Alex Mahon


This interview originally appeared in the MIPTV 2013 issue of TV Europe.
Elisabeth Murdoch set up Shine TV in 2001 as an independent production company specializing in quality programming that would stand out and capture critical acclaim. Over the years, she acquired a number of highly creative and entrepreneurial companies, each focusing on a specific genre, to form the Shine Group. The result has been a series of eclectic hit shows, including the scripted series Spooks and Merlin, factual shows such as One Born Every Minute and global formats like MasterChef. The Shine Group also branched out geographically, first acquiring Reveille in the U.S., producer of The Biggest Loser, and then setting up Shine America, and subsequently Shine Australia, Shine Germany, Shine France and Shine Iberia. Alex Mahon joined the group in 2006 as managing director of Shine TV, and was later appointed CEO of the Shine Group. Mahon talks to TV Europe about the group’s expansion and continued quest for top-notch creativity.
TV EUROPE: What has been the Shine Group’s growth strategy? What production and media entities have you been looking for and how do they contribute to the group?
MAHON: What we’ve been looking for in the people we’ve been building companies with are creative entrepreneurs. Ideally, in every country we’re finding the best talented, creative individuals who are able to generate new ideas and build companies around them. The idea is if you are able to bring enough of those together you’ll be able to create the next wave of globally successful shows in both scripted and unscripted. If you look at some of the people we’ve partnered with, like Mark and Carl Fennessy in Australia, or Thierry Lachkar in France, or Rich Ross in America, or Metronome Film & Television in the Nordics, or companies such as Kudos in the U.K., we’re taking people who are absolutely top of their game in creating scripted or unscripted ideas and then bringing them together [and attracting the] best talent to create a new breed of group.
TV EUROPE: A studio executive once told me that managing talent is entirely different from managing a company that manufactures, say, washing machines! When managing people and encouraging creativity, there are so many changing variables as opposed to overseeing an assembly line.
MAHON: We put a lot of effort in making sure that Shine has the right culture, that our companies are allowed to be individual and unique and have their own brands and offices and their own style and people. The overarching tenets of the Shine Group are about believing in creativity and ideas. You can have those principles in common between several very different companies but you’ve equally got to aspire to be the absolute best at what you do. You must start with thinking of something brilliant that makes audiences tune in and makes people desperate to tell their friends about it and can’t wait until the next episode. You’ve got to go back to basics, working only with people who want to create the best stories, and those are the principles that are the same between the different Shine companies. When you get our people together they have the same passion, the same sense of excitement and desire to make the absolute best shows they can. But I would agree, it’s not like making washing machines! It’s all about personal relationships.
TV EUROPE: You mentioned Rich Ross, who was recently named CEO of Shine America. What are Shine’s priorities for the North American market?
MAHON: America is a massive growth territory and a prime focus for the next couple of years, so Rich Ross is obviously a huge hire for us. He is a rare breed of an American executive who is very experienced and knows the whole system in the U.S. inside and out, but is equally very familiar with international. That’s quite hard to get. He is also extremely experienced in scripted and, because of his Disney experience, he knows how to create worldwide properties. 
We are putting more investment in the U.S. market. We’ve got Rich. We’ve got Eden Gaha and our team who are making MasterChef, The Face and The Biggest Loser. We’ve just hired Cristina Palacio to run our Latin American and Hispanic business and drawing on the expertise and wealth of telenovelas from Colombia and elsewhere. And then we’ve got our scripted team who is doing The Bridge for FX. We’ve also hired Chachi Senior, who runs the new entertainment label Ardaban. We’ve got unscripted entertainment, scripted series, game shows, Hispanic programming, and then of course, one of our biggest recent deals is our partnership with Nigel Lythgoe for his new shows going forward. He’s one of the world’s foremost showrunners.
All of that under Rich Ross is a pretty heavy investment in the potential we see in the U.S. and the potential that we see in him—to be able to turn that into an even bigger business. And that’s already with MasterChef, The Biggest Loser and The Face on the air.
TV EUROPE: Several Shine companies have been involved in scripted programming for a long time. Is scripted becoming an even bigger priority?
MAHON: We’ve always been among the top suppliers of scripted in the U.K. and the global market with Kudos, with titles like Spooks and Hustle. We’ve been number one in the Scandinavian market for a long time with Filmlance in Sweden, where, in partnership with their neighbors in Denmark, The Bridge originally came from. We have now realized that we need to be present in scripted in our other markets, so we’re launching scripted in Australia and in France, we’re setting up scripted in Spain and now in Latin America and there is also the opportunity to go into the U.S. If you look at scripted commissions in the U.S. market over the past five years they have grown by 45 percent. There are just an incredible number of buyers. Six years ago there were 16 buyers of drama and there are 29 this year, and on top of that we’ve got Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. As buyers, they are much more open to ideas coming from anywhere. That wasn’t the case a few years ago. They are open to experimentation because they don’t want to invest as much in the pilot system.
TV EUROPE: Netflix recently premiered House of Cards. Are you looking at digital platforms as an outlet for your product?
MAHON: Absolutely. Lilyhammer, which was one of our scripted shows in Norway, was one of the biggest sales ever to Netflix. So we are absolutely looking at digital. It’s been really interesting to see how House of Cards has worked and if that pattern of making an entire season available in one go will prove profitable or not. I don’t think any of us know yet. But they are a really important buyer.
TV EUROPE: It will be interesting to see if a show can be launched and get noticed without a linear channel behind it to help with the promotion.
MAHON: That’s a question for all of us when we launch shows digitally. The skills that historically we have been lacking as producers are marketing skills. That’s not where we have traditionally had experience. If we are going to strike out into digital distribution, that’s what we need to learn.
TV EUROPE: Are you looking to acquire more companies? Shine has managed to balance being prudent against taking risks.
MAHON: We are always looking for the best stuff! It’s a question of what is available, whether there is a gap in our portfolio and what the people [in the prospective company] are like. And yes, there is a fine line between balancing growth and being able to manage everything, but we are always looking.
TV EUROPE: In which genres or geographic areas do you see potential for growth in the next year or so?

MAHON: We just started kids’ programming with Andrew Davenport, who co-created Teletubbies and In the Night Garden. We’ve started working with him on his next show, so that is a new area for us. We are doing more in comedy. We’ve started shooting the comedy Vicious in the U.K., starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, which is a massive deal for us in the U.K. They play a gay couple who live together in Soho. We’ll be rolling that out at MIPTV. Gary Janetti is the showrunner, who was a writer on Will & Grace and Family Guy. We’ll do more in comedy and there is plenty going on in terms of new genres already within the company.