Connection III Entertainment Corp. is a Los Angeles based award-winning, Emmy-nominated producer and distributor of family friendly, multicultural media content whose licensees and sponsors include broadcast, cable networks, major studios and national advertisers.
Cleveland O’Neal III is the Founder and CEO who also serves as Creator and Executive Producer of Connection III Entertainment’s 3 nationally syndicated weekly TV series: “Made In Hollywood”, “Made In Hollywood: Teen Edition”, and “Live Life and Win!”. All three series are available in 107 million U.S. TV homes with a gross average audience of 5.5 million viewers and licensees including CBS Television Stations, Inc. and the Fox Television Stations. Connection III’s broadcast network, cable and major studio licensees have included HBO, LIFETIME, CBS-TV, STARZ, ABC FAMILY, BMG VIDEO, ORION PICTURES, and LIONSGATE.
Stars, directors and producers take viewers on a tour of HOW projects are “Made in Hollywood”, now in its 8th season. The FCC Friendly, Educational/Informational, weekly series spin-off, “Made in Hollywood: Teen Edition” is currently in its 7th season in first-run syndication. In its 2nd season, “Live, Life and Win“ is a weekly educational-informational series highlighting inspirational teen success stories. Connection III is proud of its track record as the first to bring diversity across a variety of media platforms through its library of properties.
O’Neal shares how he built a successful and profitable company through hard work and realizing the importance of content ownership in today’s business environment.
Q: What obstacles did you have to overcome in starting your own company?
CO: We’re proudly an old school broadcaster in the way show business is structured. We develop, create, produce and distribute programming content that goes from our HQ via satellite over-the-air to our TV viewers. Thanks to our marketing partnership with MovieTickets.com, people can also watch our segments on their mobile devices or online before they buy a movie ticket. When you look at a Fortune or Inc. Magazine, you see how entrepreneurial many other industries are, but show business has never been entrepreneurial. The only folks who have been truly entrepreneurial were the founding fathers of Hollywood, such as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Brothers and the Fox family (who built those studios). Those guys were entrepreneurial and they went about setting up a system where very few people had ownership. You had actors, directors and producers under contract, yet, no one owned anything. To this day in Hollywood, the great majority of ownership rests with the 6 or 7 majors who are now multi-billion dollar conglomerates.
That was a gigantic obstacle to first gain the perspective that few producers own anything in Hollywood. Even many Hollywood legends who are presumed to be major entrepreneurs in this business are actually highly paid employees of the studios. For example, a “Producer” that makes Academy Award-winning pictures may make an enormous amount of money, but if someone asks if they own that Academy Award-winning movie they would have to say no, it belongs to Warner Brothers or whatever studio. In my mind that is not a true entrepreneur, although they got a check. It took me years to figure this out within the confines of our business. One may have a multi-million dollar home in Malibu and they may have an Oscar and not own anything, except their home, which is very nice.
As an entrepreneur, it was a tough process in the 90s as I built this business to begin to learn that it is all about ownership. I was very fortunate because I was at the tail end of the after-school special business. The after-school special network model (ABC/CBS) was based on the traditional network licensing system. The old school network licensing system made the founding fathers of modern television like Aaron Spelling very wealthy. Spelling ended up owning his library. In those days you would go in, the network would write you a license fee check and you’d make the TV series or several episodes and the episode would get 1-2 runs. The ownership and copyright of those episodes would come back to you. That’s exactly the thing that modern day television pioneers like Aaron Spelling ended up doing. The Fin-syn Rule (The Financial Interest and Syndication Rules) came in to play in the 70s-80’s. Things started changing and all the conglomerates changed their positions because networks realized they were letting people like Spelling get filthy rich off their backs. If the network didn’t broadcast the show Spelling didn’t have a show, so networks realized they should own the shows and in fact started developing their own in-house production outfits. Then vertical integration happened where you had studios actually owning networks that are here today. Things really changed and that ownership structure changed.
Q: How did you set forth a plan to become an entrepreneur?
CO: You have a young guy who wants to be an entrepreneur in the 90s (me) and here comes the after-school special and the network says, “By the way Cleveland, the way this works is that you create and develop the concept. We license it from you and we get a couple of runs, two actually. Then the copyright, master and ownership goes back to you. The good news is that you’ll own it. The bad news is, what do you do with it once its run? It’s almost worthless after the network runs, which is why we’re doing this for you.” What that did for me was set me off on a true entrepreneurship path in show business. Once you have a taste of content ownership, I don’t know how one can go backward to become a producer-employee. We’re not producers-for-hire at Connection III and we’re not producer-employees. We control 100% — from the concept of an idea, to production, distribution, licensing of that concept — it is ours and I built it that way. Those were the obstacles frankly as we continued to grow and as we made our first theatrical motion picture “PHAT Beach.” One of the reasons we don’t do motion pictures as much is that it’s highly risky and it’s not structured for entrepreneurship. You can only go so far in terms of independently creating, producing and distributing movies.
When it comes to the theatrical distribution of a motion picture there are very few indies owning theatrical distributed movies. Even a Tyler Perry movie is distributed by Lionsgate. Studios own most theatrical movies so that a producer either needs a strong partnership with a studio or one becomes a producer-employee of the studio. There is no model in motion pictures where you can own and distribute properties independently like you can in television. Music and TV do have routes for true entrepreneurship, but not motion pictures.
Q: Do you have a production facility that you tape your segments?
CO: We do have our own production and post production facility. We built our own state-of-the art digital studio which has all of the bells and whistles as we continue to push forward with our digital initiatives, which is imperative. We are 100% in-house and we also shoot on location significantly.
Q: Describe Connection III as a company and an employer of choice.
CO: Coming from a television and theatrical movie background where I was always the hands-on producer, the biggest challenge is replacing me on my corporate organization chart. I used to do
everything alone and I’ve grown. I’ve filled most of these roles by cherry-picking my hires in each of these areas, and as we grow as a corporation in terms of our human resources, values and culture are very important if we want to be a non-traditional Hollywood company. I’m from the mid-west and we run an honest, ethical organization.
We have a dichotomy here because the traditional Hollywood crew base is a little more wild, wild, west. They go from show-to-show, movie-to-movie. We’ve had to hire people from show-to-show sometimes and it’s very hard for us to get a culture fit at times. Our staff has been with the company for years. We’re able to find folks who fit into our corporate culture which is extremely important. It took me years to figure that out. I was asking myself, “Why isn’t this crew thing gelling right?” Eventually, it became obvious to me that what you need to do is just as Woody Allen does as a director. The best way to run a culture-based corporation is for the crew to be identical project-to-project and not deal with the traditional problems of revolving staff.
We have a core staff of approximately 15. It grows project-to-project, and if we’re doing a TV movie it swells to 50 or more. Our base staff, post production and production team is pretty stable for our 3 weekly syndicated TV series. We deliver in our case on a Tuesday-Wednesday in our world. In the syndication world with newsmagazine type series it’s always: “what about next week’s show?”. The train starts all over again with next week’s episode. With “Made In Hollywood”, there is always a new movie to cover every week. Well, we can’t say “we won’t cover this blockbuster, let’s take the week off.” You can’t do that.
Q: What are your plans to expand into digital?
CO: We do plan to take advantage of the digital world given that we have created several brands and franchises. We truly like creating brands and franchises like “Made In Hollywood” or “Phat Beach,” which has a chance of becoming a sequel one day. Most of what we’ve created are brands like our movie & specials franchise “What About Your Friends: Graduation Blues,” the award-winning special, or “What About Your Friends: Weekend Getaway,” which was a UPN world premiere TV movie. We’re the only company that ever created, produced and distributed an original TV movie on UPN. It just wasn’t their model and we were able to do that and expand our franchise.
When you have great brands, you want to continue to build and extend these brands across multiple platforms, which is generally our goal. It is a challenge for a smaller company to produce & distribute 3 nationally syndicated weekly TV series, it’s not the easiest thing to do. We want to continue to grow those brands and get the renewals and grow the ratings. However, we also want to explore multiple platforms. Our competitors are developing the ability to exploit their programming on a digital platform and that is on the horizon for us. We certainly want to, whether it would be on a YouTube, our own channel, Hulu or any of the over-the-top boxes. We have some absolutely terrific opportunities to grow our brands across the new media digital spectrum.
To learn more about Connection III Entertainment Corp. or their syndicated shows visit www.connection3.com. Check your local listings to find out when “Made in Hollywood,” “Made in
Hollywood: Teen Edition,” or “Live, Life and Win!” air in your area. Join them on Facebook and Twitter.