Benoit Louvet, Albin Lewi on CanneSeries, International High-End Series Boom, Welcoming U.S. Shows to Cannes

CanneSeries to launch its first festival next April, with ‘Westworld’s’ Sidse Babett Knudsen as its first patron

Benoit Louvet, Albin Lewi
Olivier Vigerie

The volume of TV dramas produced out of international may not be growing. According to a recent IHS Markit report, “Boom or Bubble: The Ruse of Scripted Programming,” it was 5% down in Germany over 2014-17, 3% up in the U.K.

But as budgets spiral for high-end drama, with “Babylon Berlin” setting a new standard for foreign-language TV fiction, and as Netflix, Amazon and now telcos like Movistar+ and Altice produce more original series, the number of high-end dramas made with an eye on export most certainly is rising. With this comes a bigger need for TV festivals and markets.

In 2018, the most significant launch outside the U.S. looks to be CanneSeries, which will run parallel to MipTV. Packing industry heft – an In Development projects showcase – its first fruit will be tasted by TV execs from all over the world. Variety chatted to CanneSeries’ heads, managing director Benoit Louvet and artistic director Albin Lewi, about a major addition to a fast-building international TV festival circuit.

Looking at the bigger picture, a recent IHS Markit report suggested international production volumes vary, down in Germany, up in the U.K. My impression, however, is that international drama is still raising its ambitions, whether Germany’s “Babylon Berlin,” Globo’s new social dramas or Movistar+ first slate in Spain. Cannes Series surely plays off this.

Lewi: Of course. It’s a perfect time for international. As I said before, foreign shows now travel. Two examples just from France: “The Bureau” and “Spiral.” Ten years ago, they wouldn’t have  been seen by U.S. audiences. Here, “Borgen” was a precursor in terms of export. There are great combinations of talent in Israel, Scandinavia, South America and Spain with Movistar+, making series which have a local flavor but can work globally. They’re so good because their creators have watched the great U.S. TV shows from the early 2000s and taken note. They have the keys to make great fiction. Now, anyone in the world has the opportunity to be inventive.

In the past, U.S. studios and independents have shown a certain wariness about world premiering shows at European TV festivals. Do you think you’ll be able to attract one or two for the first CanneSeries?

Lewi: We’re in Cannes. The U.S. studios know about Cannes, and recognize it’s a good way to market their series. We’re having a lot of talks with them. We are very confident of having U.S. series in competition and out of competition. We’re living a great moment. European series can now travel and glean great audience figures in the U.S. So everybody’s welcome: U.S. studios, platforms and the rest of  the world.

Louvet: When we say that we are international, that doesn’t mean that we’re everything but the U.S. U.S. content is very welcome. There are also U.S. minority co-productions.

You have a competition for long-formats – half hour or above – and short formats, which seems something of a statement. 

Lewi: The whole idea of formats, as we used to call them, is nowadays a bit old-fashioned. Even an episode on a platform can vary in length. Opening up to series of less than 26 minutes makes sense.

Do you see next year’s CanneSeries as in any way a pilot edition?

Louvet: It’s Season 1. For it, we would like to concentrate on three events: the main competition, digital short formats and CanneSeries Addict. We want to focus on making each of them successful and then will consider other sections for a second edition. For example, this year we do not have any kids’ series, but next year who knows! That same could be said of TV movies and miniseries. But for the first edition, we will stick to the principle of ‘less is more.’

One big challenge to audiences is the sheer deluge of high-end series coming on the market. They can’t catch them all. International coverage of some shows is limited.

Lewi: There’s always a Friday release in the U.S. There’s so many shows to choose from that it’s difficult for some of them to have the visibility they merit –

Louvet: – which makes a filter like CanneSeries all the more necessary.