Lionsgate’s Peter Iacono Talks Scripted & Unscripted Content

Lionsgate’s Peter Iacono outlines the Mad Men studio’s strategy for 2017 while offering his take on the state of the unscripted and scripted genres.

Sitting in Lionsgate’s executive suite at the top of the Fontainebleau’s Trésor tower during NATPE Miami in January, Peter Iacono cuts a happy figure. The U.S. studio’s president of international television and digital distribution makes no secret of his delight that the firm has signed a string of international production deals for its upcoming Fox survival-reality format Kicking & Screaming, news of which was announced at NATPE.

“Given the sales are before the U.S. broadcast, it’s extraordinary. Most of the time these deals get struck after broadcast,” Iacono says. “We now have interest in Kicking & Screaming for other parts of the world to do local productions.”

Matt Kunitz’s format, which pairs experienced survivalists with inexperienced contestants as they take on different challenges in the wilderness, has been taken by Sony Pictures TV Networks for Hungary, where it will air on Viasat3, while international production group Banijay has also taken the rights for France, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Iacono hopes a similar pre-broadcast sales strategy can be implemented for CBS’s upcoming game show Candy Crush, which was also created by Kunitz, in association with Lionsgate and King Digital Media. “Whether we keep following this pre-broadcast sales model is going to depend on the auspices of the show,” Iacono says. “Candy Crush is an established brand with billions of downloads around the world and it’s another program that we certainly want pre-broadcast sales from.”

For more of those good auspices, Lionsgate recently formed a joint venture with renowned producer Jeff Apploff to create original unscripted series and formats through his Apploff Entertainment banner, continuing Lionsgate’s expansion beyond drama.

Regarding the health of the unscripted genre, Iacono concurs with past criticism that reality shows were losing their ‘freshness.’ “It’s fair because you did see a lot of derivative shows for a genre that started off as incredibly new and fresh. Now it’s a question of whether people will continue to watch reality shows,” he says.

Survivor and The Real World were the beginnings of this genre. People said it would be a flash in the pan, but actually reality series have still got legs – and here we are 15 years later.”

However, there are no questions regarding Iacono’s views on the scripted space, which he believes is in rude health. Indeed, the exec dismisses the argument that consumers are now faced with too much choice, despite the fact that almost 500 new scripted series are produced each year in the U.S. alone.

“There’s a lot of drama, but there’s not too much drama,” says Iacono, whose firm’s scripted TV slate includes Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black and the upcoming fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicle by John Rogers (The Librarians). “There are so many more outlets and homes for all these shows. I don’t know how much bigger it can possibly get but I don’t think it’s too much.”

But is all this drama opening up a divide between the niche audience that enjoys high-end serialized TV drama and a majority that continues to enjoy procedurals, comedy and reality TV? “For me, it’s about whether the program has legs. If 500 dramas are being produced then, by definition, those are going to cater to more specific and niche areas.”

Since Lionsgate acquired U.S. cablenet Starz for $4.4bn last year, Iacono says the integration between the two companies has been a “tremendous amount of work,” but foresees an “exciting” future.

“We have to be on top of our game and expectations have been raised,” he says. “My own job has also become broader and more robust in terms of scope and genre.”

“Given the sales of Kicking & Screaming are before the U.S. broadcast, it’s extraordinary. Most of the time these deals get struck after broadcast.”

This article was originally published in the Day 3 issue of the NATPE Daily. Read more from NATPE Daily Day 3.