PARIS — In a key sales and door-opening strategic move, Wild Bunch TV has sold exclusive first-run, first-season SVOD rights to “Medici: Masters of Florence” – co-created by Frank Spotnitz (“The X-Files,” “The Man in the High Castle”) and starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) – to Zive, the newly launched VOD service of SFR Play, part of Patrick Drahi’s Altice Group. Deal takes in France, Luxembourg and French-speaking Belgium.
Crucially, Wild Bunch and Zive also now envisage broadening their partnership, notably to include future original series initiated by Zive, Zive and Wild Bunch TV said in a Wednesday press statement. That signals that Altice looks set to get into the premium TV drama business as a buyer, investor and originator. Zive will drive into “exclusive first-run original series, starring French and European talents,” company said Wednesday.
Licensing pact is a pioneering deal for both companies. Launching Sept. 2015, Wild Bunch TV, the TV co-production-sales arm of Wild Bunch, one of Europe’s premier movie sales-financing-production companies, unveiled a two series slate: “Medici: Masters of Florence,” produced by Italy’s Lux Vide, a big Euro series specialist and Spotnitz’s Big Light Productions, and “Four Seasons in Havana,” from Spain’s Tornasol, an Academy Award winning movie production company (“The Secret in Their Eyes”) also moving into TV.
Co-created by Nicholas Meyer (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”), “Medici: Masters of Florence” proved one of the highlights of this month’s MipDrama Screenings where Spotnitz, Lux Vide and Wild Bunch TV screened a promo and three excerpts. Set between 1429-34, “Medici” portrays the life-defining struggle of Cosimo Medici to sustain his family’s banking business whose wealth allowed the artistic glory of the Renaissance to flower – with Brunelleschi solving the challenge of completing the Florence Cathedral Dome, for instance.
Framed by a murder mystery which adds suspense to the mix as Cosimo strives to discover who murdered his father, Giovanni Medici (Hoffman), and stunning in its costumes, décor and real-life locations, the very same places which the Medicis once knew, “Medici: Masters of Florence” has already been renewed for a second season by anchor broadcaster RAI, the Italian public broadcaster.
The French deal with Altice’s SFR Play is validation of Wild Bunch’s move into TV. More international distribution deals will be announced shortly, Wild Bunch said Wednesday.
For Patrick Drahi’s Altice Group, whose purchase of New York’s Cablevision is pending regulatory approval, the purchase reps a high-profile move into the first-run premium TV business at a company, cable-mobile phone operator Numericable-SFR, which has struggled to staunch cell-phone client churn at SFR, which Altice bought from Vivendi in 2014. 2015 results, with Numericable-SFR revenues dropping a year-on-year 3.5% to €11.039 billion ($12.2 billion), did show a first uptick in mobile customers at SFR since Drahi took over. But they did little to stop analysts’ carp that Altice is still weak on “marketing, content and customer experience,” in the words of Francois Godard, at Enders Analysis.
In November, Altice bid aggressively, paying a reported handsome €300 million ($333 million) to snag rights to English Premier League soccer rights in France. TV series can be a more economical way of consolidating a signature brand at an SVOD service, however. Here, Wild Bunch TV can work a two-way street: Helping to initiate Zive series as a co-producer; or bringing already originated series to SFR Play, as it also sells them to the rest of the world.