Disney Plus, HBO Max & New Streamers Descend on U.K. Screenings

UK Screenings 2020
Fremantle/Banijay Rights/BBC Studios/Lionsgate

U.K. Screenings, once the haphazard market piggy-backing off the glam BBC Showcase, has at last become an establishment in its own right.

This year’s edition of the week-long event, where a range of global broadcasters and streamers descend on Liverpool and London to peruse the latest wares from international distributors, stands to be the biggest yet, with new entrants such as French VOD Salto and Disney Plus firmly in the mix, and a refreshingly keen interest in non-English language projects.

U.K. Screenings has traditionally revolved around the Liverpool-set BBC Showcase, which kicks off on Sunday and will host up to 700 buyers. On the back of its success, London-based international distributors have banded together, coordinating as early as last summer to draw up a schedule and maximize buyers’ time when they travel down to London from Liverpool. The event, which runs from Feb. 9 to 14 (schedule below), has become so successful that most major distributors now have a reduced presence at April’s MIPTV market in Cannes.

Agapy Kapouranis, president of international television and digital distribution for Lionsgate, is screening the first two never-before-seen episodes of the Anna Kendrick-fronted HBO Max series “Love Life” next week to buyers from around the world.

“We’re noticing (UK Screenings) is no longer just a European event,” she says. “As our content business becomes more global, we’re seeing buyers (here) from all over the world, and across traditional and new media platforms.”

While streamers have had a strong presence in editions past, this year marks the first at which Disney Plus and HBO Max are out in earnest, in addition to regional VOD players such as France’s Salto – a joint effort between broadcasters France Télévisions, M6 and TF1 that finally got the greenlight last summer – and Discovery and ProSiebenSat.1’s increasingly global-facing SVOD Joyn.

Stuart Baxter, president of international distribution for Entertainment One, stresses that timing is absolutely key for Disney Plus and HBO Max, who are “actively engaging to identify and come on board projects at an early stage.”

“Most of them are focused on SVOD rights, but some of them, because they are part of organizations that still have linear, would also like to control as many rights as possible,” says Baxter, who notes that eOne will also update buyers on its content strategy post-Hasbro acquisition.

One distributor in close discussions with Disney Plus tells Variety that the business is extremely focused on commissions and pre-sales, rather than acquisitions. Ahead of the holidays, the team met with execs in London but later warned that the strategy will be “refocused” in the coming months as the platform continues its global roll-out. What is abundantly clear, however, is a need for family-friendly content “on a super scale and with well-known IP.”

We Children Of Bahnhof Zoo

Local streamers make Screenings debut

Meanwhile, on the local streaming front, Fremantle International CEO Jens Richter says that while Netflix and Amazon are “super active” at U.K. Screenings, it is the local platform initiatives that are “on the rise.”

For super-indies such as Fremantle, which has a strong pipeline of non-English language content such as the Fabula-produced Latin American thriller “La Jauría,” these players bode particularly well for business.

“If you’re a European VOD platform, high-quality international and predominantly European drama is important for you to have. Right after your local dramas, that’s the kind of show that makes a difference to your audiences,” says Richter.

Ruth Berry, managing director of global distribution for “Snowpiercer” and “Vigil” firm ITV Studios, agrees that both Salto and Joyn are “ambitious services” that allow the distribution giant to target “two major European markets.”

“New players often need to build their content catalogues quickly and we are well placed to supply premium series that will attract new subscribers,” she says.

Banijay Rights, which marks its first foray in U.K. Screenings this year, ahead of Banijay Group’s acquisition of Endemol Shine Group, is also in conversation with Salto, particularly due to the “Versailles” distributor’s extensive French catalogue.

Tim Mutimer, head of Banijay Rights, notes that AVOD is a “key right that people are thinking long and hard about.”

“Some broadcast clients are trying to wrap AVOD into the suite of rights we’re granting to them, while others are talking more about partnerships, where we discuss how we can work together to use (their) skills of curation and platforms to share revenue together around AVOD,” says Mutimer.

The formats business will also take centre stage, with dynamic presentations from the likes of ITV Studios and Warner Bros. International Television Production (WBITVP), who are hosting their showcase at Abbey Road Studios for the first time.

Last year, WBITVP flew in Rob Lowe to discuss Fox’s “Mental Samurai.” The firm invested in a Spanish hub at which local versions of the format were shot for Portugal (TVI), Finland (Nelonen) and the Middle East.

“There is a great mixed ecology of broadcasters around the world who look for formats at different stages,” says Andy Zein, SVP of creative for format development and sales at WBITVP.

“You have the uber-fast moving markets such as Germany, Australia, France and Holland that are looking for the next big thing and will buy straight away, and other territories who want performance at a different price point.”

The China Question 

This year, the sheer popularity of U.K. Screenings has thrown a wrench into proceedings, and with the likes of Banijay Rights joining the fray, there are concerns that buyers “will be fragmented” because of concurrent presentations.

There are also anxieties about the absence of major Chinese players, such as Tencent and iQiyi. As revealed by Variety earlier this week, the virus outbreak and subsequent travel bans have grounded many companies, with around 20 Chinese firms skipping BBC Showcase and other screenings this year.

“We have some live projects with China, and I’m supposed to go next month, but I can’t,” says Fremantle’s Richter, adding, “But it’s not just about business being delayed; it’s really dramatic and I’m sorry for the people out there.”

Privately, one senior distribution figure tells Variety that the situation is “incredibly bad,” both on an individual and business level.

“Being able to talk to people and show your content is at the heart of the TV business,” they say, also putting into doubt how many TV events in Asia, such as June’s Shanghai TV Festival, will go ahead this year. Singapore’s Asia TV Forum in December could also see reduced attendance.

“It’s going to be a really tough year in that part of the world,” says the executive. “Already airlines are cancelling flights and companies [who attend these events] are going, ‘What’s our budget for the year and where are we spending money?’”

Screenings Schedule

BBC Studios
Feb. 9-12
ACC Liverpool
Highlights: A Suitable Boy, Us, The North Water, Perfect Planet

ITV Studios
Wednesday, Feb. 12
9AM Formats / 2PM Drama
The Roundhouse, Camden
Highlights: Vigil, Romulus, Singapore Grip, Snowpiercer

Banijay Rights
Wednesday, Feb. 12
Everyman Cinema, Kings Cross
Highlights: We Got This, Bäckström

Warner Bros. International TV Production
Wednesday, Feb. 12
Abbey Road Studios
Highlights: All That Glitters

Wednesday, Feb. 12 / Thursday, Feb. 13
2PM / 9AM
The Soho Hotel
Highlights: Paradist Lost, 68 Whiskey

TCB Media Rights
Wednesday, Feb. 12
Groucho Club, Soho
Highlights: Undisclosed

Entertainment One
Thursday, Feb. 13
Picturehouse Central
Highlights: Undisclosed

Thursday, Feb. 13
9AM, 12:30PM, 4PM
Charlotte Street Hotel
Highlights: Love Life, Cold Courage

All3Media International
Thursday, Feb. 13 / Friday, Feb. 14
12:30PM / 11:30AM
Odeon Leicester Square / Boulevard Theatre
Highlights: All Creatures Great and Small, The Hustler

Thursday, Feb. 13
NBCU Headquarters, 1 Central St. Giles
Highlights: Michael McIntyre’s Big Show

Friday, Feb. 14
Picturehouse Central
Highlights: We Are Who We Are, We Children From Bahnhof Zoo