New Value for Shows Like ‘Mad Men’: Lions Gate CEO

After a long hiatus, the fifth season of “Mad Men” premieres Sunday, with plot details under tighter security than a Facebook IPO.

Photo: AMC

While you have to wait to find out what happens to Don Draper and the rest of the 1960s advertising agency, series creator Matt Weiner told CNBC Wednesday the hiatus wasn’t something he wanted.

“We do believe in scarcity. We only have 13 episodes this season. But there was a programming decision by the network we would not be on the air” for 17 months. “I thought it was crazy,” he said. “I fought it, but it turns out it might be OK."

Weiner, Jon Feltheimer, CEO of “Mad Men” producer Lions Gate Entertainment, and members of the cast rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday.

Jon Hamm, the actor who plays lead character Don Draper, said he was surprised the series has lasted so long, and noted its affect on AMC, once part of Cablevision Systems.

“We started this trip six years ago, a little show on a network that had no original programming, and here we are six years later and they’ve got a stable of shows on AMC,” he said. “We’re just thrilled to be back and thrilled we’ve made this impact.”

Shows like “Mad Men” succeed because there is now “an opportunity to take a risk on television. The audience is smaller. What’s happening with Lions Gate and AMC is they’re willing to take a risk,” series creator Weiner said. “Adult programming with a niche audience is a business,” particularly at a time when these kind of films don’t exist anymore. “The talent has gone to television, where there is creative freedom," he said.

For those who like to marathon-watch TV shows, the series will again be seen on Netflix, although not simultaneously with the AMC run. That was also intentional, Lions Gate’s Feltheimer said. “The great thing about Netflix, the great thing about online viewing, is now these serialized dramas create a chance for people to catch up,” which creates “new value for shows like ‘Mad Men.’ ”

Television makes up about 22 percent of Lions Gate’s revenue. On the movie side, Feltheimer told CNBC you can expect to see a lot more “repeatable” franchise films coming.

“We started thinking three or four years ago, how do we have more franchises that are repeatable?” he said. “It makes it a lot easier to do and you don’t have to start from scratch” with an audience.

That strategy seems to be working and the “company is growing beautifully,” he said. Besides “The Hunger Games,” there will be an “Expendables 2” film, and a new franchise based on the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” books.

Can you expect more acquisitions from Lions Gate now that it has acquired Summit Entertainment, and expects to break its previous box office record with “The Hunger Games”?

“We’re not shy about looking at acquisitions when it’s the right timing and right opportunity," Feltheimer said.

The strategy has been grow slowly, he said.

“Take the moderate amount of risk, build value for the shareholders. I think that continues to be our strategy," he added. "We’re not going to be out there boasting about ‘Hunger Games’. I think it’s going to do pretty well. We’re going to build value and keep building value.”