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Lionsgate Challenging Traditional TV Distribution Windows

5 Oct, 2015 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Mini-major dubbed ‘Switzerland’ of TV programmers

In a joint keynote presentation Oct. 5 at Mipcom in Cannes, France, featuring Hulu CEO Mike Hopkins and Lionsgate’s Jim Packer, Hopkins characterized Lionsgate as the “Switzerland” of content programming.

Lionsgate currently distributes nearly 2,000 hours of television programming annually around the world. Unlike other content creators, the Santa Monica, Calif., company does not ascribe to traditional output deals whereby programming is distributed through set channels.

Packer, who is president of worldwide television and digital distribution, said being “neutral” doesn’t negate the need to find the perfect distributor for Lionsgate’s slate of original TV shows.

“We try to go into every country and find a [distribution partner] winner. We have to be flexible and open to change. Change for us means challenging what we think is a traditional [distribution] window,” he said.

Packer said that with “Orange Is the New Black,” which Lionsgate created as original programming for Netflix, but maintains global distribution rights across separate channels, adhering to a standard six-month delay releasing the show in China didn't work. Doing so, he said, opened the series to piracy.

“Piracy was just killing us because Netflix was releasing 13 episodes at once,” Packer said.

As a result, Lionsgate altered its windowing strategy and released all 13 episodes simultaneously to a video-on-demand distributor in China.

“Not only did we quadruple the revenue we were getting out of China, it really helped us against piracy,” he said.

Lionsgate has also adopted a release strategy dubbed “Hot from the U.S.,” which releases select TV programming on electronic sellthrough before its availability as a linear sale.

Packer said he wasn’t on board with the idea at first, but agreed that if the concept panned out, Lionsgate would have a new revenue opportunity.

“We did that for a couple of shows and it worked,” the executive said. “So, we have to go into [licensing] and really be open-minded to changing the way we think about … what’s a traditional window.”

Indeed, Packer said he longs for the days of four distribution channels: free [over-the-air], basic [cable], pay-TV and on-demand. Today, Lionsgate’s content rights team currently tracks upwards of 15 different rights for a particular TV program.

“It’s gotten incredibly complicated. In the U.K. we’ve windowed ‘Mad Men’ five different times to five different partners,” he said. “We have to be very smart how we window and who we talk to. Who goes first and who goes second.”

The executive said that with advent of SVOD, binge viewing and the platform’s increasing desire to get content first pose a host of challenges — ones that require different thinking.

Packer said bypassing traditional distribution deals lends itself to creating bold, eclectic programming that doesn’t necessarily fit one distributor.

“It’s helped us to attract better show runners and it gives us a great opportunity to have great third-party partners.”

Indeed, Lionsgate Oct. 5 announced a partnership with Skydance Media to bow Skydance International, which will distribute Skydance and Lionsgate TV programming globally.

Notable Skydance properties include “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, and streaming exclusively on Netflix; and atomic bomb drama “Manhattan,” which is co-produced by Lionsgate and Tribune Studios.

Skydance has also co-produced feature film franchises such as "Mission: Impossible" and "Terminator."

“Lionsgate will represent all forms of distribution for Skydance International,” Packer said. “They want somebody that goes into the marketplace and attacks in a smart, but individualistic way.”

So much for being neutral.

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