Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, during which millions of self-isolating individuals are tuning into home entertainment, the trends shaping global content have never been more evident.
Recent findings by London-based media research firm Ampere Analysis, which delivered a presentation as part of virtual event MIPTV Plus, reveals an unscripted boom among streamers (best evidenced, perhaps, by Netflix’s break-out doc series “Tiger King”), as well as hot topics in drama and the go-to broadcasters for co-production.
Read on for key takeaways:
1) Unscripted delivers for global streamers
While drama remains the top genre across projects commissioned globally, with more than 500 projects in the works, documentary is not far behind, with 350 titles. A breakdown of Netflix’s TV acquisition run rate from June to December 2019 shows consistent volumes of documentary acquisitions (32 hours) and entertainment (16 hours) month to month, versus high-volume and high-variability acquisitions in genres such as children’s content (172 hours) and romance (182 hours), which indicate just a handful of package deals.
Meanwhile, between December 2018 and December 2019, unscripted projects in development across 160 streamers rose from 24% to 51%, propelled as well by unscripted drives by social and short-form platforms such as Quibi and Facebook. Among a sample of 650 linear players, however, this figure dropped slightly from 44% to 41% for the period, perhaps representing broadcasters’ growing focus on drama.
“This gives us a clue as to where Netflix is focusing its acquisitions strategy,” says Ampere research director Guy Bisson. “It also tells us how streaming strategies (are) evolving in terms of production and development cycles. We can see very clearly that global streaming platforms are increasingly commissioning unscripted content, while linear platforms and channels are reducing the proportion of their (unscripted) commissioning.”
2) Women lead drama while mental health dominates scripted topics
According to Ampere, which analyzed scripted shows currently in production or development with an identifiable gendered lead (excluding shows with group or other protagonists), women now lead the majority of U.S. dramas (56%), compared with male (34%) and co-ed (10%) lead protagonists.
Elsewhere, analysis of newly commissioned scripted shows in the second half of 2019 shows a focus on mental health-related content. Top examples include HBO Max group therapy drama “1% Happy” as well as Netflix’s “Healing Powers of Dude,” which follows a child protagonist with an anxiety disorder and his emotional support dog, and Quibi’s “The Now,” which features a suicidal protagonist.
“Mental health is driven by today’s social agenda and the impact that social media and other aspects of our society are having on young people’s mental health,” says Bisson.
Other hot topics in scripted include business (ABC Australia’s “Barons” and CBS’s “Bait & Tackle”), horror and mystery (Quibi’s “50 States of Fright,” HBO Europe’s “30 Monedas”), and the #MeToo movement (Amazon’s “Deadtown,” ZDF’s “#Pricks”).
3) Regional variations in commissioning endure
According to Ampere’s analysis of programs currently in development or production, Western Europe is a hotspot for documentary and factual content, alongside crime and comedy, while Central Europe skews more heavily to drama.
Similarly, Asia is drama-skewing, while romance and crime also rank high. Meanwhile, North America is driven by comedy as well as crime — in particular, procedurals — and documentary, while Central and South America, whose heartland is telenovelas and soaps, is driven by drama, crime and romance.
Of the international markets, China has come out on top for crime content, followed by the U.K. and France; while the U.K. is number one for documentary, trailed by Australia and France. The U.K. also topped children’s content, followed by Canada and France, while Japan emerged as specialists in animation, trailed by the U.K. and France.
4) Which countries are the go-to drama co-producers?
Based on analysis of projects currently in development, Germany’s ZDF emerged as the largest co-producer of drama with 15 projects marked as co-productions, followed by the BBC (13), France Televisions (11), Netflix (10) and Italy’s Rai (9).
Ampere’s Bisson highlights the two key groups that have emerged: large single-market public broadcasters and the streaming platforms.
“Regional co-production is about sharing risk, and for high-budget drama, in particular, that is becoming increasingly significant. The rights agenda for these two groups works beautifully, with single-market broadcasters needing single-market rights, and large streaming platforms needing the rest of world,” says Bisson.
5) Children’s content travels
Children’s content topped Ampere’s list of the 20 most widely distributed shows on streaming platforms — based on the number of countries and streaming platforms a show has or has had a distribution deal with — with Nickelodeon’s “Paw Patrol” in top spot, followed by ABC Studios’ “Once Upon a Time” and Hasbro Studios’ “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.”
Elsewhere, HBO Max was shown to have commissioned the most children’s content in the last six months with 13 shows, while the BBC followed with 10 and Netflix and Disney Plus trailed with nine. Nickelodeon rounded out the top five commissioners with six new shows.
6) Novel adaptations
Analysis of 735 scripted shows that are adaptations and currently in development or production revealed that around 500 are book adaptations, while less than 100 are adaptations of feature films and comics. Fewer than 50 shows were manga, game, stage show or podcast adaptations.
Overall, more than 26% of all scripted shows currently in production or development are adaptations, with crime and thrillers leading in genre, followed by drama, sci-fi and fantasy, and romance as well as children and family.