LILLE, France – The 10th Series Mania kicks off in Lille, north-east France, on Friday March 22. Here are 10 down-to-the-wire takes on the banner European TV Festival:
Many Series Mania screenings are fully booked. But some sold out in the hour: “Osmosis,” and “The OA” Season 2, for instance. “Chambers” with Uma Thurman is also sold out. What do these shows have in common? They’re all from Netflix. If Berlin’s Drama Series Days is anything to go by, where a Netflix panel was packed to the rafters, a one-hour panel From Idea to Screen: Developing French Content for and with Netflix will be one of Series Mania’s hottest tickets. One of the major power sessions at the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues look almost certainly to be Ted Sarandos in conversation with Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, Brooker’s producer. Netflix is by far from the only act in town. Series Mania’s excitement in part is its dazzling spread of companies, titles, and series’ countries of origin. CBS’ “Twilight Zone” and Warner Bros./Universal’s “Manifest” have also sold out. What Netflix’s Lille presence does suggest – following on the Berlin Drama Series and even Mexico’s Guadalajara, featuring a conversation between Guillermo del Toro and Netflix’s Melissa Cobb on kids & family entertainment – is its positioning at big events. In the U.K. at least, Netflix and Amazon will carve out a position which looks “unassailable” in the SVOD world, predicts a recent Enders Analysis report. Other markets, also with strong incumbents, still need conquering. There’s new OTT platform competition down the line. Netflix and Amazon cannot afford to rest on their laurels. Expect both to figure prominently whenever they can, even if they can’t at Cannes, at other major film and TV meets.
2.STAR TURNS & HIGHLIGHTS
Uma Thurman (“The Ch ambers”), Adam Scott (“Twilight Zone”), Freddie Highmore (“The Good Doctor”), Marti Noxon (“Mad Men,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Glee”), Dominik Moll (“Eden”) all deliver masterclasses. Eric Rochant (“The Bureau) and Hugo Blick (“The Honorable Woman”) talk about show-running. In another star turn, at the Lille Transatlantic Dialogues, MPA president Charles Rivkin will speak about creativity and the future of content. “Killing Eve’s” producers reflect on production. Kicking off the Dialogues, Eurodata will present a comparative study on French and U.S. series.
Migration (“Eden,” “Asylum City”), dystopias, series capturing a contemporary Zeitgeist of uncertainty, dislocation and pessimism, say general director Laurence Herszberg and artistic director Frédéric Lavigne. “In a context of political and social instability, the trend is towards series which replay history or demonize the future,” they add.
There’s an explosion of series set in 1980s or 1990s, Herszberg and Lavigne write in an introduction to this year’s selection.
“What we’ve done wrong and where that can lead us: Two sides of the same coin are shown, however, via a palette of languages from realism noir to burlesque comedy.”
4.THE DRIVE TO ORIGINALITY
One or two of the titles at Series Mania’s Co-pro Pitching Sessions are still Noirs. But Nordic Noir is now a standard which younger companies take on like an industry rites of passage, showing they can bring something fresh to a still highly popular entertainment form. This year’s Co-pro projects play with Noir: In Lebanon-set “Faraya,” from Déja Vu Beirut, it’s the investigating detective ineptitude which sparks violence rather than her eccentric brilliance solving it. In “Off Season,” a potential Swiss series from Akka Films, the killer’s arrest doesn’t solve the detective’s problems, but rather exacerbates them. In such a bitterly competitive sector as high-end drama, originality is not a virtue but a necessity.
5.THE U.K. (AND U.S.) RULE, O.K.?
When it comes to Series Mania selection. But not so much in production as sales. Nine of the 31 titles (27%) ) in Series Mania’s top three sections are U.K. or U.S. productions. 18, however, are distributed by U.S. or U.K.-based companies, led by Fremantle (4); Sky Vision (3); Netflix (2.5) HBO (2), BBC Studios (2) and ITVGE (1). That’s despite one of the top three sections – Official Competition, French Competition, Intl. Panorama – being dedicated to French productions.
U.K. and ever more U.S. pay/OTT companies increasingly dominate the world’s drama series distribution business. Expect one of the talking points at Canneseries to be how the French are fighting back.
Of competition entries, there’s large expectation to see the latest works from three name creatives: Shane Meadows “The Virtues,” starring Stephen Graham (“This is England,” “Boardwalk Empire”); Dominik Moll’s “Eden,” “Just for Today,” from Nir Bergman (“In Treatment”). In Panorama, Sky’s “8 Days,” Yes Studio’s “Aslyum City” – both released – and Russia’s “Black Out” are sparking good buzz. Of Forum co-pro projects, there’s good word on “Fortress” – another bold alternative history premise from Norway’s NRK, A as well as Paris Lesbian night club drama “Purple” and Palestinian alternative culture scene-set “The Dreamers.”
7.AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The Series Mania Forum features a swathe of round tables. When it comes to industry panels, however, there is one burning question which dwarfs all others: The role which independent production has in a new streaming platform environment. All other issues, even if Netflix pays levies on national revenues to local government film-TV funding, pale in comparison. Currently, what keeps independent producers awake at night is a scenario where the new consolidated U.S. powerhouses and OTT platforms, established and to come, go straight to talent, sidelining independent producers, and produce in-house. That’s not a question of whether producers retain rights building company assets, but whether producers have any job at all in the future. One alternative for indie producers is to push into co-production with other indie players in a scenario where production houses, if they put up equity coin, retain IP. (Ironically, some players will co-produce with money earned from working with Netflix et al.). There is also some evidence of some TV operators – France’s Arte, Spain’s Movistar + – proving more flexible and moving ever more into co-production. Nothing is written in stone about how Netflix will produce in the future. “It’s early days,” Kelly Luegenbiehl, Netflix’s VP international originals, Europe,Turkey,Africa said in Berlin. But producers are increasingly not sleeping well at night.
8.PEAK TV? FORGET IT
Total attendance at Series Mania’s Forum, its industry focus, was tracking Thursday for a final 2,500 accredited participants, 25% up on 2018 and a historical record. Producers, TV operators and sales agents are still piling into the high-end international drama series sector. Slowing growth? is Nowhere in sight.
9.TARGETING THE YA CROWD
First, the good news. The rate of decline of TV viewing among younger age groups will slow going forward, according to Enders Analysis. Now, the bad. That’s because there are ever less young viewers left for linear TV to lose. Broadcasters currently capture just 55% of under 35s content viewing in the U.K. Can Europe still fight back? A panel at Series Mania, Young, Wild & Free, will highlight Europeans who do create for 15-25s, or at least have that age-group in the broader audience of their latest series. Two of those shows are from Netflix: “Elite” and “Osmosis,” though the later is not just 15-24 fare. One question is whether Series Mania will suggest the same paradox as Berlin’s Drama Series Days: a lot of European series being made for SVOD consumption, very few for one of SVOD’s most habitual audiences: YAs.
10.GOOD SHOWS CAN COME FROM ANYWHERE. AND THEY DO
Two of the four highest-rated shows on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, third quarter 2018, were non U.S.: india’s “Sacred Games” (ranking No. 1), “Babylon Berlin” (No. 4), with “The Handmaid’s Tale” (No. 2) and “Peaky Blinders” (No. 3) in between. Good Shows van come from anywhere. And they are: Series Mania founder-director general Laurence Herszberg points to its two Russian shows, one, “Infiltration,” in main competition, the second year running that Russia has scored a slot. “We have more series coming from Asia. Korea, Indonesia, and using genre as well. The quality of series from countries we are not used to seeing here is getting higher and higher.”