into data and the launch of digital networks, as he did with the launch of foreign-language digital platform Walter Presents during his tenure at C4. “We want to build this thing and take the model to the States and Asia and then along the way, as part of the second chapter, our data team will develop propositions that we can take to brand partners or broadcasters to package and curate content in the OTT space. My sense brands will be looking at that over the next five years,” he added.