Den of Thieves Delivers For E!’s People’s Choice Awards

When The People Choice Awards moved to E! from CBS last year, the cable network’s choice to produce the show was Den of Thieves.

Den of Thieves is known for producing live television events, including award shows like MTV’s Video Music Awards for 13 consecutive years, concerts by artists including Taylor Swift for Netflix and comedy specials starring Mike Epps and Ken Jeong. This year, the Thieves are back producing the People’s Choice Awards and E!’s red carpet show, which airs Sunday.

“The are an extraordinarily creative group of talented people,” said Jen Neal, general manager, E! News, Live Events and Lifestyle Digital. “They had really big ambitions to reimagine what the People’s Choice Awards was for a younger audience that’s connected to all things pop culture.”

They impressed network execs with their pitch and then they were great to work with. “It was like working with an extended team,” Neal said. That made expanding the relationship to include the red carpet an easy choice. “We liked their connection to culture and pop culture,” she said.

Den of Thieves was formed in 2007 by co-founders executive producers Jesse Ignjatovic, who had been with MTV, and Evan Prager, who had been with Epic Records. They met in 1995 and worked together on an Oasis Rockumentary.

“We both have our strengths, and at the end of the day we’re pretty like-minded. And, we share the same vision for the company. But, most importantly we’re best friends and like being around each other,” said Prager. “It’s starts there and that’s ultimately why it works.”

They thought the name--Den of Thieves--just sounded interesting, Ignjatovic said. “Believe it or not, the other options were worse.”

Producing live events is an important skill that keeps them in demand. “We love live broadcasting. I think there’s nothing like it,” Ignjatovic said. “It puts talent in places where something special can happen.”

Last year, they redesigned the People’s Choice award show for E!’s younger audience. The moved it from a theater environment to seating the celebrities at tables, to make it more of a party, Prager said.

“We got great feedback in the [audience] numbers and also that it was a really good event for the talent,” Ignjatovic said. “I think that’s something that gets overlooked is making sure that the people that are attending these shows have a good time so they want to come back year after year and tell their friends.”

The 2018 People’s Choice Award’s reached 4.1 million total viewers, including 1.8 million adults in the 18 to 49 demographic, across E! and its sister NBCUniversal networks USA, Syfy, Bravo and Universo. On E!, it was the youngest-skewing People’s Choice Awards, with four times the concentration of 18 to 34 year old viewers than the previous year’s teelcast on CBS.

It produced 34 million engagements with digital and social content produced by the network and was the most social cable telecast in the fall of 2018.

The People’s Choice Awards generated $7.5 million in ad revenue, according to an estimate from iSpot.TV, nearly even with the $8.1 million in ads sold by CBS in the award show in 2017.

The top advertisers last year were Subaru, eBay, L’Oreal Paris, Zales and Metro by T-Mobile, said.

This year, “we want to build and make it better and I think that begins with talent outreach,” said Ignjatovic.

The show will again be televised across multiple NBCU Networks, including USA, Syfy and Bravo. It will also go global, including on Sky, the European satellite broadcaster acquired by NBCU parent Comcast.

This year’s show will get starpower from its Icon award winners, with Jennifer Aniston receiving the People’s Icon Award, Gwen Stefani getting the Fashion Icon Award and Pink accepting the People’s Champion Award.

There will also be live performances by Alessia Cara and Kelsea Ballerini.

Prager said the production will aim to keep the mix of fan-voted awards along with the tentpole award presentations.

“The format really works. It’s a fast-paced show that super-serves the fans. The talent really want to be there to to thank the fans. It’s really a special show in that respect because everyone turns out because it’s a fan-voted award,” Prager said.

The awards show won’t have a host, something that’s become a bit of a trend on award shows. “Hosting is a tough gig and I think less people want to take that on. But I don’t necessarily think it’s a negative thing,” Ignjatovic said.

And with the Den of Thieves producing the red carpet show, it should be more seamless. “Now that we’re producing both, we can make it feel like one experience,” Prager said.

This year’s show will have more interactive elements. Erin Lim, host of The Rundown, E!’s show on Snapchat, will be doing what fans on Twitter tell her to do, from taking a selfie to visiting a particular celebrity’s table.

Sponsors will be integrated into the telecast. Beauty brand Tresemme will have a moment recognizing the contribution of women to the year in pop culture. Subaru is another returning sponsor and will be part of the Red Carpet show and have commercial innovations including picture-in-picture executions.

“We take a lot of pride in working with the sponsors and the ad sales team at the network to make something that feels organic to the show but still gets across the messaging that the brand wants,” Prager said.

Last month Den of Thieves was acquired by Wheelhouse Entertainment

“Working with Wheelhouse helps Den of Thieves in a lot of ways,” Ignjatovic said. “First of all, we now have Brent Montgomery and his incredible team in our corner. Then there are the amazing relationships that Wheelhouse has within the industry and with talent.”

He added that Den of Thieves hopes to take advantage of those relationships. There are so many outlets and so much talent out there and our net just got a whole lot wider.”

What’s next for them after the People’s Choice Awards? “At the moment we’re focused on this weekend’s show,” Ignjatovic said. “We’re also in post-production on two documentaries along with a number of pilots across networks and streamers. Lots to talk about after we get through the People’s Choice Awards.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.