Although newer digital platforms have raised widespread fears that they could disrupt longstanding business models, some veteran distributors like Lionsgate’s Jim Packer have welcomed them, believing that rapid technological change is opening up a whole new era in the way the studios distribute movies and TV programs.
“The great thing about Lionsgate is that we don’t look at these new platforms and say `let’s wait and do something later,’” he explains. “We’ve actually embraced them and worked to figure out ways to make new product for them.”
The studios success in that strategy, which has won Packer a Digital Leadership Award at this year’s Next TV Summit, can be seen in a variety of areas. On the theatrical film side, the studio has been has adopted a very flexible, innovative windowing strategies and in TV arena, Lionsgate has begun producing a number of shows for subscription over-the-top players, including the Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black and Deadbeat for Hulu. It has also been expanding the distribution of its content on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other services.
Meanwhile, Packer has drawn on his years of experience at Disney and MGM before joining Lionsgate in 2011, to build up an innovative international distribution team. “We had to sell 100 episodes of [Charlie Sheen-starring] Anger Management before it even went on the air,” he says. “That would not have been possible with a very nimble, forward thinking sales group.”
All of which adds up to a bright future, he believes. “When people talk how we are in a golden age of TV right now with all the great TV being created, I think you’d have to say it is also the golden age of distribution because there are so many different avenues and ways to get product so the consumer,” he says.
Packer’s path to digital leadership at Lionsgate included eight years at MGM, culminating in his appointment as co-president of the studio’s worldwide television operation. He also created and managed the MGM Channels Group and was instrumental in launching MGM HD, the studio’s first wholly-owned channel in the U.S.; the IMPACT video-on-demand network, launched in partnership with Comcast, and This TV, a digital broadcast network in partnership with Wiegel Broadcasting. He was also a key player in the launch of the Epix multiplatform channel with Viacom and Lionsgate.
At Disney, Packer spent 15 years working in Buena Vista’s domestic television distribution business, ultimately managing the distribution and syndication of Disney content in more than half of the country.