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Global Distributors Work to Stand Out in a Competitive Streaming World

If there’s one thing the European industry can agree on ahead of the Variety European TV Summit it’s this: a flood of OTT launches looks set to upend the TV market.

New streaming services from global companies like Disney, Warner Bros., Comcast and Apple, as well as local players such as ITV and the BBC’s Britbox, and France Télévisions, TF1 and M6’s service Salto, are going to lead to significant change, say both distributors and rival platforms.

On the plus side for distributors, there is more demand for content from this swathe of upcoming platforms — although there is a big question mark about how many services households will be prepared to pay for.

However, many of the global platforms are taking worldwide rights when they commission original shows, cutting distributors out of the loop.

Meanwhile, some U.S. studios may also keep product back for their own services, rather than selling it on the international market — potentially restricting the amount of high-end content available to buyers.

For distributors, says Endemol Shine Intl. CEO Cathy Payne, the flurry of SVOD launches is going to mean “a different focus on how you sell shows.”

In particular, local broadcasters are looking for more home-grown content to compete against the global services, she says.

They also want to hold on to rights for longer when they commission shows so that viewers can watch them at a time that suits them, rather than in a narrow window. The BBC, for example, wants to make content available for much longer on its iPlayer platform — at least a year, potentially more.

“It’s going to create challenges around funding,” says Payne. “I always say all rights are available, it just depends on what you are going to pay for them.”

Not all platforms, she adds, want all their shows on an exclusive basis. Alongside having a certain number of exclusive offerings, many platforms will take shows from a distributor’s catalog on a non-exclusive basis as a way of preventing viewers from switching to a rival platform. She cites U.K. comedy “Benidorm,” which will air non-exclusively on Britbox when it launches, as well as on Netflix.

Payne also sees potential growth in the free-to-view ad-based video on demand (AVOD) space, which she says hasn’t developed elsewhere as widely as it has in the U.S.

One AVOD service that has successfully established itself in markets such as the U.K., U.S., Australia, Italy and Belgium is international drama channel Walter Presents. Its co-founder Walter Iuzzolino says the big platforms, Netflix and Amazon, have fostered the streaming habit with millions of customers around the world — carving out a path for more specific services like Walter Presents to follow in their wakes.

He says he has no problem acquiring top international dramas — such as “Ride Upon the Storm” — for Walter Presents, even though Netflix and Amazon are increasingly showcasing local and foreign-language shows.

The big streamers, he explains, are producing more of their own local-language series. To compete, national broadcasters have raised their game, creating more and higher-quality content — much of which is available on the international market.

“I’ve found, if anything, that more titles are available,” says Iuzzolino. “Five years ago, I had to watch about 20 titles to pick one I wanted — the quality level was still quite patchy. Now, it is more like one in five. Most of the series I see are really, really good.”

Iuzzolino says Walter Presents has broken into new markets by partnering with local broadcasters, whether Channel 4 in the U.K. or PBS in the U.S. “There is something very powerful about teaming up with a local player who understands the market, and has a very strong connection to their consumers,” he says.

He explains that two early decisions taken ahead of launching Walter Presents in 2016 have been crucial to its long-term success.

The first was to choose to launch as a mainstream AVOD service, rather than a niche pay offering. Relying on ad funding means it has to be broader in its appeal.

“We wanted to be inclusive, commercial and mainstream — not elitist and overly intellectual,” says Iuzzolino.

The second was the choice of its name. Initially, the working title for the service was World Drama Originals — an anonymous, corporate-sounding moniker. The name Walter Presents, says Iuzzolino, was suggested by Channel 4 — and has helped the platform to stand out. “They said: ‘Let’s have a name that tells the real story of the brand — that this is about a real person, who is passionate about international drama.’”

Meanwhile, global sports streamer DAZN is broadening its content offering in a bid to stand out in the crowded and ultra-competitive sports marketplace.

Backed by billionaire Len Blavatnik, DAZN has invested heavily in live sports rights, such as England’s Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, in its bid to become the Netflix of sport.

It’s now investing more in its own original content as well — such as documentary “40 Days,” about the build-up to Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez’s recent bout with Daniel Jacobs.

“To complement our great live sport, we must create iconic content in sports,” explains Grant Best, senior VP for original programming and content development at DAZN. “The two go hand in hand — it’s about engagement and retention. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, people will look at our non-live content, not just our live, as a reason to be with DAZN.”

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