From Paul Lee’s perspective, the streaming boom that led Hollywood to binge on original content has evolved significantly during his half-dozen years as CEO of production company Wiip.
Over the past year, the industry has been through “a moment where the streaming revolution went from a land grab to ‘This land needs to be fertile,’ ” Lee says on the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”
Lee spent a dozen years at Disney, rising to become head of ABC Family and later head of ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios. He’s mostly kept a low profile since launching Wiip in partnership with CAA in 2016.
In its short life, Wiip has scored with such series as HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and “The White House Plumbers,” Amazon Prime Video’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty,” Apple TV+’s “Dickinson,” FX’s “Pistol” and more to come. In June 2021, South Korea’s JTBC Studios acquired a majority stake in Wiip after CAA was forced to divest its stake in the company as part of its settlement of the packaging fee battle with the Writers Guild of America.
Lee’s background at one of the biggest media companies gave him insights on how to build a better content boutique for the needs of the post-land grab market. Production entities like Wiip are a vital part of the creative economy and important for keeping ideas and talent flowing. Otherwise, giant vertically integrated companies will ossify, Lee observes.
“I’ve watched this again and again. The best solution for any platform, be it the old broadcast platforms or the new streaming platforms is to have a mixed economy. And by that I mean, we would would never have got to ‘Blackish’ if we hadn’t had ‘Modern Family’ that have come out of 20th Television,” Lee says. “What happens if you just buy from your own walled garden is that you, the ideas start to stagnate.”
Wiip brings to the market resources and savvy from Lee and the team of producers he’s assembled at the Los Angeles-based company. “What we knew was, particularly since since there are many, many buyers that at any given moment would be looking to see great ideas coming in from the outside,” he says. “And so if what we did was create terrific scripts, terrific projects, terrific ideas, and brought in the best talent, we would still never be the No. 1 favorite studio of a given streamer. But we could pitch to be their No. 2 or No. 3 favorite studio. And that’s a great position to be.”
Wiip has done most of its work for streaming platforms, though its most high-wattage production to date has been HBO’s Emmy-winning limited series “Mare of Easttown.” He’s seen first-hand the challenges posed for creative talent with the new models of production. Wiip’s Sunset Boulevard offices are just a few blocks west of Netflix, where striking writers have had a big picket presence since the Writers Guild of America strike began May 2.
Lee sees urgency for the industry to reach a fair deal for labor and management to preserve the creative economy that has created great entertainment and great profits over the past century.
“The most important thing is that streamers and talent and studios sit down and figure out a mechanism whereby we can share in the success that we all build together,” Lee says. “That’s how Hollywood has been so strong for the last 70 years. And if we could do that in a way that all parties will benefit, then it will bring a huge amount of storytelling strength for the next few decades to come.”
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and more. Go to Variety.com to sign up for the free weekly “Strictly Business” newsletter to receive the podcast each week along with curated business and financial news and analysis.