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Berlin’s 2019 Drama Series Days: Five Takeaways

BERLIN — The Berlin Festival’s Drama Series Days wrapped Wednesday after three days of intense panels, screenings and an affirmation of the robust growth of Europe’s higher-end drama series production. As the Berlin Festival looks to a future under new directors, one fairly safe prediction is that its TV strand, already boasting packed-to-the -rafters audiences for its key sessions, will only get bigger. Following, five takeaways from its 5th edition:

NETFLIX

Amazon made the running at Sundance, but Netflix ruled business news flow in Berlin, at least through Wednesday afternoon. With its first film in Berlin competition, Isabel Coixet’s “Elisa & Marcela,” an at-least 49-exec delegation and its own panel at Berlin’s Drama Series Days, during the course of the Berlin Film Festival, Netflix unveiled 12 new Original Series and seven new Original Movies out of international, from Spain (five new series), Mexico (four series, four features), Germany (three films, two series) and Norway (one series).

The Netflix panel marked a kind of coming out for Netflix as it allowed an industry audience to get to know five senior Europe-based executives – led by Kelly Luegenbiehl, VP international originals Europe/Turkey/Africa who has just relocated to Europe.

Netlix’s first festival round table also forms part of an international outreach as its adds subscribers internationally at a far greater pace than in the U.S and, from the E.U. big four to Japan to Brazil and elsewhere, the attractiveness of local shows made out of international – both in and outside their countries’ of origin – represents one of the biggest growth drivers at the U.S. streaming giant.

AMAZON’S BERLIN LAUNCHPAD

Amazon wasn’t going to let Netflix grab all of the Berlin headlines – although the latter made a good fist of that with an onslaught of originals announcements. Amazon brought “Hanna” to town for its premiere and for a dry run for execs and crew in front of the press before they faced the TCA crowd.

Content boss Jennifer Salke, a year into the job, said she has been out there “sending the message that we are a global home for talent.” How is it different from Netflix (which was, in turn, spelling out why it was different two days later)?

“We’re looking for a more curated approach than some of our competitors,” she said. “It’s about quality and partnership with artists. For me, reaching out to artists and trying to bring people into the fold quickly became sort of a calling card.”

Amazon is expected to unveil new shows with international credits at its TCA.

BUZZY IN BERLIN, OR DOING THE BUSINESS

“Big Bones” was the buzzy show-in-the-making at Berlin’s TV forum, while the first deals landed for two prestige German projects: Berlinale Special series “Brecht,” and the Italian immigrants in Germany tale “Bella Germania.”

Post-war gangster tale “Big Bones” not only landed international distribution – through Beta Film – but topped the Drama Series Days’ pitch session for new shows. As Beta and others fight for rights, the distributor’s early move underlined that the battle for the best ideas starts ever earlier and distributors are increasingly influential in terms of what gets made.

European auteur Agnieszka Holland received a warm reception as she talked “Napoleon,” an ambitious series about the French leader that stood out from a noir and crime-heavy crowd at the Co Pro Series pitching session.

On the first day of the market, Federation Ent. announced it had acquired worldwide sales rights outside German-speaking territories on French mini-series “Twice Upon a Time,” a romantic sci-fi drama from Bruno Nahon Unité de Production and Arte France directed by Guillaume Nicloux (“Valley of Love”).

Among a raft of deals, Sky Vision licensed “8 Days” to HBO Europe, Russia’s Amedia and Globo’s Globoplay, Globo’s catch-up/SVOD service, while selling “Bullets” to Germany’s RTL, Greece’s ERT and Amedia.

TALENT

Talent – or its shortage: There may be no larger issue in the current drama series market. “It’s a fantastic time because we can do so many different stories, you can tell the stories that you couldn’t have told before and also free TV broadcasters are completely opening up and trying things,” Sabine de Mardt, at Gaumont Germany said at the Drama Series Days opening panel.

“But there is so much production going on that we are very short on talent, even short on normal crews,” she added.

An arms race for top TV talent is building in the U.S. In continental Europe, the major challenge is for it simply to exist. Native show runners, such as Eric Rochant, behind Canal Plus/Federation’s “The Bureau” – maybe the best sold of modern French series – are rare in France and Germany. Europe needs to create its own show runners. That, said Orange Content’s David Kessler, talking on the same panel, is a question of time and education.

A PARADOX

Based out of Berlin, at the heart of Europe, Berlin’s Drama Series Days are largely European. That’s natural, and can be seen in the programing. Many shows on display are designed for SVOD viewing. That is meant to attract younger audiences. But maybe a majority of series at Drama Series Days, including some potentially great shows,  skew older. “There’s a notable emphasis at the Drama Series Days on a linear TV profile for shows,” observed Felipe Braga at Brazil’s Los Bragas observed. In contrast, many premium Latin American series target a new emerging audience which is predominantly young, he added. That may explain the popularity of some of these shows, such as Brazil’s Netflix show “3%” which Luegenbiehl helped develop and has been seen by more viewers outside Brazil than in domestic. Some viewers don’t even realize they’re seeing a foreign-language show, such is the quality of dubbing these days, she recounted at Netflix’s Wednesday round table. Netflix global hits “La casa de papel,” “Elite,” “Dark” and “Rain” all skew young adult – one reason for their global success. “The Crown” if course is hardly a YA show, But expect more European producers to make more YA shows in the future.

 

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