Antonio Campo Dall’Orto, a former executive vice president at Viacom International Media Networks, was appointed general manager of Rai in August 2015. Since then he’s been working hard to redefine the mammoth state broadcaster’s role in Italy’s post-Berlusconi media landscape. A central plank of his vision for renewal is to push the pubcaster into the international TV fiction arena by forging ties with Netflix, Wild Bunch TV, and most recently through Rai’s partnership with HBO on a series based on Elena Ferrante’s novel “My Brilliant Friend.” At Mip TV on Monday Dall’Orto was a keynote speaker at the International Drama Co-production Summit. He spoke to Variety about the challenges he’s faced at Rai since taking the reins and why raising the content quality and cultural level at the pubcaster is crucial. Excerpts from the interview.
You’ve said Rai’s investment in “My Brilliant Friend” satisfies many of your public service goals. It certainly marks a drastic departure from the more mainstream and largely local TV dramas that have been Rai’s staples for ages. What are these goals?
This project is particularly important because it encapsulates many of our ambitions. I think one of the elements that characterise a public broadcaster is original dramas. When you generate as much content as we do, you become a defining storytelling force in the country. The first deal of this type I signed was in September 2015 when we did the deal with Netflix for “Suburra.” My mission as a public service is to serve many different types of audiences with TV dramas that use different types of narrative languages on different channels. Rai accounts for more than 70% of the Italian TV drama output, so as a public broadcaster we play a part that is greater than the one that other European public broadcasters play in this sector. Rai now has an international ambition that it did not have before for its TV series and is also using innovative forms of storytelling which in turn allows us to tap into new talents. What the Americans have been able to do is draw from a great talent pool from both movies and TV to make [edgier] TV series. I want to bring Rai into the world, change the company from a cultural standpoint. TV dramas are an area in which we’ve been able to move faster that I expected.
What are some of the other Rai originals that you are particularly proud of?
Aside from the Netflix deal with “Suburra,” which will air on Rai 2, I’m proud of “Non Uccidere” (“Don’t Kill”) a groundbreaking series that has a nordic noir feel to it, which will soon air in France and Germany on Arte. And of course there is “Medici: Masters of Florence,” which has been a huge success. With Wild Bunch TV we are also developing another high-end series based on Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose.” Then there is also a gritty detective series titled “Rocco Schiavone” which has done well on Rai 2. And an upcoming series called “Sirene” [a fantasy skein about four sirens in the Bay of Naples] that we are co-producing with Beta, which I specifically told our drama department to be daring with. We are also talking to Amazon, and I think we will soon be announcing another big international agreement. I don’t think it was so natural five years ago for companies like HBO, Netflix or Amazon to seek a partnership with Rai. Today we are a player of that type, and it’s clear that if we find the right products this will start a virtuous cycle.
Getting back to the Ferrante series, it’s being scheduled to air on flagship channel Rai 1 where TV series are historically expected to reap high ratings. It’s going to be a challenge for such a highbrow show directed by an auteur director, Saverio Costanzo, to score double digit numbers. How are you balancing your push raising the cultural bar with keeping the ratings side competitive?
Well in the first months of 2017 we are averaging a 40% share in prime time. So I think that we are proving that if you are careful about how you innovate, you reap results. We will air “My Brilliant Friend” on Rai 1 because breaking away from dumbed-down narratives is a goal I have set out for everyone at Rai, not just the drama department. I’m not saying all the shows we do will perform well ratings-wise. But so far, overall, we can’t complain.
How would you describe the main challenges you’ve faced since taking on the job in August 2015?
The goals I set out for myself were to transform Rai both in terms of management and content, probably more in terms of content because that is it’s public service aspect. One of my two guiding principles is to make an ‘inclusive’ Rai. Inclusive means able to capture different sensitivities in the country. Making “Non Uccidere” was very important. A lot of people told me: ‘it doesn’t look like a Rai show.’ Well, that’s what I like about it. The other [principle] is to be universal which is very difficult these days. Because there is an audience segment, especially the post-adolescents, that is really tough to capture. But the way to do that is through sports and drama, and also with digital.
Yes digital has been a big part of what you’ve done, with the launch of RaiPlay, the official app to watch all of the RAI channels live on different devices.
We needed a tool that would allow viewers to watch our content when you want it where you want it, which may seem something obvious. It wasn’t that easy to get done, though, because I didn’t realise how far behind Rai was. But in January, six months after launch, I was happy to see that RaiPlay is the TV website that gets the most traffic in Italy.
Do you have other ambitions for Rai in the international arena?
For a public broadcaster there aren’t that many ways of becoming more international. It’s all a matter of getting your content to travel and the key content in this sense right now is TV fiction. There are also movies, but fiction is more actual at the moment. I have a three year mandate and there are two things I want my leadership at Rai to be remembered for. One is RaiPlay, the other is to be the guy who gambled on doing different types of TV dramas and doing them with international partners.