Exclusive Interview: Maria Kyriacou on the Growth of ITV Studios


PREMIUM: Maria Kyriacou, the president of international at ITV Studios, tells World Screen about the growth of the company, her approach to high-end drama and further opportunities for expansion.

WS: You’ve created a unified stand for ITVS GE, Talpa Global and Twofour Rights at MIPTV and MIPCOM. Tell us about the thinking behind that move.
KYRIACOU: It was born mostly out of necessity because we outgrew the old stand. ITV Studios is twice the size it was a few years ago. As we added production companies and were encouraging the creators to become a bigger and bigger part of this market, our old space was just too small. The other issue was having three different ITV companies sitting apart from each other. The new combined presence feels really good. It’s a reflection of the new ITV—three different brands under one ITV Studios label.

WS: How has your strategy for the business evolved as ITV Studios has grown?
KYRIACOU: The model we’re employing is not new for a creative business—we haven’t invented something that hasn’t been seen before. We encourage a high degree of independence, with creative managers owning their own brand and identity. This allows us to scale up, as we can add new production labels quite comfortably. We take a light touch from the center, with very little bureaucracy dictating what needs to be developed. All development choices are made at the label level, and that is working very well. But we also need to be greater than the sum of our parts. You can achieve that by providing easy access to a network of other producers around the world. So if you want to co-develop an idea or if you want talent to have the opportunity to move across territories, ITV Studios provides a structure within which you can maneuver. We had a great example of this at MIPCOM with 5 Golden Rings. The idea originated with Glenn Hugill’s Possessed TV, one of the new-ish labels in the U.K. John [de Mol, Talpa’s founder] saw it, loved it and thought he had some good ideas about how to bring the show on. Glenn and John have been working together on it ever since. It’s being sold by Talpa Global around the world and produced by the guys at ITV in all the territories where we have a production presence. It’s the first complete collaboration between the two of us, and it won’t be the last.

WS: And ITVS GE, Twofour Rights and Talpa Global will continue to operate separately, rather than be merged into one central distribution hub?
KYRIACOU: Talpa has a very integrated model that closely connects the creative units to Talpa Global. If you start to meddle with that, you will break what is special about Talpa. In addition to the alliance with ITV in our production territories, Talpa has a number of other JVs and production businesses of their own. Apart from Germany and the U.S., there is no overlap. It’s a unique setup, and we fit well together. Twofour has a particular specialty in factual, while ITVS GE is a big generalist distributor with a very strong drama and entertainment slate. These are such competitive genres that a degree of specialization is not a bad thing. That doesn’t mean we don’t look for ways of working together. I have already mentioned 5 Golden Rings. And with Twofour, ITVS GE leverages its experience with drama and formats. Dramas from Mainstreet [Pictures, a Twofour company] are represented by ITVS GE. Twofour Rights works closely with Mike [Beale, executive VP of global development and formats at ITV Studios] and all of our production companies. Twofour’s This Time Next Year is in production in 14 countries, including ITVS productions in Germany, Australia and Denmark.

WS: Tell us about the evolution of your drama strategy.
KYRIACOU: I joined ITV six years ago. One of the things that immediately struck me was the strength of ITV’s reputation for great drama. ITV was the home of Prime Suspect, Cracker, Inspector Morse—some of the most iconic British brands were born in this company. It may have been skewed toward past glories, but the heart and soul of the distribution business were still the scripted shows. It made sense, therefore, to invest wholeheartedly in drama and go along with the industry trend that meant higher-end productions and bigger budgets, like Victoria. We now want to build on that strong foundation of British shows to become a truly global drama producer. I want to be distributing and producing the best dramas from everywhere and anywhere in the world. Not surprisingly, ITV Studios America is a major focus, with the new ABC show Somewhere Between [produced by Thunderbird Entertainment in association with ITV Studios America] to look forward to, as well as a very exciting pilot order for TNT for Marty Adelstein’s Tomorrow Studios. Snowpiercer is based on the movie and book of the same name, and production is underway. And there will be more. Philippe [Maigret, the president of scripted programming at ITV Studios America] has created a great network of producers, including, most recently, Christina Wayne’s Assembly Entertainment and Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo’s Little Engine Productions. Beyond the U.K. and the U.S., we completed our first Norwegian scripted production, Aber Bergen, and the Norwegian guys are happily building up scale, having just received a commission for a second season. We’ve got a bit of work to do to build our presence across the whole Nordic region. The plan is to hire but also be open to the right companies to buy. The same applies to France and Germany. We’re excited by French drama, which seems to be coming very much into its own. While there is plenty of room for growth, we feel like our drama slate is in really good shape. Every market we launch something new and exciting, and for MIPTV it will be Harlots, an absolutely brilliant show. It’s a period piece with a very contemporary feel. It has a very interesting female perspective on the world of competing brothels in the 1760s. This was one of the few opportunities for women [in that era] to make themselves rich and powerful in their own right.

WS: We keep hearing about “peak TV” in the U.S.—what are your thoughts on the volume of scripted available on the market today? Is it sustainable?
KYRIACOU: It’s a big wide world out there, and audiences want to watch really good stories. We are lucky to work with some phenomenal producers who deliver scripts that excite me personally, so I can’t very well say there’s too much drama out there. I believe you will always find the right home for a really good, well-written and beautifully produced drama.

WS: On the international production front, are there specific territories you’d like to be investing more in?
KYRIACOU: Europe. There are still opportunities for us to do more in the U.K., of course, but the region with most room for growth for us is continental Europe. We also want to continue to support Philippe in the U.S. Every conversation with a prospective partner starts the same way—with the shows they have made and the shows they are developing. I will always want to read the scripts.

WS: Any other growth opportunities you’ll be pursuing in 2017?
KYRIACOU: Kids. We are excited about our recently announced show Robozuna for Netflix and CITV. Netflix feels to us like a real destination for families. And Thunderbirds Are Go is rolling out across the world and with Amazon in the U.S. Wrapping around both the shows, we have our expanding L&M business that allows us to extend those brands and build an ecosystem. With kids you can’t just be a TV producer, you have to be able to deliver everything—the games, books, etc.