CANNES - From being a runner, “the lowest levels of television” as he puts it, Paul Buccieri has risen to head up one of fastest growing divisions of one the world's largest TV giants, British commercial powerhouse ITV.
As president and CEO of ITV Studios America, Buccieri oversees a U.S. reality empire that includes ITV's recently acquired $40 million majority stake in Duck Dynasty shingle Gurney Productions as well as shows ranging from perennial hit Hell's Kitchen to The Chase, a U.S. adaptation of a hit U.K. game show for which GSN has just put in an 8-episode order. Revenue at ITV's American operations have been growing at around 20 percent for the past two years. In addition, as managing director of ITV Studios International, Buccieri oversees the production and distribution of more than 4,500 hours of fiction and non-fiction programming worldwide.
Sitting down with the The Hollywood Reporter's International Editor Scott Roxborough, Buccieri reflected on how the success of scripted reality and international formats are upending the U.S. market and why the U.S. Studios may struggle to keep up.
The Hollywood Reporter: ITV is a huge player in its home market in the U.K. In the last few years it has grown rapidly in the U.S. and internationally. What's the biggest challenge for a national giant as it tries to go global?
Paul Buccieri: There are lots of challenges and opportunities. But the biggest challenge is always with the creative. It all starts with creative, ambitious people to come up with those ideas. Then you need to have a system in place to get those ideas out across the world very very quickly. The idea alone is not good enough. You have to have the execution. You have to have the systems and mechanisms in place to get it out quickly and you have to have the people the buyers will trust to execute the ideas.
For us, we are in a growth phase, three years into a five-year transformation plan. Every year our score card is very public (ITV is a publicly listed company) and the ambition for growth is relentless. The biggest challenge is having a big organization, which you need, but that is nimble and adaptable, which is essential.
THR: How does that combination of big and nimble works in practice?
Paul Buccieri: Take Come Dine With Me. It was a small format that initially didn't have much traction but our team – our sales guys here at this market really believed in it and kept pushing it and pushing it and finally it started getting traction in a couple of markets, including Germany and France. From there it spread like wildfire and we are now in 36 territories. The same thing has happened with (bridal reality show) Four Weddings. And its something that we think will happen with The Chase, a format that we've had for five years and haven't had much traction yet but we believe in it. We just commissioned 300 episodes for the show in the U.K. Including 24 primetime episodes. That's an unbelievable number. We got it on in Germany and it's been recomissioned. We got it on in Russia. It got recomissioned.
Or take Mr. Selfridge (the ITV-produced period drama starring Entourage's Jeremy Piven). We had a show that we believed in. ITV moved in and didn't just do it's typical 6-episode order but did 10 episodes. We got it out to the international market quickly. The ratings came in and ITV, which is a vertically integrated company, quickly ordered the second season – and that drove sales.
THR: You sold Mr. Selfridge to PBS in America. How has the success of accented shows, particularly Downton Abbey, had on selling into the U.S. market?
Paul Buccieri: The Downton Abbey effect has been huge. It's one of those shows that only comes along once in a long time that lifts all boats. The halo of that show helped us sell Selfridge. The finale of Downton Abbey was the biggest numbers in PBS history. What it's doing on Netflix. The impact of that show can't be underestimated.
There's another golden era of British drama right now but it's not just Britain. In my lifetime there has never been more quality drama and light entertainment and reality out there. I was just in Israel we did a joint venture with a company called Reshet and we shot a U.S. pilot there. The level of production expertise and quality you can match up with the best in U.K. and U.S. production. It would be hard for anyone to look at the finished product and say where it was produced. It's so good. Because these formats – drama and reality – are being executed around the world, the production level keeps going up. The bar keeps going higher and higher. It's an incredibly exciting time.
THR: On the production side, what balance do you want ITV Studios to have between drama and non-fiction?
Paul Buccieri: Depending on the territory, people know us for different things. In the United States, we are more known as a reality-based production company but the fact of the matter is we are extremely strong in scripted content and it is a big driver for us and one I want to continue to grow.
A couple of years ago when we took out (British crime drama) Prime Suspect, it showed me just how good this distribution team is and it has given us more the ambition to go into the U.S. market specifically to develop shows either through formats that we are bringing over or create original content in the U.S. and then put it into our distribution operation worldwide.
The balance? I won't break it down into a specific percentage. What I preach to our teams is: go out and create quality shows, either in docu-series, light entertainment, shiny-floor or scripted. Go tell great stories and execute them very well. I don't want a place where people feel creatively stifled. I want to bring in good creative people and let them do what they do best and see what happens from there.
THR: The reality business in the U.S. seems to be changing fast. On the one side you have format fatigue for some of the big shows such as American Idol while on the cable side, scripted reality is booming.
Paul Buccieri: Many of the best established brands have been on the air 5-6 years plus and some of them are waning but they still generate such big numbers (for the networks). But what is happening in the U.S. is there has never been more buyers in the cable space. There is an insatiable appetite for reality content in cable. It is just an incredibly competitive market. It's created something 10 years ago you'd only see with the networks where there are bidding wars. If you have a great piece of tape and you put it out on the market, there will be bidding wars for straight-to-series orders. That's something that wasn't there just a couple of years ago. With the numbers that the Gurneys are producing -- with Duck Dynasty getting 8.6 million and the demos on some nights surpassing Idol and being equal to Modern Family -- it is leading a certain level of behavior to go into that type of programming.
THR: The studios are also trying to get into scripted reality. Can they compete with the indies that have so far dominated this space?
Paul Buccieri: At ITV, our productions arms are honed on doing reality. It's something they've grown up on. First and foremost producers are story tellers and for many years, reality producers have gotten the knock that they weren't good story tellers but I can tell you that somebody in their 20s in their teens because they grew up on MTV, they just look for great shows.
But what is different with these producers of reality programming, they know how to work at speed. They can see an idea, a concept, they can develop it very quickly. It is not unusual for a company like ours to come up with an idea in a conversation like this, to shoot a demo two days from now, edit it over the weekend, be on the marketplace the next week sell it and go straight to series and be on the air in 2-3 months. I think speed is the differentiator. We are built that way.