Darren Throop would like you to know that he has a cool leather jacket, even if he's not wearing it today.
As the president and CEO of Entertainment One Ltd., Canada's largest independent film and television distributor, Mr. Throop is aware that he has to show some flair, maybe even a rebellious streak. The whole industry, after all, is built on stories. EOne has spent the past decade hoovering up assets from some of Canada's biggest media companies, including Alliance Films, so he stands on the shoulders of swashbuckling pioneers such as Robert Lantos and Victor Loewy. But Mr. Throop, who grew up on a family farm in the middle of Alberta and spent his mornings before school and his evenings after dinner milking cows with his three siblings, does not swash and he possesses no fancy buckle. At 50, he retains the air of a Boy Scout, rising every morning at 5:30 to hit the treadmill. And he wasn't crazy about meeting for this post-lunch snack at the Four Seasons Hotel the other day, a few blocks from eOne's midtown Toronto headquarters.
But it is awards season – the Oscars are this Sunday, and the Canadian Screen Awards next Sunday will see a number of eOne's films and TV shows strut their stuff – so he's here in a quiet corner table as the afternoon lull sets in at the luxe lounge known as d-bar, sipping some chamomile tea, nibbling on a cheese plate and musing on whether giving away a Darren Throop bobblehead might relieve him of the need to do this sort of PR.
"I've always tried to keep the focus on the company and the actions and the results of the company. I've always been convinced that will speak to the marketplace. But we're not very visible in Canada," he says. "That has been, to a degree, by design. We just haven't been pushing the story in the Canadian marketplace like some of our predecessors and our counterparts currently are. They're always doing whatever they can do to get their name in the press."
EOne is trying to get its name in the press a little more (and not just with this interview). It is making splashy moves, such as the planned relocation of its 500-employee Toronto operations this summer to a downtown architectural showpiece, the QRC West building, just a stone's throw from the headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival.
It's an odd business, this business of show, because credit for success – and, especially, the spotlight – goes to those who work most assiduously to claim it. But eOne is a sprawling beast, as much a holding company as a brand, which has been steadily acquiring companies over the past five years; 18 months ago it landed on the London Stock Exchange's FTSE 250. Its activities now include film production and theatrical distribution, television production and distribution, home entertainment (the DVD sales that once formed the company's backbone are flagging, but still money-spinners), family entertainment and brand licensing, and music.
And though you wouldn't know it, because eOne executives don't work the red carpet, it has become a bigger player in the feature film business by buying rights to independent films in territories such as the U.K. and the Benelux countries before they go into production.
"We have a big part in the financial orchestration of those films, and then, of course, their distribution, but we're not in the tent-pole business," he says, referring to the blockbusters that cost upwards of $200-million (U.S.). "So that does mitigate the story. Our story's about brand and about content. So, while we're a very, very big media spender in Canada, that media spend is distributed across so many different properties that, really, as a core competency of the business, we're supposed to be bringing life to those brands, and this television show, and that children's property and that music artist."
It was music, in fact, that gave Mr. Throop his start, and gave eOne serious scale. In his late 20s, he and his wife Tish, a Newfoundlander who was homesick for the the East Coast, moved to Halifax. He didn't yet know which route he would take.
"I knew I didn't want to be doing what I was doing – which was staying home," he says. "I wanted to be in business. I wanted to own something. I wanted to build something."
After trying his hand in a number of businesses (tanning salon, a restaurant, car sales), he opened the record store Urban Sound Exchange and built it into a chain. He sold that in 1999 to the music and video retailer CD Plus and took the position there of vice-president of operations. Later, he oversaw the acquisition of the indie music label Koch Records and christened the new company Entertainment One. It now has 1,700 employees. Last year, the company's revenues exceeded 819-million pounds ($1.3-billion Cdn).
With boots on the ground in dozens of countries, Mr. Throop believes eOne can double its business over the next five years, building on its position as an independent film distributor – it will release more than 200 features across multiple territories this year – and riding the wave of increased demand for television content. It reps the TV channel AMC (The Walking Dead) internationally. And while the streaming TV service Amazon Prime is known in the United States for its breakout show Transparent, the service doesn't have the same content in all countries across the globe, so it also needs to buy shows outside of its home market. So eOne sold AMC shows to Amazon Prime in the U.K. and Germany. "They're paying the same money as traditional television," he says.
Last month, eOne struck another in a growing string of deals, this time with the Hollywood producer Mark Gordon (Grey's Anatomy, Ray Donovan) that will give him access to eOne's financial resources and distribution network. "Mark was under a studio deal for a long time, so when you have a studio deal, most of your creative is shown to the studio, and they have a very specific market. Unfortunately, the creative – a lot of that gets left on the floor," Mr. Throop explains.
"This gives him an opportunity to bring so many different projects to the table, and we can finance, we can sell internationally. We're not tied to any one buyer or any one studio or broadcaster. We sell to 500 broadcasters around the world, in 160, 170 countries."
Over the past few years, audiences across the globe have begun to slip the surly bonds of linear television – the need to plant themselves in front of a TV to watch a show when it is broadcast for the first time – to curate their own TV diets with new on-demand services, whether through traditional TV providers or so-called 'over-the-top' (OTT) offerings such as Netflix, Shomi, Hulu, Amazon Prime or CraveTV. But while that development has been rapid in North America, Mr. Throop notes that many other countries are years behind in the cycle. With staff in those countries, eOne is well placed to take advantage of the shifts as they occur.
Meanwhile, global TV viewership continues to rise. By developing deep relationships with producers, and positioning itself as a middleman between them and viewers, eOne makes its cut, regardless of how the content is consumed.
"The audience continues to grow. The channels of distribution continue to grow," says Mr. Throop.
"From my point of view, it's still the start of the cycle. There are new channels of distribution popping up on a daily basis – with the same desire, everybody needs exactly the same thing: You could white label an OTT service right now for $1-million, but what do they need? They need content. High-quality, exclusive content. And that's really where we're driving our business: Partner with the best that we can on the creative side, and make sure we're front of the line as these new channels of distribution emerge. So we're not an infrastructure play, we're a pure-play content company."
Born: September, 1964. Grew up on the family farm (dairy cows, range cows, wheat, barley) 10 kilometres from Bashaw, Alta., northeast of Red Deer.
Family: Married to Tish, a social worker, for 23 years. They have two daugthers, 18 and 19.
Education: Graduated Grade 12 from Bashaw School.
1991: Moved to Halifax in where he sold cars, operated a tanning salon, ran a restaurant, and then founded the record store chain Urban Sound Exchange.
1999: Sold out to music/video retailer CD Plus and became its vice-president of operations.
2001: Relocated to Toronto.
2003: Became president and CEO of ROW Entertainment, a predecessor to eOne.
eOne holdings include: The Mark Gordon Company (Grey's Anatomy, Criminal Minds), children's franchise Peppa Pig, Paperny Entertainment (Cold Water Cowboys, Yukon Gold, Chopped Canada), Force Four Entertainment (Seed, Border Security: Canada's Front Line). Partnerships with ICF Films (Rookie Blue, Saving Hope), Allan Hawco's Take The Shot Productions, Amaze Film + Television (Call Me Fitz). First-look deal with producer David Lancaster (Whiplash, Nightcrawler).
On Canadian cultural regulations, and living next to the U.S.: "It's just not a fair comparison to say, 'You [in the U.S.] have 350 million people to program for, and you [in Canada] have 35 million people to program for, so you have one-tenth the budget, go do the same thing.' So, our culture needs to be protected."
Editor's Note: In an earlier version of this story, Entertainment One's revenue for 2014 was identified incorrectly to be in Canadian dollars instead of British pounds. This version has been updated.