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Smart thinking from the people running the content business.

USG's Jordan Moblo on the quest for IP

Jordan Moblo at USG is scouring the worlds of publishing, podcasts and even TikTok for intellectual property to adapt for the small screen.

Jordan Moblo

Jordan Moblo arrived at Universal Studio Group (USG) over the summer from global streamer Netflix, where he was the director of intellectual property scouting, having built up a reputation as a go-to exec for acquiring IP with potential.

Moblo has helped option more than 100 pieces of IP over his career so far and joined USG as executive VP of creative acquisitions and IP management at a time when competition for material with a proven track record and existing audience is at an all-time high, be it for scripted or unscripted development.

Moblo oversees global book and IP acquisitions that align with the USG content strategy for scripted and unscripted series across broadcast television, premium and basic cable, streaming and podcasting. Additionally, he works with the studio’s partners to identify strategic opportunities and also manages its podcast division, USG Audio, and graphic novel imprint, USG Graphic.

Universal Content Productions (UCP) recently made crime drama Dr Death, based on the podcast of the same name, for fellow NBCUniversal stablemate Peacock, while A Friend of the Family, also from UCP for Peacock, was commissioned following the success of true crime documentary Abducted in Plain Sight on Netflix.

Crime drama Dr Death is based on a podcast

“For me, a perfect piece of IP is something that transcends one area of our business. I’d love to be able to find that piece of IP that can start out as a podcast, then lend itself to a scripted series and potentially also have a documentary and unscripted series on the side,” says Moblo, who reports to Erin Underhill, president at Universal Television; Beatrice Springborn, president at UCP and Universal International Studios; and Toby Gorman, president at Universal Television Alternative Studio.

“If I’m going to go after a non-fiction book for the scripted rights, knowing that we could also get a podcast and an unscripted show out of it allows us to be more competitive against some of our competitors that don’t have the resources we have. It also justifies some of the spending we might be doing to acquire the IP, especially with how expensive things are these days,” says Moblo.

During his time at Netflix, which Moblo says helped him think beyond the US when it comes to IP, he built the streamer’s IP scouting department from the ground up and oversaw a global team of executives and book scouts who identify, track and secure books and other forms of IP for adaptation purposes.

He also established strong relationships and generated strategic opportunities with authors, journalists, illustrators and other IP creators during his time there, having previously served as director and co-head of the creative acquisitions department at Disney Television Studios.

Books remain the most prominent form of IP scouted by the likes of Moblo, but podcasts are now firmly established as viable proofs-of-concept for risk-averse commissioners, along with newspaper articles and video games. Meanwhile, the 2020 feature Zola was based on a sensational Twitter thread. Could it be only a matter of time before the latest bingeable hit on streaming is based on a 15-second TikTok video?

Universal Content Productions’ Friend of the Family

“We are working to find new ways into IP, and it doesn’t have to be English-language for me to consider it. Good IP is good IP is good IP. We’re looking to tell amazing stories, so wherever I can find it, whether it’s an article or a podcast or a book or a TikTok video.

“Anything that we can potentially option that feels like a kernel of an idea or an interesting character or a way into a story that could be compelling for audiences. We’re looking for that everywhere.”

Moblo, who runs a hit online book club via the Instagram account, says there’s currently a “surge” in the marketplace for short stories, while TikTok is also spurring audience interest in boardgames, with the likes of The Settlers of Catan being primed for film and TV.

Moblo adds that while hits such as Gone Girl mean genres like thrillers will remain evergreen, he’s increasingly also looking for IP from new voices that “digs into different cultures with underrepresented voices that is still relatable. Those things were really lacking maybe five to 10 years ago. It’s something that’s a huge focus now.”