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International Broadcasters at Mipcom Plan Netflix Counterattack

Hollywood’s largest networks and studios are facing some unexpected tension on the international front. But the simmering conflict could also lead to bigger opportunities for producers who are savvy in the ways of diplomacy and dealmaking.

U.S. executives who attended the Mipcom content sales conference in Cannes last week got an earful from their counterparts in other territories — international broadcasters who are concerned about the pinch in the programming pipeline from Hollywood.

With so many series flowing to Netflix and Amazon under worldwide rights deals, big broadcasters in major territories are frustrated that they have no shot at landing some of the hottest new properties.

That goes for original series produced for the global streaming giants as well as for some high-profile broadcast and cable series, ranging from “The Blacklist” and “Gotham” to “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Designated Survivor” (which was just rescued from cancellation after two seasons by Netflix) to “Outlander” and “The Alienist.” That trend is only expected to accelerate as Disney and AT&T begin building their own global streaming platforms.

A senior executive at a major U.S. conglom said he went on an “apology tour” last week at Mipcom after selling a slew of genre shows to the streaming giants.

But beyond grousing, some overseas outlets are becoming proactive, getting involved with series at the gestation stage. This could represent a more robust source of financing for U.S. producers. And it could help ensure that there’s still something of a dynamic marketplace for programming sales as the U.S. industry embraces the “walled garden” approach of Netflix, et al.

One message sent loud and clear by foreign TV buyers last week: We’re not surrendering to the Netflix effect.

“The big international broadcasters are not going to want to give up. They’re looking for opportunities to get involved in projects much earlier in the process to ensure access to the talent and to the content,” said Sony Pictures Television chairman Mike Hopkins. “We’re finding creative opportunities to make deals that allow us to commission a show without necessarily having to take it to the streamers — although we do a lot of business with the global streamers. Having that diversity for us is important. It’s also important for the broadcasters to have access to content.”

To that end, France Télévisions, Italy’s RAI and Germany’s ZDF recently joined forces in a pact dubbed the Alliance to help develop and finance scripted series. Among its first projects is “Leonardo,” a biographical drama about the life of Leonardo da Vinci, to be steered by seasoned showrunner Frank Spotnitz.

Initiatives like the Alliance are music to the ears of independents such as Endeavor Content. The development and financing arm of Endeavor, parent company of WME-IMG, has been purpose-built to offer maximum flexibility to its creative partners as well as in cutting deals with buyers around the world. Gary Marenzi, an international TV veteran who is head of entertainment sales and partnerships for Endeavor Content, said he’s sensing an attitudinal shift on the part of buyers and companies that he’s dealt with for decades.

“What we’re seeing is a much more competitive market in just the last six months. That’s a good sign,” Marenzi said. “There’s a lot more action about upfront buying and co-producing and trying to get a position in a high-quality project, no matter where it’s coming from. [Buyers] need to know they’re going to have some guaranteed programing, so those are deep conversations that we’re all having, beyond just selling the licenses for programs already made.”

Moreover, the level of content sales activity outside the U.S. remains high even if the buyers are becoming increasingly global in scope. Starz, for one, came to Mipcom this year for the first time with a budget to purchase original programming in key territories in Europe and other regions where it plans to launch stand-alone Starzplay on-demand streaming services. Those outlets will be stocked with Starz programming (although some shows, like “Outlander” and “Power,” are already sold to outside channels in many markets), but there’s still a need for local fare to fill out the menu and make the service appealing on a regional basis.

Superna Kalle, Starz’s exec VP of international digital networks, said Starz’s appetite for content from sellers who set up shop at Mipcom yielded insights into the target Starzplay markets.

“In an on-demand world, you’re not programming 24/7, but you definitely need to give consumers content that they love to keep them on the service,” Kalle said. “We’re looking for all sorts of programming, from studios and independents, European content — whatever makes sense for a premium audience.”

Marenzi predicted that the irritation caused by the sudden rise of Netflix and Amazon will only heighten the competition — and thus prices paid — for compelling original fare.

“With the global SVODs taking a lot of high-quality projects off the table,” he said, “when you bring out a good show that still has local and regional availabilities, you’ll find a good market for it.”

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