Content Media’s John Schmidt

John-SchmidtWith a library that includes more than 5,000 hours of television, 200 hours of digital content and 250 feature films, Content Media Corporation offers traditional broadcasters and nonlinear services a wide range of programming. Its slate includes the acclaimed police dramas Line of Duty and 19-2, feature films like 400 Days and Anti-Social and documentaries such as The 4%: Film’s Gender Problem and Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown. The company is divided into three main divisions: Content Film, Content Television and Content Digital. It also owns stakes in television and digital production companies, including Collins Avenue, Spirit Digital Media, Campfire and Jigsaw Productions, which is headed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney. Content has also acquired production and distribution companies in China. As John Schmidt, Content Media’s CEO, tells World Screen, further geographic expansion and a continued emphasis on premium scripted and nonfiction fare are the primary areas of focus for the company.

WS: There is a growing appetite worldwide for drama. How is Content Media satisfying that demand?
SCHMIDT: The growth of the appetite for drama is a great thing for all of us in the production and distribution business. I think our largest customer now worldwide is Netflix, and a lot of that is nonfiction, but a lot of that is on the drama side as well. They are just one of many platforms that have emerged very strongly in the last three or four years. We are very proud of the brilliant drama we bring out of the U.K. We have the third season of Line of Duty and The Secret Agent, [both] from the same company, World Productions. We have a lot of competition, but we are proud of the shows that we have been able to acquire from the U.K. Of course, we have Canadian drama that we have always had as part of the Content Television catalog and this year is no different. Slasher from Shaftesbury and 19-2 from Sphere Media Plus are two examples, and we are chasing a few others. And we are developing original drama both internally and with our majority-owned production companies in New York and Los Angeles. All that effort amounts to more drama for the market that we hope can hold its own and have a unique place. [We are focusing on] premium quality—really that’s what it’s all about.

WS: You also have a strong documentary business.
SCHMIDT: We do. It’s a golden age for documentaries, and the exciting thing is that the theatrical documentary has formed a foundation for an explosion of nonfiction programming. Again, it’s buyers like Netflix and Amazon, and others, that are taking great documentary filmmakers like Alex Gibney, who we are in business with, but others as well, and mapping their ideas out into six or eight or ten hours and coming up with game-changing programming, like The Jinx. So yes, we’re doing theatrical documentaries with Alex and many other filmmakers, and we’re doing very strong multi-hour episodic programming for Amazon, Netflix, HBO, Showtime, CNN and many others, and we’re very excited about that.

WS: Content Television is only one pillar of Content Media.
SCHMIDT: My previous career was in independent feature film and when we started the company in 2001 it was called ContentFilm. We have our roots in that business, so we still have a strong feature-film distribution business. But what I’ve seen over the last two or three years is the convergence of sales, as well as the production and development sides, of film and television. A lot of my old friends in independent film are making a living in television, and the kind of quality storytelling that is going on in episodic television is very reminiscent of some of the things we have been most proud of in independent film over the years. So yes, there is a strong film part to our business too, but the distribution and sales effort is converging. We have Content Television and Content Digital, but we are also selling feature films and continue to see that convergence within the company.

We also have our production companies and they are mostly in television but are also working in feature film. Campfire is a feature-film production company in Los Angeles, and Alex at Jigsaw Productions is also doing feature-film work. So the production companies and the distribution business are the pillars of Content Media.

WS: The cross-pollination of film and television is so interesting. I speak to a lot of actors who tell me it used to be that they either worked in one or the other.
SCHMIDT: Yes, I know, you never crossed over; if you did there was some bad reason! But that has completely changed. It’s very interesting, and being as invested as we are on both the production side as well as the distribution side gives us a chance to participate in the growth of that demand for programming. It’s competitive, of course, to buy programming on the distribution side. It’s never easy, but the [increasing] demand for programming is fueling the growth in the production companies and that’s great.

WS: As you look out 12 to 18 months, what growth opportunities do you see?
SCHMIDT: We will continue to do what we can to ride the wave of premium programming—investing in that at our production companies and acquiring distribution rights when we see the opportunity. We’d like to step that up and see that as a measure of organic growth. We had good luck in investing in production companies early in their cycle and helping them grow, and that’s been true with several deals and we hope to do more of that in the next 18 months.

We started a business in China with Bruno Wu. That has had its second year now and has done quite well. We’re excited to continue to invest in original television production and nonfiction as well for the Chinese market, and that could be explosively exciting in terms of growth. So [the growth opportunities lie in] new acquisitions on the production side to continue what we’ve been doing in television and film, growth through premium programming and more acquisitions, and continued geographical expansion and hopefully growth in China.