TV’s Top Dealmakers Get Creative… Even at 4 a.m. - Broadcasting & Cable

TV’s Top Dealmakers Get Creative… Even at 4 a.m.

From battling over new content, to negotiating windows, to keeping calm across the table at any hour, those masterminding deals in TV face endless challenges. Execs at 16 major companies offer an inside view of their triumphs, trials and takeaways.
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As the economic recovery has hit full steam, the flow of deals has returned in the television business. The lean and anxious times of the crash years have given way to a spate of pacts in all corners of the landscape, accelerated by an urgency to take full advantage of the tech innovations that have completely upended traditional models. Nowhere is the land grab more evident than in the content arena, a vast sector encompassing everything from subscription video-on-demand rights to international to coproduction agreements.

In order to learn more about how content deals take shape in today’s marketplace, we went straight to the sources, seeking answers from the top dealmakers at two-dozen media companies with major TV assets. A few companies opted not to weigh in, but a significant cross-section of major players did share thoughts on the rapidly evolving deal process. Their answers—presented here in edited form—proved illuminating.

A+E NETWORKS

EXECUTIVE: Dan Suratt, executive VP, digital media, digital distribution and business development. Responsible for all strategic, operational and editorial functions, business development efforts and digital distribution negotiations for A+E, as well as the broadband and mobile elements of A&E, FYI, History, H2, Lifetime and LMN.

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MOST MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: The company’s 10% investment in Vice Media. Also, History’s launch of Planet H, a digital brand extension created to help kids ages 7-11 explore historical topics and eras through play, including games on mobile apps. “It’s something truly unique for a TV network and is a long-term initiative with great potential to reach children with an array of content and product.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “This year has already seen the inauguration of the very first TV network-branded online course for transcripted college credit with History Channel’s partnership with the University of Oklahoma for a 16-week course kicking off in January.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Revenue.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEAL AS MAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “The speed at which deals now get done. It used to be they would take forever, now they can be done in weeks vs. months.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “People are still trying to make those deals and partnerships that will elevate their brands and create a new revenue stream.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Recognize that both sides have to see value coming out of the deal—it can’t be so one-sided that in the end one is left feeling ‘taken’ and looking to either get out or not renew.

AMAZON

EXECUTIVE: Brad Beale, VP, digital video content acquisition. Head of content acquisition for Prime Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video in the U.S.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “The Prime Instant Video/HBO deal was pretty exciting for us. We became the only destination, outside of the HBO network, to offer instant access to hundreds of episodes from great shows like The Sopranos, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire, in addition to a great selection of HBO documentaries and stand-up comedy specials. It was the first deal of its kind.”

MOST COMMON STICKING POINT/WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER: “Bringing content to customers as early as possible. We’ve received tremendous feedback about our CBS deal that brought Under the Dome and Extant to Prime members the same week the shows aired. We’d like to do more deals like this. We’ve come to live in a time of instant gratification, and we want our customers to have access to what they want to watch, as soon as they want to watch it. Windowing will become a more debated topic in streaming this year.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Video technology continues to improve and we are working hard to bring customers more features and premium benefits, alongside great content. For example, we have a great selection of movies and TV series in Ultra HD and offer all our originals in Ultra HD as well. We also have X-Ray for movies and TV shows, which helps customers discover and learn more about actors and characters in the titles they’re watching, without ever stopping to pause. These things will continue to add new perspective and can change how we approach deals.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “I’d like to see everyone thinking about the customer first.”

CBS

EXECUTIVE: Scott Koondel, executive VP and chief corporate content licensing officer. Tasked with maximizing the licensing revenue of CBS content, including CBS Studios, CBS Television Network, CBS News, Showtime, CBS Films and CBS Interactive, across all platforms. “We also optimize the value of programming assets associated with CBS’ interest in The CW and grow revenue from a large library of past CBS series.”

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “Our multiplatform deals for Elementary and Blue Bloods. They were memorable because of the size of the money and the complexity of working with all the partners—across broadcast, cable and VOD.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “Our first-ever SVOD deal for CSI with Hulu. It was unusual because it’s a current show that includes so many seasons and has already had a long successful cable run. The good news is, SVOD allows us the opportunity to bring the franchise to a new platform and expose it to a younger audience at a time when we are introducing CSI: Cyber to CBS.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “The marketplace is more complex right now with new platforms and more players. We’re fortunate enough to have an outstanding team to service all our clients, but at the end of the day we’re charged with maximizing revenue, so the biggest sticking point is usually price.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Demand is at an all-time high. There are more outlets looking for quality programs than ever before.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING ESS: “We all need to do a better job of embracing creativity and flexibility. There has been so much progress in this regard, but there is a long way to go.”

CROWN MEDIA FAMILY NETWORKS

EXECUTIVE: Bill Abbott, president and CEO. Runs the media company that owns Hallmark Channel and the newly rebranded Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel.

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MOST MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: A landmark content agreement with parent company Hallmark for the Nov. 15 release of original television movie North Pole, the centerpiece of Hallmark Channel’s popular annual “Countdown to Christmas” programming. Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Kroger and other retailers of Hallmark cards carried a line of North Pole products. It seems a no-brainer, but despite their close corporate ties, the two companies have rarely collaborated.

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: Expanding the new Crown Hallmark relationship around the release of North Pole 2, which will become Hallmark Channel’s first multi-year, multifilm franchise. “It’s taken us quite a while to get to the point that we were pulling in the same direction.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: Finding quality scripts for 60 original movies a year. It used to be a writer could pen a script, hand it in and get it made rather easily. But that’s not how it works anymore. We are striving for creative excellence. We want to be good to work with, but we’ve changed our focus. We are very thoughtful. It’s created quite a bit of tension.

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: For Crown, the above. “Movie scripts used to get put to us and we would run them. Now I can tell you we beat up every script.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “The fact that trust and relationships are key, and believing in your partner. What’s the same is that if you don’t have two parties that believe in each other, it’s very hard to make a deal.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEALMAKING PROCESS: “I think there are times [when] not everyone enjoys the benefit of a successful deal.” Both parties should have enough at stake to make the product better, versus “let’s get the deal done and then it’s someone else’s problem.

DISCOVERY

EXECUTIVE: Rebecca Glashow, senior VP, digital distribution and partnerships, Discovery Communications. Oversees the strategy, development and execution of Discovery’s digital media distribution business and leads the company’s digital video strategy and negotiations across all platforms (including TVE, VOD, EST and mobile).

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “It was exciting to join Sony as a launch partner from day 1 for PlayStation Vue—a strong new platform for our 13 U.S. Networks, as well as several of our Web-native networks. Discovery’s strategic content investment and ownership allows us to be platform-ready, and we’re always pursuing new growth opportunities that combine our networks and content that audiences love with innovative new platforms.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “While I wouldn’t say we battle over it, I always work to ensure that we deliver our content in brand-centric environments…. The sheer volume of programming from cable to online can be daunting for consumers and strong brands are beacons that help guide them to content they’ll enjoy.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “The digital landscape is more dynamic than ever, especially with new entrants paired with the natural consolidation that occurs over time, which keeps my team very busy. Keeping pace with changing consumer habits is challenging, but I am so happy to see the momentum behind new platforms that complement existing linear and digital services.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “It doesn’t end with the deal. We view our distribution agreements as partnerships, working closely to reach as many viewers as possible.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “We’d love to make the deal process shorter.”

DISNEY

EXECUTIVE: Ben Pyne, president, global distribution, Disney Media Networks. Responsible for the global distribution and sales of the entertainment and news content produced by Disney.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “Several that come to mind for 2014—Dish and the deal we did with them for their Sling TV service; our DirecTV deal, and one we completed with Gannett Broadcasting.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “It’s still a little early, but we have a few in the works that are still confidential but should be memorable once they’re completed.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Expanded digital rights.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Technology continues to advance the ways distributors can deliver content to consumers, raising new questions on how and what we license.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Greater understanding of how digital and traditional distribution intersect.”

ESPN

EXECUTIVE: David Preschlack, executive VP, Disney & ESPN Affiliate Sales and Marketing. Oversees domestic affiliate sales, strategy, digital video distribution and affiliate marketing for Disney’s cable networks to multichannel video distribution partners and many other platforms.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “Our comprehensive agreement with Dish, which included the provision to launch Sling TV has certainly been one of the more interesting deal we executed in 2014.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “We don’t get into the specifics of our deals, but technology and our ability to deliver content in ways we never contemplated 10 years ago certainly makes for interesting conversations and considerations.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Dealmaking always comes down to relationships. We’re working toward a common goal. While we may disagree on the particulars of how to get there, I think I have a pretty good relationship with my counterparts across the distribution landscape.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “New entrants to the marketplace and technological advances will continue to play a major role in the way we structure deals.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “No lost holidays or vacations....”

HULU

EXECUTIVE: Lisa Holme, VP, content acquisition. “I look after content acquisition for Hulu, which encompasses content strategy (what content should we have on Hulu based on what viewers we’re trying to attract and engage, and how much can/should we spend on it?), negotiation and licensing that content, and operationalizing the licensing deals across the company. A few of my biggest content partnerships include Viacom, Fox & FX, CBS, CW, and Sony.”

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: ”Licensing the exclusive rights to South Park was unusual in that it included not only a content licensing component, but a technology platform component as well, because Hulu was taking over as the video platform that now powers the South Park Studios website.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Distribution rights are the most complicated because we’re in such a new space, but it’s typically the comarketing provisions that are the last thing to get settled. For no good reason, marketing exhibits are often left for the very end.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “The prices to license hit television shows. It’s a very good time to be a seller right now—and there is tremendous creativity being applied to putting together partnerships with multiple parties (linear & digital, or across territories).”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: ”Content is king. If you have the show everyone wants, you have tremendous market power.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Sometimes in competitive situations, buyers are all asked to submit their ‘best and final’— which unfortunately takes the problem-solving, iterative nature out of the deal-making process. You have to guess blindly, instead of partnering to meet in the middle.”

LIONSGATE

EXECUTIVE: Sandra Stern, COO of Lionsgate Television Group. Responsible for running all businesses, legal, administrative and operational aspects of the division and spearheading strategy, transactions, negotiations and business development. (Note: With Lionsgate’s fiscal year ending in March, deals below span 2014-15.)

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: A first-look agreement with Christina Aguilera and Matthew Rutler’s production company. The deal was recently renewed for another year. “We put a number of projects into development (including Hearts and Clubs at ABC Family). They are great to work with. In 2015, [Aguilera] agreed to do a three-episode arc on Nashville [a Lionsgate show] that’s taping as we speak. It’s memorable to have Christina Aguilera come on an ABC show as a performer.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: Producing The Royals for E!, the network’s first scripted show. “It was shot entirely on location in London so there were a lot of challenges, but we ended up with a product we loved.” The series was renewed for a second season two months before Its March premiere, with NBCUniversal Cable joining Lionsgate as coproducing partner. “It was an inventive, creative deal….Once in a while you have a win-win.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Digital rights. How do you draw that fine line between the network’s legitimate need to reach the audience where they live through video-on-demand, and the studio’s need, with ever-increasing deficits to monetize [shows], to make up the deficit and maybe be so lucky as to make a profit?”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: In-season stacking rights—the rights to episodes of a network TV show’s current season—have become a huge issue. SVOD companies aren’t content with previous seasons anymore. “Now that Netflix and Amazon and Hulu are in the business of originals, they are taking the first window, so you’re losing a second window to monetize” a show.

WHAT’S HASN’T CHANGED: Deals are constantly changing as “a function of how the TV industry is changing. The way in which people watch television now vs. a time when everybody sat in front of the TV at 10 o’clock on Thursday night.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Deals work best when both sides are collaborative. We don’t have to be adversarial and don’t have to fight each other tooth and nail.”

NBCUNIVERSAL

EXECUTIVE: Nick Lehman, president, digital. Having previously overseen some of NBCUniversal’s major native digital businesses, such as Fandango, Lehman now focuses on incubating new digital startups and strategic initiatives across the company. He recently developed Radius, NBCUniversal’s first SVOD service and a convergent media brand in the fitness space.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: Radius forged a multifaceted strategic partnership with Under Armour that encompasses cobranded original content development, cross-marketing initiatives and deep digital integration between Radius and Under Armour’s connected fitness pillars, including MapMyFitness and the recently launched Under Armour Record.

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: Radius struck a major distribution and comarketing deal with Comcast, which will offer Radius members who sign up through Xfinity the ability to view the service’s premium fitness programming via Xfinity On-Demand on TV, and soon on their favorite devices via Xfinity TV Go platforms. Radius and Comcast will collaboratively market the service through Comcast Spotlight’s highly targetable audience platform.

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Platform and exclusivity definitions.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “The continually increasing number of revenue streams and business models to contemplate or incorporate into deals.”

WHAT’S HASN’T CHANGED: “Aligning vision and complementary strategic business objectives is more important than what gets papered in a deal.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Flexible, iterative structures for rapid experimentation and innovation across partners’ businesses.”

SHOWTIME

EXECUTIVE: David Nevins, president of Showtime Networks. Responsible for developing, acquiring and supervising all aspects of programming for all of the Showtime Networks channels across all genres. Also manages Showtime Sports, and the company’s marketing, creative, digital media, scheduling, research, acquisitions, home entertainment, business affairs and corporate communications teams.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: Return of Twin Peaks.

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: Bell Canada deal, which will bring Showtime programming to Canada for the first time.

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Who gets SVOD rights and when.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Windowing getting even more complicated.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “People want to put their shows on Showtime more than ever, but there are always other choices.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Fewer leaks to the press.”

SONY PICTURES TV

EXECUTIVE: Jeff Frost, executive VP, business affairs. “I oversee the U.S. business affairs department for Sony Pictures Television. In that capacity, I negotiate license deals with every major network and digital platform, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, FX, AMC, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo, Playstation, etc., in connection with such series as The Blacklist, The Goldbergs, Shark Tank, Breaking Bad, Justified and Masters of Sex.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: I negotiated the transfer of the television series Community from a broadcast network, NBC, to a digital platform, Yahoo.

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: Negotiating a three-way international production/distribution deal among Fox, ITV, Shaw and Shaftsbury, Big Talk Productions and SPT

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Digital rights.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEAL MAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “The scope of rights networks seek to obtain from studios, which range from international territories to exploitation on digital platforms.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “The professionalism of the negotiators.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “I’d like to see more uniformity and consistency in terms of license deals with networks.”

STARZ

EXECUTIVE: Michael Thornton, chief revenue officer. Responsible for revenue growth and affiliate distribution for the Starz Networks pay television business, including distribution businesses Anchor Bay, Starz Worldwide and Starz Digital and acquisition of programming for 17 Starz channels and on-demand and online offerings.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “‘Negotiating’ with a three-year-old regarding the proper time to go to bed.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “While it has yet to occur, I believe the internal deal with myself to get to the top of Kilimanjaro at the beginning of July will be a biggie!”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Best time to get started/finished.”

What’s changed about dealmaking in the last 12 months: “Wisdom. One hopes the experience makes you better. If not, there is little good that comes with increasing age.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: The difficulty in finding mutually satisfactory (or least unsatisfactory) solutions remains a challenge.

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Better food at the bargaining table.”

TURNER

EXECUTIVE: Coleman Breland, president of domestic distribution, sales and marketing. Oversees all domestic and Canadian distribution and multiplatform branded content strategy for Turner’s portfolio of networks. Also spearheads new distribution opportunities, digital brand extensions, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer engagement opportunities at Turner Classic Movies.

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WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “Prioritization of business issues that move the needle and create mutually beneficial opportunities vs. getting bogged down in negotiation politics.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Most notably, the issues are technology-driven and the vernacular is dramatically shifting. The collision of new consumer behaviors, tech advancements and the ever-increasing trend of personalization of content interaction is changing the game.”

WHAT HASN’T CHANGED: “Most challenging component about any media negotiation is that you’re dealing with three time dimensions simultaneously. There’s the past—what was negotiated and understood inside the words penned years ago and the course the relationship has taken since that time. The present—current expectations and needs on both sides of the table. And the future—how do both sides see the prospects of their individual business in the coming years, and how do the newly agreed-upon words allow both sides to prosper. All three dimensions carry their unique flavor of emotion.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “Despite the drama that often occurs with deal points swirling at 4 a.m., the best deals for both sides get done in the light of day. Fair to say, the issues are wildly more complex today and that creates degrees of angst and tension that didn’t exist before. There is an interdependency that still binds us together. It should not be so easy to lose sight of that fact.”

VIACOM

EXECUTIVE: Tom Gorke, executive VP, sales and business development, content distribution, Viacom Media Networks. Leads sales and new business efforts for all linear and digital distribution partnerships at Viacom.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “Last September, Viacom announced its groundbreaking Internet distribution deal with Sony. PlayStation Vue, Sony’s streaming television service, gives subscribers live and on-demand access to 22 of Viacom’s networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. This was Viacom’s first-ever over-the-top deal and the platform appeals to our young audiences that are gravitating more and more to gaming devices.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “It’s still early in the year but the Epix and Dish multiyear carriage deal sparked a lot of interest. In addition to the multiyear renewal of the relationship on the satellite platform, we also announced that Dish’s streaming service Sling TV will offer Epix—Sling TV’s first deal with a premium network.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “I think listening is a necessary skill to spot opportunity. Negotiation spurs deep collaboration and ignites innovative ideas, but you have to be willing to listen to all perspectives to identify business solutions that meet both parties’ needs and accelerate growth.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Every partnership is unique and our teams nimbly navigate and collaborate in a rapidly changing media landscape. We focus on always engaging our audiences where they are, because they consume content across more platforms than ever before.”

BIGGEST CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN THE DEAL-MAKING PROCESS: “No deal is ever the same and that’s part of the excitement of my job. I enjoy working with others to find and create solutions and partnerships that work and have impact.”

YAHOO

EXECUTIVE: Kathy Savitt, CMO and head of media. Leads the company’s media organization, consisting of digital magazines, news, finance and sports franchises, as well as Yahoo Screen.

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MOST UNUSUAL/MEMORABLE DEAL OF 2014: “Kicking off the world’s largest live concert series together with Live Nation, where together we offer one live streamed concert a day for 365 days.”

HIGHLY ANTICIPATED DEAL OF 2015: “While we started this deal in 2014, we launched the sixth season of Community on Yahoo Screen on March 17. We’re… looking to bring the series to a larger, new audience.”

WHAT YOU BATTLE OVER MOST: “One of the areas of most challenge is being able to provide content to all of our global users at the same time, and determining the best way to message to our audiences as a result. We are working hard on global rights management, so we can get our content launched the same day in as many markets as possible.”

WHAT’S CHANGED ABOUT DEALMAKING IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS: “Over the last year, as the media industry has continued to evolve in the digital and mobile age, it has given Yahoo many new advantages as a mobile-first digital tech leader. There are far more opportunities for creativity, with conversations that start with a blank canvas that we can evolve into unique offerings.”

As the economic recovery has hit full steam, the flow of deals has returned in the television business. The lean and anxious times of the crash years have given way to a spate of pacts in all corners of the landscape, accelerated by an urgency to take full advantage of the tech innovations that have completely upended traditional models. Nowhere is the land grab more evident than in the content arena, a vast sector encompassing everything from subscription video-on-demand rights to international to coproduction agreements.

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