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10 Trends in the International TV Business

What the inaugural Variety TV Summit Europe, and 2017's Series Mania at large, said about the directions international TV is taking

PARIS — Variety held its first-ever TV Summit Europe in Paris on Thursday at its Series Mania TV festival. At it, key top executives from Europe and the U.S. analyzed their production strategies in a vibrant, if complex, international TV drama market. 20th Century Fox’s Manuel Alduy summed up the studio’s strategy in international as “diversification.” That could be said of many companies as, outside the U.S., they ring multiple production options along a global-local axis and as scripted series boost channels’ market shares, by as much as 26% for ITV and 35% for Denmark’s TV2, according to a EuroData TV Drama Overview presented at Series Mania. Below, incorporating news and analysis from the Summit and the whole of Series Mania, are 10 observed cutting-edge trends in  the international TV business:


“Distribution will go through mobile and telecom [companies], that, [given[ the way they are shaping the convergent world, are key partners. The only way to build scale in the game is to partner with these telcos,” said Dominique Delport, chairman, Vivendi Content (pictured), in a spirited keynote conversation at the Variety TV Summit Europe, explaining why Vivendi, the France-based communications group, has rebuilt as a premium content creator-producer. Increasingly, series look to split two ways: Those that can build decisive brand and subscriber driven value for telecoms, digital platforms and big pay TV platforms; the remainder. This explains why Vivendi, despite being Europe’s second biggest pay TV operator, has created Studio Plus, an app delivering digital first, premium short-form series produced by Vivendi Content that it is actively selling to telecoms worldwide. Launched in Feb. 2017, telco clients include Spain’s Telefonica-Movistar Plus, Brazil’s Vivo, Telecom Italia and France’s Bouygues TV and Orange. Studio Plus subscriptions stand at 200,000; Vivendi targets 2 million by year-end, said Delport. Vivendi is in talks with “30-to-50 telcos today,” among them three of the top four U.S. telcos, he added.


Nordic Noir is over, Piv Bernth, producer of “The Killing,” and now head of drama at Denmark’s DR Drama, wrote in a Danish newspaper last September. “The Leftovers’” Damon Lindelof, Series Mania jury president, concurred: “We are going to see TV programs that are self aware of the tropes of the procedural and will reinvent again. Shows like ‘The Bridge’ or ‘The Killing’ were revolutionary when they were made but that is six-to-ten years ago. It’s time to say: ‘How do I subvert the idea of ‘The Bridge.’”?  Scandinavia is indeed already moving on. Its biggest show at Series Mania was Adam Price’s “Ride Upon the Storm,” a faith-themed family drama. One of the biggest deals announced during Series Mania was Netflix’s acquisition of “The Bonus Family,” a Scandinavia drama, yes, but a contemporary relationship comedy-drama. Notable among Series Mania series and pitched projects were Nordic Noir riffs – in their set-ups, violence, or darker take on human character – which tried, however, to bring something extra to the table, whether a reflection of the gulf between parents and their children (France’s “The Forest”), exquisite aesthetics and best encountered dead body set-piece (Norway’s “Monster”) or the absence of a investigating police and sense of real-time who’sdoingit structure (Spain’s “The Head,” co-pitched at the Co-Production Forum by “Homeland” original creator Ran Tellem).


TV drama’s key revolution, in the U.S. and abroad, remain’s Netflix’s gargantuan appetite for fresh series that can goose its subscriber base. In 2016, new scripted series’ bows edged up just 1% to 1,178, according to The Wit, in statistics aired at the Variety Summit. Take out the surge in investment at transnational VOD platforms, up a dramatic 110% last year vs. 2015, and production would have fallen 2% in 2016. Why? The name of the game in TV drama, Delport said, is now “curation, not volume.” “Today, Amazon invests $4 billion, Netflix $6 billion. It’s going to be very hard to compete in the money game, so compete with story-telling. If you can’t produce 10 new shows a month, be sure that the one show you produce has the same quality.”


In free-to-air markets, at least. As traditional broadcasters’ budgets come under increasing pressure, they will need to open up to international, Federation Entertainment’s Pascal Breton argued in a second Variety Summit Europe’s keynote. “Traditional broadcasters need to adapt. They can’t guarantee 20% market shares every day. In some years [time], French broadcasters will not be able to pay €1m [$1.1 million] per hour for a show that is only local. They’ll need to pay €500,000 ($535,000) for a show that has a €3 million [$3.2 million] value,” Breton predicted. Such shows won’t be perfect for older family audiences, but for a younger, smaller audience.” But if the show’s less expensive, renews audience and is a very strong event series, “in the end it will be good for broadcasters,” Breton added.


And do something never done before. As TNT did in Germany with “4 Blocks,” a Berlin-set mafia crime story. “If it’s meant to be for the local market, I would always do it in the local language,” Hannes Heyelmann, SVP, Turner Central & Eastern Europe, said at the Summit “4 Blocks” was 85% funded out of Germany. “Now that it’s doing well we do global distribution and money is flowing back. That was not foreseeable,” Heyelmann explained.


At Series Mania, Christian Vesper, FremantleMedia’s creative director of global drama, announced he was interested in taking stakes or co-financing TV dramas from South America and Australia. Polly Williams, Entertainment One head of scripted drama in the U.K., confirmed that One aimed to drive into European TV fiction, announcing it was producing “Gadaffi,” from“Gomorrah” creative force Roberto Saviano. ZDFE, the commercial arm of Germany’s ZDF, made a line-up presentation which took in a boldly visualized Flemish psychological thriller (“Tabula Rasa”), a period Mafia crime procedural (“Maltese”) from Italy’s fast-growing TV scene; and “Before We Die,” a Swedish crime thriller come broken family drama. Such productions, all foreign-language, are intended to make a lot if not most of their money back from their home territory. But FremantleMedia, eOne and ZDFE will hope to recoup money rapping a substantial part of the budget from international.


Or look at a trans-Atlantic co-production. In TV production, the U.S. and Europe once seemed continents apart. No more. Thursday’s Variety Summit took place just hours after HBO and Sky unveiled a $250 million multi-year high-end TV drama fund. In another Trans-Atlantic move, one of the biggest new projects announced at Series Mania’s Co-Production Forum was sci-fi thriller “Genesis,” produced by Rene Bastian’s New York-based Belladonna Productions in co-production with ZDFE, in its first U.S. tie.up. Variety Summit keynote speaker Pascal Breton announced this January an alliance with Paramount Television which will see the studio making English-language remakes of FE properties. Several projects will be announced shortly.


“Your Honor,” “4 Blocks,” “Broken” and “I Love Dick” shared out top honors at Series Mania’s main competition this year. It may or may not be coincidence that all four of their protagonists are not in control of their future, or laughably out of control, swayed by family love (“Your Honor”) or traditions (“4 Blocks”), too skint to help (“Broken”) or crazed by desire (comedy “I Love Dick”). Their lack of control, seen at its most emphatic in “The Leftovers,” where sheriff Kevin Garvey just takes what’s thrown at him by fate or his own psychoses, is surely symptomatic of larger contemporary malaise.


The first revolution is, obviously VOD, with all its collateral. No extra marks fir concluding that. But one consequence is that, thanks in part to Netflix, foreign and often foreign-language shows now have global distribution. One largely Spanish-language show, “Narcos,” has of course proved Netflix appointment viewing. The jury was out at Variety’s Summit and Series Mania at large about just how big a revolution foreign-language shows’ new international distribution and sales really constitute. In the U.K., there is “a broadening in acceptance” towards foreign-language shows such as “The Missing,” but “it’s a slow process.” English is still important for most high-level series to travel to broad audiences, Lionsgate U.K.’s creative director Steve November said at the Summit. In Scandinavia, 31% of its scripted show imports last year came from Western Europe, 55% from North America, according to EuroData TV. In such a context, “Babylon Berlin” may prove an acid test for audience acceptance of bug European foreign-language drama. Presented at he Variety Summit via a trailer by Beta Film CEO Jan Mojto and Marcus Ammon, Sky Deutschland’s SVP Film & Entertainment, “Babylon Berlin” weighs in, as Mojto put it, as “the German example of what can be one of the future models.” Produced by Sky Deutschland, ARD and Beta Film, co-directed by Tom Tykwer (“Cloud Atlas”), it is budgeted at $40 million and casts classic hardboiled U.S. noir – a missing porn film, high-up political perversion –  in the unusual setting of  a dazzling 1929 Berlin hurtling towards extremism. Made in German, and set to bow this October, it will test how broad audiences outside Germany can be for foreign-language fare.


Right and wrong. According to Manuel Alduy, 20th Century Fox SVP, sales & development, speaking at the Variety Summit, the  overall popularity of American shows may be losing ground to local content. Only three-or-so U.S. shows made France’s free-to-air top 100 last year, whereas five years ago, maybe 50-60 made the cut, he said. He went on, however, to point out that among young people the drop has been far less severe: Among 15-34s, and 15-40 women, U.S. shows still account for about one third of the top 100 shows in France. The only crime drama to rank in the top five of all Europe’s three biggest TV markets was Fox’s “24: Legacy,” according to Parrot Analytics, whose Courtney Williams, regional director for Europe, spoke at the Variety Summit.


“I like stories told out of sequence and that switch points of view. As our brains and minds become more sophisticated in how we grasp these narratives, I think we will see a rapidly scaling evolution,” Damon Lindelof. the “Lost” and “The Leftovers” showrunner, told Variety at Series Mania. Opening Series Mania as Season 3 received glowing reviews in the U.S., HBO’s Lindelof show-run “The Leftovers’” Season 3 Ep. 1 and 2 wowed Paris, scoring the best marks of any show commented on by French newspaper Le Figaro. In “The Leftovers,” French audiences saw a TV show that was not so much art as high art. If HBO and rivals continue to make shows of this caliber, they will always have Paris.

Elsa Keslassy contributed to this article

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