Entertainment One’s Stuart Baxter – WORLD SCREEN

Whether sifting through parent company Hasbro’s vast library of IP or sourcing new ideas, Entertainment One (eOne) has a range of content to offer buyers. The company’s numerous partnerships and first-look deals with talent provide Stuart Baxter, the president of international distribution, and his division a flow of new and returning shows. In addition to premium scripted programming, he sees continuing interest in high-end documentaries and light entertainment.

WS: What opportunities does a company like eOne see in today’s competitive TV landscape?
BAXTER: In the last two years, there has been an amazing explosion of opportunities. More broadcasters and platforms are commissioning shows than ever before, and the major beneficiary is the production community. We’ve expanded our commissioning partners, such as Showtime on Yellowjackets; Netflix on a couple of series, including the upcoming espionage drama Graymail from Alexi Hawley and starring Noah Centineo, as well as the BBC horror series Red Rose, created by the Clarkson twins (The Haunting of Bly Manor) and co-produced with Sex Education producer Eleven Film in the U.K.; and Paramount+ on the new series A Gentleman in Moscow. Our distribution business is also benefiting from the culmination of streamers, AVODs and broadcasters resulting in more choices and sales opportunities for our vast library. These are definitely the golden days for both the producer and distributor.

WS: eOne has several partnerships and first-look deals with talent. What role do those partnerships play in securing product for distribution?
BAXTER: These relationships are especially key for production and commissioning. Traditionally, many of the longer-term deals we’ve had were with producers; however, we’ve seen an evolution over the last couple of years under the stewardship of [eOne’s president of global television,] Michael Lombardo, with increased investment in talent-driven deals with actors, writers and showrunners, in addition to first-look deals with producers. We are partnered with a variety of talent and storytellers, including James Patterson, one of the world’s most prolific writers, for a new series based on his book The Noise; Freida Pinto’s Freebird Films Entertainment on the adaptation of Anuradha Bhagwati’s memoir Unbecoming; the Clarkson twins [Michael and Paul Clarkson] on Red Rose; and Rawson Marshall Thurber on a live-action series based on Hasbro’s Dungeons & Dragons.

WS: Is there greater demand for shows based on existing IP like books because there is public awareness of the subject? Or are original ideas also finding their place in the market?
BAXTER: I think there’s increased demand for both. We’re getting a lot of traction with the established Hasbro brands because there is an established fan base waiting for them, and to a degree, some of the risk of marketing [them] is mitigated. But at the same time, Cruel Summer, which was a huge success both critically and ratings-wise for Freeform, is a brand-new original idea. Among our existing IP, we’ve partnered with Jonathan Entwistle to develop Power Rangers and teamed up with Beau Willimon to develop a series adaptation of the board game Risk. We find that while a combination of established brilliant talent like Beau and Jonathan on existing IP can sometimes be easier to sell, new IP can be every bit as good and successful. Look at Yellowjackets—Showtime’s second-highest most-streamed drama series in the network’s history—its ratings and critical acclaim have made Pancho [Mansfield, eOne’s president of global scripted programming], and Michael [Lombardo] every bit as proud of that as they are of shows we have converted from existing IP.

WS: Certainly, Hasbro provides you with a treasure trove of IP.
BAXTER: Hasbro has 1,500 brands, and we’re only scratching the surface with those that consumers are engaged with today. We haven’t even gotten into the vaults yet! We’re really into today’s iconic brands. There [are more projects] coming up.

WS: Would you give some examples of the kind of support you provide producers in financing and distributing their shows? I imagine every financial model these days is bespoke to the project.
BAXTER: Absolutely, and actually, they have always been bespoke. We have the benefit of being a studio with significant infrastructure and a global presence that allows us flexibility and creativity in our financial models to support writers and producers. We offer a lot of development funding. We attach funding for getting writers or showrunners onboard or simply to package and build the story premise. We fund scripts. We help identify where to produce a show. We bring knowledge of tax credits and treaty co-pros, which can be very complicated and differ market by market—and even those are changing very quickly. We believe that opportunities will only continue to grow. In London, we appointed our new creative director [of scripted television], Sharon Hughff, formerly at Left Bank Pictures, where she oversaw the company’s development and delivery for a number of their high-profile titles. We’re excited for her to join the team to help drive our production operation business forward in EMEA. In today’s world, we need someone who has credibility and a track record of delivering great series. When a broadcaster or a platform is looking for a story they love, they need to be confident in the execution. That’s what having someone like Sharon on our team brings us.

A good example that illustrates the support we provide to a producer or talent is our work with Alexi Hawley. We partnered with him on The Rookie four years ago, and recently, he created another project, Graymail. We worked very closely with Alexi on the funding and scripts and brought it to Netflix. In the meantime, The Rookie has been fabulous and consistent for ABC and successfully sold around the world. That led Alexi and our team to recognize that this series is also a great proposition for broadening out, much like other strong franchises. So, he has created an FBI spin-off for The Rookie. We’re doing an embedded pilot in The Rookie this season featuring Niecy Nash, who will lead the new spin-off show as the main character, Simone Clark.

WS: More to look forward to! But there are two problems nowadays: finding shows and there’s too much to watch!
BAXTER: There are a lot of great shows out there, and that’s another reason why we see the value in creating content from recognizable IP. Further to that, using existing, successful shows to cross-promote other [new] shows has shown us why renewals are very important. It’s something we’ve always taken great pride in. But it’s important to not take these things for granted because the best way of getting another show is having an existing show that is really working.

WS: What demand are you seeing for unscripted programming?
BAXTER: In the last 12 months, there’s been a significant increase in demand for high-end documentaries on both linear and digital streamers. In the streaming environment, until a couple of years ago, unscripted was the smaller part of their proposition. Within the last year, we produced a six-parter for National Geographic called IMPACT with Gal Gadot, a compelling HISTORY Channel documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, as well as Mary J. Blige’s My Life, an autobiographical piece from Oscar-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth for Prime Video.

In addition, Tara Long, [eOne’s president of global unscripted TV], is having tremendous success in the U.S. with lighter fare—entertainment and formats. There are more episodes of the popular franchise Ex on the Beach and additional episodes for Siesta Key. Again, these are established brands that are working, and there is a demand for them. This has also created a great opportunity for the Hasbro brands such as Mouse Trap, a physical reality competition series; Candy Land hosted by Kristin Chenoweth for the Food Network; and Play-Doh Squished, the family competition special hosted by Sarah Hyland for IMDb TV.

WS: Covid-19 has impacted production for the past couple of years. What shows have eOne been able to bring to screen that performed well?
BAXTER: [Our parent company] Hasbro recently issued results for 2021, and within them, there were eOne statistics. Our 2021 level exceeded our 2019 level. Covid hit us hard in 2020, but we recovered most of that ground last year. We actually exceeded our total revenue in film and television, and we think this year will be even busier. The Rookie received an extended order, making season four its longest run to date. Cruel Summer was a huge success for Freeform, launching as the network’s most-watched series debut ever and renewed for a second season. We’ve had Yellowjackets on Showtime, which was hailed as one of the best shows of 2021 and received an early renewal for a sophomore season. We’re partnering with Paramount+ on A Gentleman in Moscow, which we hope to get into production in the second half of the year. When we look down our pipeline of shows, we think this year will exceed the last.

WS: You are doing a lot of business with the streamers. Is it becoming easier to negotiate with them and keep your IP in certain cases?
BAXTER: There are more streamers now, but some of them are at different stages of evolution, and there is no one-size-fits-all model. There’s flexibility in negotiating with streamers to keep our IP, and it’s managed on a case-by-case basis. We’re not putting all our eggs in the streaming basket, and we’re not placing all our bets solely on deficit financing every show—it’s important to have a balance of both.

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Entertainment One’s Stuart Baxter – WORLD SCREEN

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