By Cynthia Littleton | Variety
Prolific producer Will Packer has set up a TV, digital and branded content production venture with Discovery Communications and Universal Pictures.
As part of the deal, Will Packer Media will have a first-look programming pact with OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s joint venture with Discovery. Packer will serve as CEO, with Scripps Networks Interactive alum Alix Baudin signing on as president and chief operating officer.
In connection with the Discovery investment, Will Packer Media has acquired Russell Simmons’ marketing firm Narrative_ and has set that company’s co-founder, Tricia Clarke-Stone, to lead branded content initiatives.
“We have put together a dream team of the best talent and partners to help us create bold and fresh content for audiences hungry for something special,” said Packer. “We are creating a new model for content production that sees TV and digital as equals, and combines the best of storytelling and brands for an underserved audience.”
The company plans to produce TV series, scripted and unscripted, and digital short-form content aimed at what is described as “an urban millennial core that is defining and driving pop culture at large.” The plans include building a “digital destination” to serve up short-form content.
“Our goal is to be the leading storytelling company focused on our core demographic of ‘New American Mainstream’ audiences across multiple devices and platforms,” said Baudin.
Packer’s film production company, Will Packer Productions, remains a separate entity with its own first-look pact with Universal Pictures. That company is on a roll with its urban comedy “Girls Trip” bowing this past weekend as a strong No. 2 at the box office. Will Packer Media will have offices in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
“Will is a creative genius and one of Universal’s most important partners within our film studio,” said Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group. “We are proud to back Will and his exceptional team and look forward to continued success together.”
The deal marks an unusual investment for Discovery in an outside production entity and a sign of the company’s efforts to diversify. The deal with Packer for series content for OWN comes on the heels of Tyler Perry setting a mammoth overall deal with Viacom that will end his exclusive TV relationship with OWN as of May 2019.
“As the media industry continues its rapid transformation, and as younger, more diverse viewers seek to be nourished by content across all screens, it’s more important than ever to have a direct line to the most creative minds in the business,” said Discovery chief David Zaslav. “Discovery is proud to lead the investment in Will Packer Media and we are excited for the opportunities, both creative and commercial, that this new model of company and its strong leadership team can bring to life for audiences and advertisers.”
OWN president Erik Logan said of Packer: “His unique voice and connection with audiences is unparalleled.”
Packer’s recent run at the box office includes such hits as “Ride Along,” “Think Like a Man,” “Stomp the Yard” and “The Wedding Ringer.” Packer’s track record with TV series has been spotty to date. He was a key player in shepherding the History miniseries “Roots” last year and he is an exec producer of the BET drama “Being Mary Jane.”
Packer was repped in the complicated transaction by CAA, attorney Matthew Johnson at Ziffren Brittenham and attorney Michael Eisner at Eisner Jaffe.Tags: Will Packer