In her first interview since returning to run All3Media International, Louise Pedersen tells Stewart Clarke about doubling the investment in drama, moving into supersized factual and working with owners Discovery Communications and Liberty Global
Having left distribution in 2014 for drama production at Colin Callender firm, Playground Entertainment, Louise Pedersen returned to All3Media International last year. Although ostensibly the same business as the one she left, the company had a new CEO (Jane Turton), and ownership had transferred from private equity giant Permira to Discovery Communications and Liberty Global.
“It felt like a different job,” Pedersen says. “It was really about the opportunity to grow the business again. With Jane as CEO there was a very clear strategy for growth, and there was also a commitment from our shareholders to fund that growth, whereas when I left it was quite an uncertain time.”
In her first stint at All3 Pedersen had set up copros including The Missing with Playground, Starz and the BBC, and she says her time in programme making has given her a drama prodco’s perspective on the business. That could prove vital given that scripted is a key pillar of the growth strategy.
“We’re doubling our investment in drama this year,” Pedersen says. “Coming back, one of the things I wanted to do was move us away from just being a sales house, in the sense of coming in at the end of the process. I wanted to move us up the food chain, and get us more involved in drama development, helping with financing and bringing in coproduction partners.”
The company has relationships with the drama prodcos in the group, which include Bentley Productions, New Pictures and South Pacific Pictures, as well as a network of first-look deals and one-off distribution deals.
With the drama investment doubling and a remit to get involved at the inception of projects, Pedersen says the role of the company is more than just that of a distributor. “It’s a move towards an independent studio model and is about getting in early and having some input in development and financing,” she says.
In terms of where it will place its drama bets, All3Media International wants the edgy high-end drama series that drive cable and SVOD viewing, and the more comfortable story-of-the-week shows that attract broad free TV audiences.
“When we look at the content strategy, our needs are quite wide,” Pedersen says. “At the high end, we want big, ambitious shows that require and can bring in coproducers. At the moment, these tend to be more in the thriller and genre areas.
“There is also another prong, which is more about shows that can return, play more to a family audience, and are maybe more detective- based; shows like Midsomer Murders, Grantchester, Brokenwood Mysteries and Inspector George Gently. These are part of a whole tier of shows that are fundable from a UK broadcaster, plus a tax credit and distribution advance, and they play in primetime in key territories.
One industry trend that has only become more pronounced in the period between Pedersen leaving and rejoining All3Media is the influence of Amazon and Netflix. She acknowledges this development, but adds that there are other factors at play.
“For us the biggest thing has been the growth of another viable tier of broadcasters,” she says. “Whereas once, when we modeled investments we knew that we needed a big American pay TV network, you now have a whole other tier of pay TV and VOD platforms you can go to, and not just in the US, but in Germany, France and Australia too.”
All3Media International can invest directly in content through first-look and development deals; and it can bankroll overheads and development for start-ups in return for distribution rights, but not an equity position. If a company is actually being acquired then it becomes a group deal. Sometimes one can lead to another.
For example, All3Media International had a first-look deal with Harry and Jack Williams before the wider group acquired their prodco, Two Brothers, in February.
If setting up new first-look deals is on the agenda, the deals are becoming more challenging. “It’s harder to do them now because a lot of people have relationships already, and a lot people have been buying,” Pedersen says. “But we’re having a lot of conversations with new talent that is setting up about how we can support them.”
The Liberty and Discovery ownership also opens up other opportunities. Last August, Liberty said that All3Media was producing a quartet of dramas, with its UK cable platform Virgin Media effectively the commissioner. The shows will play on Virgin’s streaming service and on Liberty’s SVOD services in several territories, and All3Media International will sell the shows elsewhere.
“We have three nearly ready to announce,” Pedersen says. “The scripts are being written, so they are in very active development. We hope there will be decisions about which ones are greenlit soon.”
Drama is a big priority, but unscripted is also part of the All3Media International story. In terms of entertainment, there hasn’t been a breakout shiny-floor hit since The Voice, but Studio Lambert’s Gogglebox has fared well internationally. Across unscripted, the company is evaluating where to place its bets, with a move into ‘supersized’ factual planned.
“We’re reviewing what’s working and what isn’t in unscripted internationally,” says Pedersen. “What definitely is working are the long-running factual entertainment shows like [Channel 4 series] Tattoo Fixers, which is doing really well, and [BBC Two’s] Employable Me and Big Life Fix.
“What is slightly more challenging is traditional factual, and what’s going on is the same as in scripted. It’s getting supersized and event shows are being done on a bigger budget and a more ambitious scale, whether that’s Making a Murderer or Planet Earth II. We need to look at the very big ambitious factual pieces that might be 6-to-10 hours, whereas in the past we’d look more at the 2-to-4 hour space.”
Discovery, meanwhile, is a powerhouse in unscripted and has its own distribution division. The All3Media International team meets with Discovery regularly, and there are some joint initiatives in the offing. “We meet quarterly to go through new content, and there are discussions around specific pieces of content,” she says. “We’re talking about potential programming deals in the UK, where we both share in the upside on some ad-funded projects.”
In terms of infrastructure, All3Media International opened a new Singapore base to service Asia last year and a New York office to reach buyers on the ground in North America and Latin America. It backed the Asian pitch at ATF last year, and the local presence means it can now more readily attend local TV markets and events alongside the Cannes perennials.
“The localisation of programming markets is interesting and useful, and having those offices makes it easier to go to the likes of Realscreen, Banff and the Rio Content Market,” Pedersen says. “While MIP is a place to showcase new drama at screenings and find new formats at MIPFormats.” Accordingly, one of its new dramas, Clique, will be part of the MIPDrama Screenings this year and comes from Bryan Elsley’s Balloon Entertainment, with which All3Media International has a first look.
Other upcoming dramas include Liar, a six-part ITV drama from Two Brothers showing both sides of a relationship gone wrong. It is a copro with Sundance in the US. There is also schools drama The ABC, the first project out of a first-look deal with The Forge, and Safe House – The Crow (above), the second run of Safe House, the thriller that has now evolved into an anthology series. Less edgy is Love, Lies & Records from Rollem, about a registrar juggling her personal life and daily work.
They say never go back, but in returning to the All3 fold Pedersen is at a different business to the one she left. Instead of private equity owners the current owners are industry stalwarts, and also have deep pockets. “They are saying, ‘go out and get great content and we’ll back you and give you the funds to do it’,” Pedersen says.