Jane Turton: We can do bigger, better, challenging things

Jane Turton: We can do bigger, better, challenging things

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Maggie Brown meets All3Media’s CEO Jane Turton, who knows the company inside out

There was a great deal of quiet satisfaction across the British production sector when Jane Turton was named Chief Executive of All3Media back in February. The steely, 53-year-old Scot had triumphed over external candidates following a five-month, global search by its new US owners, hard-driving Discovery Communications and Liberty Global, who paid around £550m for this important producer.

Instead of opting for a noisy outsider, an alpha name bent on making a mark, they backed the respected number two. Turton was deputy to one of All3’s key founders, Steve Morrison (who has left after 12 years), and then its CEO of two years, Farah Ramzan Golant, who facilitated the sale.

Lee Bartlett, who currently sits on the All3Media board as Discovery Studios Production Group President, explains: “Motivating talent is one of the greatest gifts an executive can have and Jane is very good at that. She has the right business skill sets and an understanding of the biggest markets for All3Media: the UK, the US and Germany.”

The former senior BBC and All3Media executive Wayne Garvie, now at Sony, says: “I’m a big fan, I really enjoyed working with her. She is fantastically bright, really able and good with creatives.” Talk to people in the industry who broker commercial deals opposite her and similar responses comes back.

Hilary Strong, Chief Executive of Agatha Christie Ltd, negotiated All3Media’s stake in the new BBC One drama Partners in Crime, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine, in return for distribution rights outside the US. She says Turton is “a brilliant choice” for a tough, challenging role.

Another outside operator adds: “Jane’s also nice to deal with, straightforward.”

The key to her ascent is that All3Media, composed of 18 smallish companies plus a rights business, operates in a federal manner, which is quite complicated to understand and manage.

As Turton explains, the individual operations are run by “these brilliant people, creative entrepreneurs” – which can also translate into lots of egos and angst.

All3Media includes Lion TV (Horrible Histories), Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks), Optomen (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares), One Potato Two Potato (a joint venture with Gordon Ramsay), Maverick TV (Embarrassing Bodies and interesting spin-offs), Little Dot Studios (YouTube channels), Objective Productions (entertainment and Derren Brown) and Studio Lambert (Gogglebox).

Stephen Lambert is a shining example of how All3Media accommodates and retains top talent.  In January, the influential creative and founder of Studio Lambert extended his contract to 2020.

Lambert took the pivotal role of Chair of All3Media’s US operations, which has been designated a key growth area. Unusually for the group, All3Media America has a unitary structure to better serve that market.

Turton runs the group from Holborn in London (though she is in the US when needed), with a central team of around 30 executives specialising in finance, human relations, corporate development, legal issues and rights.

Some 43% of the company’s close-to-£600m turnover is earned in the UK. Of the remainder, half (28%) is generated in the US.

So why does Turton think she got the job? Initially, she laughs about how it is hard for a self-deprecating British person to praise themselves. Then, she says: “Strong relationships with the operating companies, sector knowledge and, finally, I’m ambitious. I really want this business to grow.”

The months after the appointment proved how fast she could operate once freed from the company’s enforced period of inaction. This had been imposed when investor Permira went into sales mode after 2010 in a lengthy four-year search for a buyer.

Now that All3Media has wealthy US owners, she is able to spend and take full advantage of opportunities.

“We can take risks and carry deficits. With capital behind us, we can do bigger, better, challenging things,” she enthuses.

In March, Neal Street Productions – which makes Call the Midwife, Penny Dreadful, The Hollow Crown and stage hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – was bought for a sum believed to top £40m.

“We loved the programmes, the people, the exceptional talent. The catalogue is fabulous,” says Turton.Founded in 2003 by Pippa Harris, Sam Mendes and Caro Newling, Neal Street also saw in All3Media an alternative to purchase by a US studio.

“We always look at great acquisitions... and start-ups, too,” adds Turton. The deal means that she has enhanced the group’s high-end drama and film capacity – both eligible for tax breaks.  

Since then, Michele Buck, co-founder of Poldark producer Mammoth Screen (bought by ITV in June), has joined All3Media to run Company Pictures. Company is off its peak after the flop of BBC One drama The White Queen and the departure of its founders.

Turton says: “She’s a very classy drama producer and will bring an energy and focus [to the company].

"This is a critical part of Turton’s role: refreshing talent in the companies. “Absolutely, [it is] a constant process,” says Turton. She previously worked with Buck at United Productions and ITV between 1998 and 2007.

In another fast move, in April, Turton hired the highly experienced Sara Geater as Chief Operating Officer (her own former role), reinforcing the central team. Geater is a close friend of Turton’s and oversaw a major restructuring of FremantleMedia UK as its Chief Executive. She pushed its “label” strategy by setting up genre specialists, such as Euston Films, Boundless and Retort. Her previous posts include Head of Commercial Affairs at Channel 4 and Director of Rights and Business Affairs at the BBC. But the process is never finished. Entertainment producer Objective has recently lost its founders, one of them to ITV Studios.

Turton has never worked in television production. She took a French degree at St Andrews and then worked abroad in the paper industry. Her father had a printing company and she thought she might take over the business.

After five years, she decided she didn’t want to spend her life in that sector, so went to Cranfield and did an MBA. That led her to PwC, where she was a consultant for two years.

When Clive Hollick’s MAI won the Meridian ITV franchise in 1993, Turton joined his management team. AsITV consolidated, she became Controller of Business Affairs at United Productions and then at LWT as well; and, ultimately, Director of Business Affairs for the whole network, before joining All3Media in 2008 as Director of Business Development and Business Affairs. 

Along the way, she married another PwC employee and they have three children, 21, 19 and 16. She has a house in Fife, Scotland, where they holiday, and has inherited her parents’ home in Tuscany.

One key to All3Media’s success, Turton believes, has been its flexibility in the deals it strikes with its customers, the broadcasters: “You win by being flexible. You have got to be nimble, you must adapt to the environment.”

All3Media is very willing, she says, to deficit finance and enter into joint-­venture arrangements. “We have a history of being good partners,” she insists. “We are very, very driven and commercial. We will do anything to fund things. This is a changing world”.

“We would love to make some more programmes for Discovery – that would be cool.” But she doesn’t have an output deal. Turton says the business link is of particular interest to All3Media’s North One factual independent, which is based in Birmingham.

She says she would love to extend the group’s geographical spread in Europe beyond Germany and the Netherlands, something that dovetails with both Discovery’s and Liberty’s ambitions. Inevitably, the US is also on her agenda.

Turton says she is “far from complacent about the challenges” she faces. As we talk, she has the Ofcom report on public service broadcasting in front of her. It charts the 15% drop in investment in new British PSB content between 2008 and 2014.  

“I always say that we should be ­terribly proud of what we do in this country, creating world-beating formats,” says Turton. “We are an extraordinary nation. Let’s celebrate that.”