Feb 21, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: Candle taps James Goldston for new nonfiction studio

Photo illustration of James Goldston surrounded by abstract shapes and a photo of a clapper board.

Photo illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Candle Media

Candle Media, the media roll-up company backed by Blackstone and led by former Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, has hired former ABC News president James Goldston to lead a new, in-house production studio focused on nonfiction projects and documentaries.

Why it matters: To date, Candle has focused mostly on acquiring production studios — this is the first entity it's looking to build entirely on its own.

  • Goldston recently advised Congress' Jan. 6 select committee in adapting a documentary-style presentation for its hearings last year.
  • Candle hopes to leverage the new in-house studio to produce nonfiction works across its portfolio of brands, which includes Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, Isaac Lee's Exile Content, social change publisher ATTN:, and Faraway Road Productions, the content studio behind "Fauda."

Details: Goldston will serve as president of the new production unit, which has yet to be named, and will continue to be based out of New York while working with Candle teams globally.

  • He will bring around a half-dozen employees based in the U.S. and U.K. with him to Candle from his nonfiction production studio called Aquitania Films, which he founded in 2021 after leaving ABC News.
  • Goldston couldn't confirm how many people he plans to hire as he builds out the studio, but he said that he, Staggs and Mayer have a multiyear business plan and that Candle is "in it for the long haul."
  • "The intention is for us to be a best-in-class nonfiction studio around the world," he said. "It's obviously going to take time to establish the slate and the reputation," but Candle is "interested in growth and scale," he said.
  • Goldston will bring all of his projects that are currently in development over to Candle. While he declined to share specifics, he noted that he and Candle have "sort of come to an arrangement on the things that exist."

Between the lines: At Candle, Goldston will focus on producing scripted and nonscripted features and series to license to streamers.

  • "I think the intention is for us to grow out a slate of our own documentaries and dramas based on documentaries, while also working with existing Candle brands ... and staying true to those brands," Goldston said.
  • "For example, working with Faraway Road on some documentary approaches that kind of match what they've done with 'Fauda' — that would be a kind of obvious type of thing for us to do together," he added.

Catch up quick: Goldston spent 18 years at Disney-owned ABC News, including seven years as president, and overlapped with Staggs and Mayer while there.

  • In his time at ABC, Goldston oversaw a series of successful podcast and documentary projects for Hulu and Disney+, including “The Dropout," an award-winning podcast about the Theranos scandal that eventually became a Hulu series.

The big picture: Demand for documentary and nonfiction streaming programming in the U.S. peaked during the pandemic but still remains high, according to data from Parrot Analytics.

  • For years, much of that output was driven by broadcast TV studios, but independent studios focusing on nonfiction programming are seeing higher demand.
  • Last week, Shamrock Capital, a private investment firm, acquired a minority stake in Boardwalk Pictures, the nonfiction production firm behind Netflix hits such as "Cheer" and "Chef's Table."
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