Legendary’s Sam Kozhaya

TV Drama hears from Sam Kozhaya, executive VP of operations and corporate development, about the independent studio’s approach to financing scripted projects today.

Diversifying its international drama lineup, Legendary Entertainment arrived at MIPCOM with a slate of titles hailing from markets across the globe, including the multilingual Drops of God, adapted from a famed Japanese manga; the Spanish-language mystery thriller You Would Do It Too; and the Portuguese heist thriller Vanda.

TV DRAMA: How are your financing models evolving in this changing landscape?
KOZHAYA: Our strategy has always been to have a mix of financing structures for our productions (deficit financing, co-productions and cost-plus structures with global streamers). We construct a business model for each show—it’s a bespoke process that is not one-size-fits-all. This allows us to find the best home for each project and maximize the value. For our projects that we deficit finance, the key is to start with channel partners from the territories where the content has originated from or where it will resonate the most, and then build out additional co-commissions and partnerships from there, harnessing local incentives, but never at the expense of the creative vision. Our co-production strategy recognizes the buyers’ desire to board key projects early to secure a pipeline of quality projects.

TV DRAMA: What’s your sense of what buyers and platforms need in drama series today? What does it take to gain attention in such a crowded space?
KOZHAYA: Strong IP and strong talent are more important now than ever. Buyers assume we will execute well, however, they need shows that are highly promotable with recognizable casting that they can lean into to market. Both buyers and audiences highly value character-driven stories [led] by actors whose performances hook you into their characters’ journeys and make you want to come back for more. If you can accomplish that, a wide range of subjects can appeal across borders.

TV DRAMA: Are you seeing greater demand for long-running returnable shows or event pieces behind which broadcasters and platforms can put significant marketing weight?
KOZHAYA: While a long-running returnable show is generally the biggest prize in television, there’s no guarantee of sustained success at the outset. So, while it’s good to have a plan for a multi-season show that could become a franchise, both the producers and the commissioners/buyers need to adjust if the performance doesn’t warrant continuing. Many highly touted projects have not performed to expectations over the last few years, so perhaps that’s why we’ve seen so many limited event series come into the market as of late. Buyers can benefit from less of a long-term financial commitment, yet in some successful cases, there’s still the possibility of continuing the “franchise,” maybe with a different cast or setting. Regardless, we feel we bring them highly promotable programming to anchor their schedules for critical ratings periods.

TV DRAMA: What changes, if any, have you made to your windowing strategies?
KOZHAYA: We are always working to continually adapt to market conditions and to what each of our customers is looking for. Windows are more fluid than ever, and more configurations (like AVOD and linear FAST) allow for new revenue opportunities that didn’t exist before. Regardless of the configuration, we craft reasonable holdbacks to allow for downstream exhibitions across various channels. However, conversely, buyers also operate across multiple channel configurations, so the opportunity to do one-stop shopping with a single customer across several territories is becoming more common.

TV DRAMA: What are the most significant factors you expect to reshape the drama business in the 12 months ahead?
KOZHAYA: The recent reprioritization of investment for original content among the global streamers has been the biggest factor, as it should create more opportunities for independent producers like Legendary both inside and outside of the streaming world. The amount of investment by the streamers themselves is massive and arguably unsustainable, so third-party financing and collaborative exhibition models will likely take on more importance going forward to allow the production of original content to continue near its current pace.

TV DRAMA: What trends do you see in the drama business? Are there particular genres that are in demand? Territories that are particularly compelling?
KOZHAYA: Whenever you try to predict a trend, another trend takes its place, so the focus should always remain on projects with strong IP, talent and quality writing and immersive, character-driven stories, as those will never go out of style. Good stories, well told, with good ideas coming from anywhere, travel well. In terms of individual territories, we just launched a joint venture in Germany called Legendary Tobis TV to focus on high-quality scripted dramas. We see a lot of opportunity in that market.