ROME – The impending rollout of Disney Plus, HBO Max, and other new streaming services promises a new era of uncertainty—and opportunity—for broadcasters and producers in an industry already disrupted by the likes of Netflix and Amazon. At a panel hosted by the European Producers Club Friday afternoon during the MIA market in Rome, executives from some of Europe’s leading broadcasters gathered to discuss how local players can compete in a rapidly changing market.
“It’s not only the OTTs,” said Marcus Ammon, SVP of original production for Sky Germany, pointing to the threat from streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon. Ammon noted that public broadcasters, commercial broadcasters and other players are also launching into the streaming business. “We need to find our own way.”
Moderated by the European Producers Club’s managing director, Alexandra Lebret, the panel also included Thomas Triboit, head of Orange Studio’s TV series department; José Skaf, senior original content manager for Southern Europe and Africa with Turner; and Carlo Cresto Dina, a producer with Tempesta Film.
As a case study in how European broadcasters could compete with global players by pooling their resources, Ammon drew on Sky’s experience with the landmark period drama “Babylon Berlin.” The co-production with German pubcaster ARD was an “unusual alliance,” said Ammon, but one that allowed Sky Germany to prove it could compete with high-end content coming out of the U.S.
“At that time, we didn’t have the resources to do the show on our own,” he said, noting that “Babylon Berlin” was the most expensive TV production Germany had ever seen. The series’ success would help create a signature brand for the broadcaster, and original dramatic content has since become a bigger part of Sky Germany’s programming.
“The objective back then was to have a show that is on a very international level,” said Ammon. “All of a sudden, the perception of Sky changed from sports more into the fiction and series direction. We built upon this first success.”
Arguably the biggest challenge in this era of peak prestige television is finding enough top-shelf talent to produce premium content, a problem that broadcasters are trying to address in a range of ways.
Triboit noted that with its OCS Signature label, Orange decided “to give a lot of freedom to creators and producers…[and] define from the beginning with the producers what is the ideal show they want.” The collaborations didn’t come without creative—and, more importantly, financial—input from the French telco, but the ultimate responsibility to deliver lay in the hands of their partners. “It’s up to the producers to produce the best show they can.”
“We want to make a safe space for creative talent,” said Skaf, who noted that Turner tried to assure in-demand creators that “with us, they’re going to have an opportunity to produce their passion projects.”
As global streaming services continue to grow into massive corporate entities, Skaf said broadcasters—though often perceived as more slow-moving and cautious than their streaming competitors—might paradoxically have a competitive advantage.
“I also think we can move faster,” he said, pointing to the fact that a Netflix or Amazon might have dozens of projects in development, some of which will never make it off the ground. “If we agree we are going to produce something, there is a very high probability that it’s going to be produced.”
With streaming services typically acquiring worldwide rights—often in perpetuity—broadcasters also have financial leverage by allowing producers to retain rights they can exploit across territories and platforms, opening the door to lucrative back-end profits. “This is also a model…that is more favorable for producers and creators than the Netflix model,” said Ammon.
The executives highlighted the importance of strong creative partnerships between broadcasters and producers, with Triboit noting that when Orange Studio invests in a project, “we are taking the risk alongside you.”
“The more expensive it is, the more likely it is that you need partners,” said Ammon. “We see it as a journey. Every problem that accrues must be handled together.”
When a question was put to the panel about the existential threat posed by streamers, Ammon pushed back on the suggestion that the likes of a Netflix or Amazon was cornering the market on talent and content. “There are [more] commissioners than ever before. I cannot think of a time when there were more projects going on than nowadays, from different players. From public channels, from commercial channels, from OTT providers,” he said.
Ultimately, European broadcasters and producers are faced with a challenge not unlike that of their American counterparts who—whether producing for a network, a cabler, or a streaming platform—are trying to find an audience in an era of endless consumer choice.
“We try to offer as much creative space as we can. We think that quality, that authenticity, and that novelty is a better tool for profitability in the long run,” said Triboit. “If we try to compete on the mainstream aspect, we are not equipped…to compete with big American shows. We try to have a unique voice and stand out from the crowd. That’s our best shot.”