Seven Takeaways from Variety’s European TV Summit

At Variety’s first European TV Summit on Thursday, held at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel, headline speakers Ricky Gervais, the creator of global successes including “The Office” and “Afterlife,” and Sharon Horgan, the force behind hit comedies “Catastrophe” and “Divorce,” shared their insights, alongside a host of industry leaders. Here are some of the takeaways.

Gervais, who revealed that he has a first-look deal with Netflix, said he bases his shows on personal experience and strives for honesty. “As I get older, I don’t want to try to be bigger or richer or win more awards. I just want to go: Is this the most honest I have ever been? That is what drives me now,” he said. Gareth Neame, executive producer of “Downton Abbey,” said something similar: “You should be making a show for yourself; you have to love it.”

One of the advantages of having their own production companies for writers and performers such as Gervais and Horgan is to be involved in all aspects of production, including casting and the selection of behind-the-camera talent. Gervais, for example, said he casts key roles as he writes the script, while Horgan mentioned that her initial list of potential directors is always women only. Horgan’s company, Merman, is deliberately female-centered, and gets “more interesting stories because of it.”

Gary Davey, who on Wednesday segued to the newly created position of CEO of Sky Studios at pan-European pay-TV company Sky, said that original series such as HBO-Sky’s “Chernobyl” have become a key reason for customers to continue to subscribe to the platform. He said that, last year, 18 of the top 20 series across the Sky Group were originals. Sergio Osle, president at Spanish pay-TV company Movistar Plus, said that the ratings for five or six of his recent original series were higher than El Clasico, the soccer match between arch-rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, previously the top-rated show.

Davey and Osle spoke about the rising importance of companies like theirs as aggregators of content, citing their deals with Netflix. “We’d like to be considered as a good aggregator. We don’t need to own all the content, and we never have,” Davey said. Both Sky and Movistar Plus have recently integrated Netflix’s content into their user interface. “Partnering with Netflix has been a really good learning curve for us both,” Davey said.

International producers have to balance the need to appeal to a local audience with selling to international buyers.  The U.K.’s Neame said: “Unless we sell to the world, we won’t make a profit.” Added Germany’s Moritz Polter, executive producer of “Das Boot”: “We have to appeal to a broad audience in Germany and a niche audience internationally.” And Denmark’s Adam Price, the creator and writer of “Borgen,” commented: “Try not to cross borders, and then you might,” adding that it was better to “be particular, specific and personal” when developing projects.

Platforms that cater to a niche market, such as Walter Presents, which specializes in upmarket foreign-language dramas, haven’t been overly affected by the mushrooming number of streaming services. Walter Presents co-founder Walter Iuzzolino drew a distinction between generalist platforms that were like supermarkets and boutique platforms like his. “You go to a boutique for a different experience,” he said. The quality of curation was the key for boutique operators. “You have to have a clear idea of who your audience is,” said Nick Walters, CEO of Hopster, which specializes in kids’ content. Your audience “are your marketing tool,” Iuzzolino added.

Although much of the focus recently has been on high-budget drama series, and the demand for library content is waning, non-scripted fare can be very profitable, and some traditional scripted shows still find eager buyers. ITV Studios Global Entertainment managing director Ruth Berry said: “’Marple’ and ‘Poirot’ have been selling for over 25 years, and we still license those every year to buyers.” “Good product will find a home,” Endemol Shine Intl. CEO Cathy Payne said.

Variety’s European TV Summit was co-produced by global events company Informa’s KNect365 division, the world’s largest business-to-business organizer.

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