It is a busy week on the conference and market circuit for Europe’s drama professionals as Mipcom holds its first physical edition in two years in Cannes (October 11-14), followed by MIA film and TV market (October 14-17) in Rome.
Alongside Mipcom, TV series festival Canneseries (Oct 8-14) is also in full swing, showcasing around 20 new independent drama series such as Finnish director Teemu Nikki’s dark comedy Mister8, which plays in competition, to big-budget international series like Around The World In 80 Days, Sisi and the final season of Gomorrah out of competition.
These events unfold at a momentous time for drama production in Europe as the US global platforms further ramp up their presence while regional and national niche streamers and broadcasters also raise their game.
WarnerMedia’s HBO Max will be the latest US streamer to launch in a first round of European territories on October 26, to be followed by NBCUniversal’s Peacock and ViacomCBS Networks International’s Paramount+ in 2022.
The bulk of the new arrivals’ offerings will be US-produced new content and library titles. However, European originals will also be a key component, due to a combination of audience demand and European Union-wide legislation obliging streamers to invest a percentage of their turnover in local productions. Stipulations vary on a territory-by-territory basis from 3.5% in Spain to up to 25% in France.
This will further fuel the European drama boom, kickstarted by Netflix in 2015, and then bolstered by the arrival of Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Disney+, which recently announced it was on target to deliver more than 60 European originals by 2024. HBO has been producing original European drama since 2010 but is now promising to bulk up production to make at least 12 original scripted shows a year from across the region. Upcoming series include its first Danish original Kamikaze, Swedish comedy Lust and Spanish drama Venga Juan.
“It’s been an ongoing evolution over the last five, six years and every year it’s this exponential move forward in terms of the number of players and the scale,” comments Christian Vesper, president of global drama at Fremantle, on the growing demand for original European drama.
This trend has been largely fruitful for independent pan-European production and distribution groups like Fremantle, which has worked with all the platforms, but it also comes with challenges, especially around signing and retaining talent and keeping hold of rights.
“The talent is what drives this world. We’ve worked and continue to work with some really important filmmakers, writers and producers, but when we make something a success, then it becomes tricky because everyone wants a piece of that and it’s a super-competitive market for talent right now,” says Vesper.
“The vertical integration promised by the biggest players can be a little frustrating in terms of the dealmaking but that said, it’s forced us to double down on the level of our creative talent as well as our producers because that is the currency,” he continues. “We always consider first our talent, and I include producers in the talent bucket, and supporting that talent, through financing their companies and helping them get their stories made.”
Lars Blomgren, head of scripted at Banijay, acknowledges that “the value of top talent is going up” but he too suggests offering more money is not the only way to attract and retain it.
“The most important selling point is that we can guarantee that we’ll actually get the shows made and with the right partners and budgets. All the top talent we work with just wants to find the right home and the right way to tell their story.”
Alongside retaining talent, holding onto rights is also a challenge.
“We love working with the streamers and often they’re the best home for our projects, but we’re an IP-driven company. We love to retain the rights,” says Blomgren.
“For us, the important thing is to keep a track of the slate and see what we have in development. It’s very important where you place a project and to find the right home for it. Sometimes it’s a streamer and then it’s a premium model, other times it’s a co-production, or sometimes it’s the public service world. But it has become increasingly important to have a strategy on who you’re aiming for as a partner.”
In the face of these challenges, production groups such as Banijay and Fremantle are keen to continue working with a variety of incumbent European broadcasters as well as the platforms.
“The legacy players, the public broadcasters and the Canal Plus-type players are really important clients to us and keeping the ecosystem diverse is key,” says Vesper. “We want to serve everybody, it’s a lot, but it’s important for us to keep working with the legacy players to make sure they’re strong in the marketplace.”
Blomgren suggests that a co-production style model combining the backing of three or four European broadcasters, sales and regional and European soft money is still the one most favoured by Banijay in non-English language territories.
“It’s taken a while for the public and linear broadcasters to wake up and understand that the process needs to be faster and that they need to commit earlier in the process to get a project and even pitch to make it happen, but the co-production model is still very much alive,” he says.
One example of how European national broadcasters are upping their game is the creation in 2018 of France Television, Italy’s Rai and Germany’s ZDF of The Alliance to greenlight bigger budget international drama productions.
Productions to have come down the line so far include French Dubai-set thriller Mirage, historical biopic Leonardo, literary adaptation Germinal, which debuted at Series Mania in Lille in late August, and Mipcom debut Around The World In 80 Day. Starring David Tennant as the Jules Verne’s iconic 19th-century adventurer Phileas Fogg, the latter is a co-production between London-based Slim Film + TV and Pascal Breton’s Paris-based Federation Entertainment backed by the Alliance and Australia’s Seven West Media.
“The aim is to co-produce bigger-budget, high-end series than the usual domestic shows that we all do in our respective territories,” says Manuel Alduy, director of cinema and international development at France TV. “Around The World In 80 Days is one of the biggest projects to come to fruition for us so far. It has all the elements of a true series blockbuster, in terms of the story, cast and location.
“Doing this kind of alliance on specific projects between public broadcasters that have similar goals for their respective markets is easier. We don’t overlap in terms of rights and exclusivity. It’s much easier than trying to do this than with a platform like Netflix, Amazon and Disney, which are everywhere.”
Alduy is hoping to expand this type of operation to a wider range of European broadcasters over the coming months through the recent launch of a new initiative with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), grouping more than 100 broadcasters across Europe as well as in Russia and Israel.
Under the scheme, France TV and other participating broadcasters will give EBU members a 30-day, first-look window to become co-producers on upcoming drama projects.
Alongside this strategy, France TV also works with platforms, especially for projects involving genres not traditionally tackled by the broadcaster. It recently partnered with Amazon Prime Video on Ziad Doueiri’s upcoming action series Coeurs Noirs. Alduy emphasises, however, the broadcaster only plans to get involved in a handful of big-budget international series a year and that its main focus remains drama for the purely domestic audience.
Oliver Bachert, EVP international Sales & Acquisitions at German production and distribution group Beta, also emphasises the importance of a diverse ecosystem, especially for shows being distributed via traditional licensing deals. He is at Mipcom selling a raft of new dramas including Canneseries debut Sisi, for which Beta has just announced a round of broadcaster deals including to Italy’s Mediaset, Brazil’s Globoplay and NPO in the Netherlands.
“On top of a pure commercial set-up, there is a certain value and visibility in having one of the main broadcasters as your partner. In the UK, for example, if you have BBC or ITV on board, it might create more visibility for your project than a pan-regional or international platform, that might focus more on its originals and see the rest are companion pieces,” he says.
He also notes the growing footprint of regional, national and niche platforms citing the recent success of the ITV/PBS crime drama Professor T on BritBox over the summer, for which Beta handled sales.
The question on everyone’s lips is for how long can the drama boom run.
“One of the key things is how sustainable is the investment in content from the commercial end,” says Bachert. ”At some point, it has to work out from a business perspective. At the moment, investment is still expanding but at a certain point it will need to be refinanced one way or another.”