PARIS — Following the pitching panels at this year’s Series Mania, the elephant in the room had to be addressed: It’s all very well developing new ideas, but how will they reach audiences – literally, in what format and by what means?
At a panel entitled “OTT Services, Catch-Up TV, Online Platforms: What Are The New Perspectives For European Drama Distribution?,” four European executives – Manuel Alduy, chairman of Vivendi’s Studio Plus initiative, Paris-based Emmanuelle Guilbart, joint CEO-founder of France’s About Premium Content, a top indie TV distribution company; Nicola Soderlund, a managing partner at Eccho Rights, a Stockholm-based European, Korean and Turkish drama distribution company; and Johan Wahlberg, head of distribution Strategy at Sweden’s SVT Play – gathered to discuss the changes in global viewing habits.
The innovation of catch-up television was addressed early on, having become something consumers now expect as standard. “The basic trend we’re seeing now,” said Soderlund, “is that it used to be the computer that was the big one that people were watching [for online programming], and the computer is going down. Now, mobile and devices that connect to your TV are the ones that are moving up. It’s very interesting because they’re two very different screens and very different devices. And they require very different behavior. With a mobile you lean forward, and you’re very willing to do this. With TV you’re too lazy, because you’re a couch potato already, so your interactivity goes down automatically. So you’re watching for longer and staying in longer formats, and these behaviors are what we have to take into account.”
At MipTV, Alduy and Vivendi Content president Dominique Delport indeed unveiled Studio Plus, an innovative production label making short-format premium international series for mobiles, which we greeted with enthusiasm. Packing ten ten-minute segs, following deals with overseas telcos, Studio Plus’ first 25 series will begin to bow September/October, first in Europe and Latin America, reaching 20 countries at the get-go.
For Guilbart, these ‘new behaviors’ offer interesting opportunities, as new platforms emerge to cater to them. “It creates a lot of changes,” she noted. “First of all, all those new players, new platforms, are opening the game, because they are new commissioners on the financing side – not only Netflix internationally, but you have a lot of local players who are investing in content. And on the acquisitions side, you have more customers to sell your programs to! So that’s the first obvious change. Also, with content it changes a lot of things also, because before we were producing shows to have as many viewers as possible at a given time. Now, there is much more room for niche programs, so it’s a new market that’s opening. There’s also been a change in the format size. Before, we used to say: ‘You have to have a 52-minute show,’ and now those platforms have discovered that the 26-minute format, for example, is becoming a sellable format.”
A word of caution, however, came from Wahlberg, who reminded the audience that the ability to deliver this brave new digital world is somewhat lagging behind such pioneering content. “The audience is expecting now, on the Internet, a better quality than we can deliver on broadcast,” he said, “which is kind of absurd. A couple of years, we could say, ‘Oh, it’s web TV, it stops every now and then, that’s OK.’ But now people expect it to be perfect, even though we’re working on a platform, a protocol, that was not done for video, and we’re trying to solve that. For me, I have what I call the Donald Duck Challenge – in Sweden, at 3 o’clock on Christmas Eve, everyone watches Donald Duck. Still do. Three and a half million people sit down and watch Donald Duck. My challenge is that if everyone went over to the Internet to watch Donald Duck on Christmas Eve, my CTO would not be home with his family, because the Internet would crash in Sweden. I was talking to a guy in India. He said, ‘That’s my daily challenge – I work with cricket, and I have 300 million people who are going to watch it!’ So this is a major internet challenge – taking this platform and making it so much better, while we’re also going into a 4K world and whatever that may bring.”