A Norwegian sleuth, a team of Chilean female investigators and the tribes of ancient Rome are headed to Cannes — by way of London.
Britain’s place in the world is the subject of debate and hand wringing in Blighty, with Brexit on the horizon. Amid the delays and confusion wrought by the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, its production and distribution powerhouses have embraced drama from the continent.
As production and distribution groups add non-English drama to their lineups or buy European shingles, the U.K., and specifically London, has become a hotspot for high-end scripted from around the world.
The U.K.-based boom in international fare stems from the consolidation that has seen the likes of Fremantle and ITV Studios assemble stables of production companies from across Europe. The growing appetite for foreign-language fare is another factor. On the distribution side, a factor is the blistering competition for the rights to U.K. drama series, which requires distributors to write ever bigger checks.
A concern on the distribution front is that having heated up the market, Netflix and Amazon are now producing, rather than acquiring, international drama. The hope among sellers is they have stoked a wider, lasting interest in non-English fare.
“Drama is exploding in all kinds of different directions and in all kinds of places,” says Jason Simms, director of drama and comedy at Sky Vision. “The fact that Netflix isn’t necessarily buying, from a distribution point of view, doesn’t mean there aren’t other audiences and services we can sell to instead.”
Sky’s U.K.-based sales and production unit Sky Vision is bulking up on foreign-language. It launched German series “8 Days” at the Berlinale and has added Finnish crime drama “All the Sins” to its slate for MipTV.
Over at ITV Studios, the number of international drama companies in the fold now outnumbers those from the U.K. It has bought into Tetra Media Studio in France, Cattleya in Italy and Apple Tree in Denmark, among others, and picked up distribution rights to shows such as French procedural “Balthazar” and Norwegian drama “Kieler Street,” which it will have at MipTV. It will also be warming up buyers for Tetra’s dramedy “Une Belle Histoire” and Cattleya’s early pre-Roman Empire period drama “Romulus.”
Maria Kyriacou, ITV Studios’ president, international, says there will be more investment in international banners and talented producers, noting Spain and Germany are interesting production hotspots: “We see this as a continuum. This is not done; we’ve got a lot bigger ambitions,” she says.
Brits wanting to celebrate a story of the U.K.’s success on the global stage, however, should take a close look at who owns the major players. All3Media is co-owned by Discovery and Liberty Global, Sky Vision is in the hands of Comcast, Fremantle is part of RTL, DRG is owned by Nent, Banijay is French and Cineflix Canadian. But they all base major global sales operations in London.
The U.S. studios set the blueprint for anchoring an international business in the English capital, but they are not major players in foreign-language drama, with the exception of Lionsgate. It has been building Scandi links and heads to Cannes with Finnish series “Cold Courage.”
Christian Vesper was in the vanguard of non-English fare as programming chief at SundanceTV during the period in which the cabler had international hits “Les Revenants” and “Deutschland 83.” Now at Fremantle, he relocated to the U.K. last year. Fremantle banners include Italy’s Wildside and France’s Kwai. It is working with lauded European filmmakers, including Paolo Sorrentino and Michael Haneke, on television series.
“London makes sense,” he says when asked about the U.K’s international role. “So much of the really great content is coming out of Europe, and the companies already exist in London that have these distribution mechanisms and a good sense of how to finance these projects.”
For European producers looking to establish themselves on a global drama stage, working with one of the U.K.-based firms can add credibility.
“Some producers say to us they want an international distributor, they want their show to be seen as ‘international,’” says Caroline Torrance, drama chief at Banijay Rights, which was early to the game with shows such as “Braquo” out of France, and comes to Cannes with Norwegian-produced crime series “Wisting.”
Continental Europe has planted deep international drama roots too. Beta Film was early to the game with its Spanish-language dramas and continues to branch out beyond its domestic German market. The same is true of ZDF Enterprises, which was a Nordic Noir pioneer.
In the new world of international drama, those running the production and distribution groups agree a good story can now come from anywhere. Increasingly, it will also be passing through London on its way to the international market.