It was a whim of fate that first put Cécile Frot-Coutaz on the path to becoming CEO of Sky Studios, to which she was appointed last year.
“I think we all have [those] moments that have a significant impact on your trajectory”, says Frot-Coutaz Variety. “You might not really realize it when it’s happening, but when you look back later you can see the thread.”
For Frot-Coutaz, which receives Variety‘s Intl. Achievement in TV Award at MipTV, that moment was a decision by his father, a French scholar, to accept a three-year position just outside of Washington, DC, and bring his family with him. At age 8, Frot-Coutaz arrived in the United States without knowing a word of English and with little understanding of American culture. “At that time, the world was less global,” she says. But she quickly learned the language and “fell in love with the United States” as its culture and diversity broadened her horizons. More than that, adds Frot-Coutaz, being “thrown into a completely alien environment that you don’t understand and have to understand, have to adapt to, I think is an incredibly valuable skill.”
Frot-Coutaz returned to France to complete her studies, specializing in commerce and eventually training as a management consultant. But looking at the all-male partnership of the company where she trained, Frot-Coutaz quickly realized her future lay in a different industry. “I didn’t see myself in these leaders,” she recalls. “Therefore, for me, it was not an inspiring or ambitious path.”
It also didn’t help that management consulting turned out to be more focused on analyzing a business than building it. “You’re not the one rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty and taking responsibility for the outcome,” she says. “Some people love it and that’s great. But for me, it was deeply unsatisfying.
This is how Frot-Coutaz ended up working for the Pearson Group, a publishing house where she was initially responsible for strategy and mergers and acquisitions related to its TV business, Pearson TV (later to become Fremantle) . His boss was a certain Greg Dyke, who would eventually be appointed director general of the BBC.
“The first day, he told me two things,” recalls Frot-Coutaz. “The first was that he didn’t trust the French and the second was that ‘strategy is when you [try to] rationalize something that went well.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I’m French and I do strategy. It’s not a good start,’ she laughs. She didn’t know, ‘it was actually a very good start. .”
Dyke has become “one of the best mentors I’ve ever had,” says Frot-Coutaz. He eventually cast her in her first operational television role, handling the Southern European region of a new venture that Pearson TV had just purchased, called All American Fremantle. When she expressed surprise, “He said, ‘Well, what’s the worst that can happen?’ “, she says. “And that’s how I got thrown into the operational part of television. I think that’s when I really fell in love with it.
Dyke’s instincts were clearly there. Frot-Coutaz then spent more than 20 years in Fremantle, producing shows that also served as cultural touchstones, including “American Idol”, “The X Factor USA” and “America’s Got Talent”, alongside Simon Cowell , before rising through the ranks to become the company’s global CEO. Tellingly, even the notoriously hard-to-please Cowell sings its praises.
Brass: Matt Squire/Sky UK
“[Cécile] is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, one of the funniest too and definitely the hardest working,” he told Variety. “I can truly say she is the best partner I have ever had in my life and as a leader she never gives up.”
In 2018, looking for a new challenge, Frot-Coutaz made the leap to YouTube as EMEA Manager, a role that fit perfectly with the global vision she had honed in Fremantle. “It was really important to me that we were running a global business,” she says. “And by that I mean we haven’t treated non-English speaking markets as ‘international’. When you’re in France, you don’t consider yourself international, do you? You are French, and you make French content for French customers, for French viewers. And so, giving each culture their space and allowing them to be creative, was really, really important.
Frot-Coutaz’s colleagues at YouTube were also thrilled to have him on board. “It was a career highlight for me to have Cécile as a colleague for several years leading YouTube in Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” said Matt Brittin, President, EMEA, at YouTube Owner, Google. “Her experience, her clarity of thought, her empathy and her sense of fun make it a pleasure to work with her. She has really helped our teams unite around YouTube in each country, understand and share the magic of local content creators, the passion of audiences and the power of the platform for advertisers. »
While Frot-Coutaz describes her three years on YouTube as “an incredibly rich and wonderful experience”, ultimately it is first and foremost a platform and she soon found herself “missing content”.
When the opportunity arose just three years later to run Sky Studios, Sky’s production arm, Frot-Coutaz couldn’t resist. Not only is Sky both a platform and a content creator – a “really big” mix, she says – but she was drawn to the fact that it’s a direct-to-consumer company. “It’s a data-driven company,” says Frot-Coutaz, his management consulting background showing. “The combination of a company that understands the importance of branded and premium content with the platform part of it is incredibly compelling.”
Frot-Coutaz is approaching her first full year in the role, which she has indeed metaphorically spent rolling up her sleeves and getting her hands dirty, including getting to grips with Sky Studios’ global portfolio, which includes Blast! Films, Jupiter Entertainment, True North and ‘Great British Bake Off’ creator Love Prods., as well as a soon-to-open state-of-the-art production facility, Sky Studios Elstree.
“I am not a creative. I will never be a creative,” says Frot-Coutaz. “Corn [at Fremantle], I took the time to really sit deep enough in the shows. … I was very, very involved with our shows and with the shows talent, because I think you have to show justice on every show, you have to do what’s right for that creative proposition and you have to understand it and be on the side of the people.
“If you want to be a creative business, you have to empower creative people and you give them a place where they feel they can do their best,” she says.
That said, Frot-Coutaz “does not always stay in the weeds”, she notes. “Once I’ve done my deep dive and have a good understanding, then I step back and I [only] get into the weeds when I need to. But right now, I’m probably a bit in the weeds. This is no doubt partly because Sky has what it describes as “very ambitious” plans: “The market is changing, it’s always changing, it’s very dynamic.”
One of Sky Studios’ main goals is to create flagship content that viewers associate with Sky. “We’re here to serve Sky customers,” says Frot-Coutaz, citing shows such as “Gangs of London” and “Brassic” as those that particularly resonated with audiences. “We’re not here to sell to the BBC or ITV first, we’re here to deliver content that our customers believe is worth paying for. […] and obviously we need to step it up and do more in the future.
Presumably, the pressure on Sky Studios is even more acute given that Sky’s output deal with HBO is likely to end when the term ends. “We’re never going to be a volume player,” she says. “We’re not Netflix, we’re not going to be Netflix. The mission is to curate a list of Sky Originals shows that obviously elevate our brand and that our customers recognize as a key part of the offering.
Among that offering is Sky Studios’ first-ever all-in-house series, “The Rising,” which premiered at the Berlinale Series in February alongside Sky Original “The Fear Index.” Still to come this year are “Blocco 181”, “Munich Match” and the return of “Gangs of London”.
Having worked on some real juggernaut shows in his career, not to mention a sparkling roster of talent, is there one pinch moment that stands out from the rest? Frot-Coutaz is silent briefly.
“Oh my God, there were quite a few,” she said before choosing one. “We are negotiating [fees] with Steven Tyler; he came to ‘American Idol’ when Simon Cowell left,” she recalled. “And I was invited to his concert. Aerosmith was playing in Orange County. I was standing on the stage – on the side where the equipment is – and between two songs, he came up to me and whispered in my ear: “Not enough”.
Like in Fremantle, they didn’t offer enough money? “Yeah,” she laughs before mimicking Tyler’s emphatic whisper, “Not enough. »
“That, in terms of anecdotes, is always good.”
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