Taking ITV Worldwide

Peter Iacono joined ITV in January as president and managing director of ITV Worldwide. Having joined from Sony Pictures, Iacono talks to TBI about the challenges ahead.

What is your take on the international distribution business now you are seeing it from the perspective of a UK company?
First, it’s great to be here. Living and working in London is a huge thrill, especially having the opportunity to work within the ITV Group. There are a number of challenges of course – relocation really does expose the differences in culture between the US and the UK. We have a great team at ITV Worldwide – some of the best in the business in all departments – and with our combined knowledge and our diversity of backgrounds there are great opportunities for us in the global marketplace.

What are the major differences in the way ITV WW handles programme sales compared with that of a Hollywood studio?
One of the fundamental differences in the UK is the commissioning process. The creative teams in the UK pour their heart and souls into six or eight episodes a season and we, as distributors, look after each programme in a commensurate fashion. While we are a specialists carefully looking after our programmes, the studios are more generalists and are more about volume rather than individualized attention.

How competitive is the world of programme sales right now? In terms of competing for third party rights why would a producer go to ITV WW rather than BBCWW, RDF Rights or another competitor?
We have a completely integrated team overseeing television, home entertainment, consumer products and publishing. Not only are these all under one roof – rather than across many divisions each with different agendas – we have dedicated brand managers as caretakers coordinating and shepherding each programme through all avenues of distribution. You see it’s quite simple – we have one rule and one rule only "everyone works for the programming and we do what is best for the programming."

What does the credit crunch mean for ITV WW?

The great aspect of our business is that in good times and bad times – but especially in bad times – people love to be entertained. Television and home entertainment are fun and easy on the purse. Of course, the crunch has wide reach and impacts everyone – especially our broadcast partners. The key is to be flexible and to help work with every budget. Our deep catalogue is helping our broadcast partners ride out the crunch and is helping to keep folks entertained and having fun at the same time.

Does ITV WW plan to invest in more independent producers?
Our key philosophy is that we’re the best distributor a producer could have. We believe in letting creative people be creative. Basically, let creative people do what they do best – make great programmes – and we’ll do what we do best – distribution.

To help that process, we can also be there with financing so everyone can get on with what they enjoy doing and what they do best. Financing can mean show-by-show financing, slate financing, or taking an equity stake. On the equity side, we have a 25% stake in Mammoth Screen (Bonekickers, Lost in Austen). We have overall deals with Zig Zag (Relentless) and Mast Media and also help with individual projects such as Diverted from Shaftesbury and Dear Prudence starring Jane Seymour from Alexander Mitchell.

Basically, we’re open to any arrangement that works for both parties.

There is much industry talk about digital/new media rights. How important are these today and are there established business models for trading them yet?
If you can create an audience, you can find a way to make it lucrative. For example, Cold Feet and Inspector Morse are doing incredibly well on iTunes. We have also reached agreements to showcase our programmes on CinemaNow, Vudu and Babelgum and are in discussion with a number of other platforms. So yes, there are business models that work.

What are the business areas in which ITV WW can grow, where can we expect to see it become more active?
Central Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are all territories where we believe there is growth in the business. We plan to open a few more offices internationally in the coming year so you’ll find us closer to our clients and growing all of our businesses – television, home entertainment, consumer products, networks, and publishing.

What are the specific challenges on the licensing and merchandising front?

We’ve hired branding expert Gustavo Antonioni as commercial brand director. Gustavo joins us from Warner Bros. He and his team of experienced brand managers are holistically looking at how our brands work – such as Bonekickers on BBC1, the highly anticipated music and drama entertainment series from ITV, Britannia High as well as established, hot formats like Hell’s Kitchen and internationally recognised series including Emmerdale and Coronation Street. Eagerly awaited series, with high brand awareness, such as The Prisoner starring Ian McKellen are ripe with opportunities for consumer products and brand integration.