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Europe’s pubcasters have joined forces to combat such streaming giants as Netflix and Amazon in the international TV market — and the first projects from this collaboration are under way.

Continental Europe’s leading public broadcasters — Italy’s RAI, France Televisions and Germany’s ZDF — in March forged a scripted content co-production pact called the Alliance with the stated goal of co-financing innovative, higher-profile, and generally bigger TV series for viewers in Europe and the rest of the world.

Meant to give participants greater firepower against the Netflixes of this world, the Alliance has spawned several projects, including a high-end “Leonardo” skein, with Frank Spotnitz on board and RAI in the leading role. It is the first of the projects expected to hit screens, in 2019.

“There are so many available platforms these days that local audiences are getting used to seeing the best of what’s out there day-and-date with the rest of the world,” says RAI head of drama Eleonora Andreatta, who underlines that member broadcasters “must compare themselves even in terms of visual language and quality” with the great international productions spawned by these streamers.

What’s clear is that Alliance members believe they have the monetary muscle as well as the production capability to keep from being crushed.
France Televisions CEO Delphine Ernotte Cunci has pointed out that European pubcasters invest an annual total of €14 billion ($16.7 billion) in original programming while Netflix recently said that in 2018 it will spend $8 billion on content.

One key difference the Alliance represents vis-a-vis co-production agreements made among European pubcasters in the past is that “there are no rules cast in stone,” says Andreatta. She notes that it is open to participation from several other potential European partners such as Spain’s RTVE, Belgium’s RTBF, and Switzerland’s RTS, and also welcomes all the other European pubcasters to join in, on a project-by-project basis.
A key aspect is that all linear and non-linear TV rights must stay in the pubcasters’ hands.

The idea is to form a group of executives who can pitch projects that can be of common interest, “and as we go forward there is always a broadcaster who takes the lead and is in charge of staying true to the original vision,” Andreatta says, “but is also receptive to input from the others.” The Alliance’s key execs are: Andreatta, Takis Candilis, who is France Televisions’ managing director and head of programming, and ZDF head of drama Simone Emmelius.

Here is an overview of the Alliance projects announced so far:

Around the World in 80 Days
British writer Ashley Pharaoh (“Life on Mars”) is writing an adaptation of the European classic by Jules Verne for which RAI, France Televisions and ZDF are on board.

Eternal City
France Televisions and RAI are developing this series from Belgian writer Carl Joos (“Cordon”), set in Rome during the years of the Dolce Vita and inspired by real events. The year is 1963 and a young, beautiful and reckless French actress is killed. In her bag police find a black book with the names of more than 100 men. An investigation ensues against a backdrop of President Kennedy making a trip to Italy shortly before his assassination and Pope John XXIII’s controversial Second Vatican Council, in which the Catholic Church came to terms with the challenges of modernity. It mixes history with a capital H with a crime story that takes its cue from a real murder in the world of the Via Veneto and Cinecittà.

Leonardo
Spotnitz and British writer Stephen Thompson (“Sherlock”) are writing this English-language series dedicated to the Renaissance art genius, who will not be depicted as the bearded painter many may have in mind. Andreatta has pointed out that da Vinci was a complex character who had a very troubled childhood. “He was an illegitimate son, he was gay and left-handed,” she says, adding that the hook into his character will be a woman who modeled for him. Each episode will draw from one of Leonardo’s masterworks, “but the personal and adventurous aspects of his life prevail over the purely artistic ones.” This should be the first project of the Alliance with Italy’s Lux Vide producing, Germany’s Beta as international distributor, and a strong interest (to be confirmed when the scripts are ready) on the part of France Televisions and ZDF.

Mirage
An espionage series set in Dubai created by France’s Benedicte Charles, Olivier Pouponneau and Franck Philippon. It will be co-produced by France’s Lincoln TV, Canada’s Cineflix, and Wild Bunch Germany for France Televisions and ZDF.