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Mip 2015: High-End Dramas Replace Reality TV

In the 1990s, after “Survivor,” “Pop Idol” and “Big Brother” galvanized Europe’s TV biz, the Next Big Thing was assumed to be a juggernaut reality format.

Now, for Europe, it’s the next high-end drama. All over Europe, as Cannes’ Mip TV market will underscore, pay TV operators (Canal Plus and Sky), broadcasters (Italy’s Mediaset, Spain’s Atresmedia), and some of its mightiest film-TV production companies (France’s Studiocanal, Germany’s Constantin) are either moving into English-language drama or amping up production.

Several market factors are at work. “There’s a highly competitive U.S. market for drama in premium and basic cable,” says Tim Westcott, analyst at IHS Technology. “In international, premium pay TV operators are looking to invest in original series to protect their core business from SVOD operators who are offering content more cheaply.”

The result: A near feeding frenzy for the production and acquisition of ambitious, bigger-budgeted TV fiction in English and other languages. Playing off Euro sensibilities, a vibrant pan-regional co-production-sales biz is fast consolidating.

Among recent English-language moves:

» Canal Plus’ English-language “Versailles,” (pictured) which screens at a new Drama at Mip TV program, marks just one of the paybox’s big dramas as it ramps up production and international partnerships — notably with Sky — of English, French and mixed-language series, such as heist-thriller “The Last Panthers,” with Samantha Morton, John Hurt and Tahar Rahim.

» Studiocanal “aims to increase our number of really international TV series productions, including dramas co-produced or co-financed out of the U.S,” chairman-CEO Olivier Courson told Variety. At Mip, Studiocanal will present one early fruit of its U.S. drive: “Sex, Lies and Handwriting,” produced by Lionsgate and Germany’s Tandem and set up at ABC, plus “Crossing Lines 3” and Harlan Coben’s “The Five.”

» Sky Italy is ramping up English-language production with Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope” (with Jude Law circling) and comic-book adaptation “Diabolik,” the latter with the U.K.’s Sky and Sky Germany, targeting Sky’s 24.8 million pan-European subscriber base.

» Unveiled in September by Pascal Breton, production-distribution company Federation Entertainment is teaming with “Dig” writer Carol Barbee and producer Tim Kring (“Heroes”) on medical drama “Victor.” It is also negotiating co-production of four other English-language series with U.S. cable channels, Breton told Variety.

» In May, Germany’s Constantin rolls out “Shadowhunters,” based on Cassandra Clare’s YA book series “The Mortal Instruments,” with writer/exec producer Ed Decter (“Unforgettable,” “In Plain Sight”).

» L.A.-based Gaumont Intl. TV has “Hannibal’s” third season bowing June 4 on NBC; the final season of the Eli Roth-produced “Hemlock Grove” on Netflix; and “Narcos,” also with Netflix, in post. Paris-based Gaumont TV Europe has its first series, “Spy City,” helmed by Pascal Chaumeil, in development.

» Spain’s Atresmedia and Bambu Producciones and BBC Worldwide have produced sci-fi time-travel drama “Refugees,” with Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”).

Market, strategic and creative issues are fueling Europe’s drama boom. “There used to be a couple of buyers for TV series in the U.S., cable and pay TV stations. Now there are over 60,” says Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz.

And, adds Breton, each buyer needs four to five, sometimes even six, “high-end, very original, sometimes very expensive shows a year.”

Broadcasters appear increasingly willing to show series with subtitles, if they can access them day-and-date with their home market, increasing opportunities for multi-territory releases, per Anna Stuart, IHS Technology analyst.

For TV operators, there is also a bigger picture. “Many European free-to-air broadcasters are exploring co-production or the acquisition of shows from other European companies as a way to have higher-production value while reducing the cost of programming,” explains Gaumont vice CEO Christophe Riandee.

Pan-European paybox Sky is diving into high-end production partly to migrate subscribers to its satellite platform, which offers the Sky Atlantic series channel in exclusivity.

Canal Plus’ core biz is still pay TV. Original series production reps “the third new-subs driver after cinema and sports, which is increasing (its impact) constantly and satisfaction is the highest,” says Maxime Saada, head of Canal Plus Group’s pay TV.

In addition to commercial appeal, Europe’s high-end drama players also enthuse about its creative dividends.
For “Refugees” showrunner Ramon Campos, “If you co-produce and shoot in English, facilitating sales, broadcasters’ risk is smaller, so storylines can be much more daring.”

Riandee adds: “We are finding a lot of writers today who are ready to collaborate in English even if they’re coming from different countries and backgrounds.”

Ambitious English-language production is, moreover, just part of Europe’s overall TV drama boom.

“As globalization and global players take up more space, so does the appeal of regional and local culture, offering very attractive alternatives to the American dramas we love,” says Saada, citing Canal Plus’ French-language “Les Revenants” and “Braquo” and Sky Italy’s “Gomorrah,” made in Italian. All three series sold to 100-plus territories.

Series’ language choices are “all about creativity. It depends on the creative talent you have,” says Sky Italia content chief Andrea Scrosati.

Certainly, there’s a sense of excitement about big drama production. “What we are seeing is the birth of a European creative community,” Riandee says.

Saada believes European broadcasters “are learning to work together. In the future, we will see European productions as ambitious as ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”

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