Fremantle UK CEO Amelia Brown began working for the company as a runner. Tara Conlan discovers the secret of her success
There is an irony to Amelia Brown’s rise to the top of the TV tree. The Fremantle UK CEO says: “My mother was hilariously strict with my TV watching and would not let me watch much of it… So, I would rebel and watch it where and when I could... she was a bit of a TV snob.”
She and her mum subsequently saw the funny side when Brown found success working on ITV hits Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent and reminded her mother: “You wouldn’t even let me watch ITV!”
Today, she heads up one of the largest super-indies in the UK: Fremantle UK has 12 labels and had a UK production turnover of £182.6m in 2022, up 50% on the previous year.
Brown oversees corporate strategy in the UK and is responsible for the output of Britain’s Got Talent co-producer Thames (which turned over £53.3m in 2022), Too Hot to Handle to QI producer Talkback (£31.8m) and Naked – which almost doubled its revenues in the last financial year to £59.7m and is home to hits such as Grand Designs, Escape to the Country and NBC’s Couple to Throuple.
Brown is also on the Fremantle Global Leadership Board, reporting to the Group CEO, Jennifer Mullin.
Born in London (where she lives with her husband, who works in the music industry, and two young children), but brought up near Newmarket in Suffolk, Brown was not from a media background – her father is a meat trader – but she enjoyed putting on school plays, as well as being fascinated by TV.
Brown began her career at the company as a runner on Pop Idol in about 2003, moving up to production secretary before working on The X Factor and Got Talent in the US and UK.
Apart from a brief spell freelancing at Lime Pictures, she has spent her entire career at Fremantle, joining the staff in 2013. Four years later, she became Managing Director at Thames TV.
Brown is renowned for being good with stars. Charlie Irwin, Managing Director of Fremantle label Thames, says: “Amelia’s approach to working with talent is to treat them just as you would anyone else.
“She is approachable, honest and takes a no-nonsense approach, as well as being very skilled at collaborating and making talent feel heard rather than overproduced.”
When asked how she manages talent, Brown says: “The really important thing I try to tell the team is... no one thinks the same as I or you do.”
Katie Rawcliffe, ITV Head of Entertainment Commissioning, says Brown “leads from the front” and is “smart, thoughtful [and] instinctive” plus “very supportive of everyone she works with”.
Rawcliffe says people “clearly respect her as she has grown up within the world of entertainment television and worked on some of the biggest shows in the genre,” plus she brings “great enthusiasm and flair”.
In 2023, Brown announced she was leaving to set up her own company as she wanted a “new challenge,” but stayed after being offered the CEO role in April following Simon Andreae’s surprise departure, “because Fremantle has always been very, very good to me. And this is a really good place to be.”
There have been challenges, notably ex-BGT judge David Walliams suing Fremantle over a leaked transcript of him making sexist remarks and a commissioning slowdown due to streamers cutting back and broadcasters tightening budgets.
Brown says working at Fremantle for so long helped her galvanize staff and, while the economic climate is difficult, she says it creates, “scope for rethinking things”.
A key priority is making employees “feel the same way I do about Fremantle. It’s a really good place to work... and we [have] a brilliant history.... We just need to realign the ducks a little bit.”
This year will be “hard across the board” but “there are people open for business”. She says she is focusing her “effort into 2025 and beyond and making sure that we’ve got the right people, the right ideas and the [right] culture; we’re heading towards our goals and vision; and our strategy is clear”.
Part of Bertelsmann-owned RTL Group, Fremantle (which is on a roll with the much-nominated film Poor Things and a first-look deal with Alice & Jack producer Me+You Productions) has a rich history that helps keep it strong as commissioners seek legacy IP to help cut through – proven recently by the return of Amazon-owned MGM’s Gladiators on BBC One. Middle Eastern money eyeing up archive IP also makes the jewels in Fremantle’s catalogue crown more valuable.
Could The X Factor be reinvented one day, too? She admits to a “big soft spot” for the show and says the programme still has about 95% brand recognition, with clips often used on TikTok. “So I always think, when you have that, you should never say never,” she says.
With shows ranging from The Price is Right to My Brilliant Friend, Fremantle has a lot of IP that can be mined for ideas. But, says Brown, the goal is still to create new formats rather than relying on archive.
She acknowledges that the industry has changed and highlights something Fremantle Global Entertainment Director Andrew Llinares said to her. “We need to consider ourselves content producers not TV producers any more,” she explains, because of the new platforms such as short-form and podcasts and partnership options. “It automatically stops us all thinking in an old-school way of going: ‘We make it for this, and we make it like this and we do deals like this.’”
She predicts a rise in “different revenue streams around known brands”, and is interested in “scripted IP and brands playing back into the unscripted world.” Squid Game: The Challenge has shown how successful that can be.
Brown is renowned for her cohesive can-do candour and solution-solving with a smile. “My approach has always been that, whatever the stress, whatever the issue”, it is a “privilege” and “exciting” to work in TV, she says. “It’s meant to be fun! It takes more energy to be awful than it does to be nice.”
Partnerships are Fremantle’s speciality, notably with Simon Cowell and with 72 Films and EON on quiz show 007: Road to a Million.
Brown thinks collaborations are key: “It’s finding opportunities in other places and thinking: ‘I might not get all the pieces of that really big pie, but I might get a small piece of many more pies.’
Phil Harris, Channel 4 entertainment boss and former Creative Director at Thames, is returning to Fremantle to set up his label, BoldPrint Studios, but expansion, Brown says, is done “case by case... For me, it’s about the people.”
Fremantle is reportedly on course to hit €3bn of revenue by 2025. The UK is just one of its 27 territories, but Brown says the UK did well last year.
However, she recognises it is currently “really tough” for freelancers: “They are the heartbeat of our industry”, so production companies have a “responsibility” towards them.
As for her own current TV tastes, they include True Detective, The Traitors and “lots of Bluey”, thanks to her children. She is a long-standing fan of The Apprentice.
Brown may have started out at apprentice level at Fremantle, but she is relishing sitting at the head of the boardroom table.