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MipTV Online Plus ends on April 2. Series Mania’s Digital Forum on April 7. As virtual marketplace presentations foreseeably wind down, here area few first takes on the world’s first, and one hopes last, totally online business. More will be added shortly.

Series Mania, MipTV Newsflow Weakens in a Virtual Market

Yes, deals were announced during the Series Mania/Mip-TV virtual marketplace, which may now be beginning to wind down. Federation unveiled strong pre-sales on “The Bureau” S5 and “Bad Banks” S2, Beta Film deals on “Cryptid” (Germany’s Joyn), “La Unidad” (HBO Latin America) and “The Turncoat” (all Nordic state TVs); Fremantle announced DR’s purchase of “Five Guys a Week,” and Globo sales on telenovelas in Latin America.  Cineflix Rights tub-thumped a Spring/Summer slate, adding ITN docs; Brazil’s Encripta bought five dramas from Russia’s NTV. Filmax announced a drama reversion of horror movie classic “The Nameless”; El Estudio “Roman Ritual,” with writer-director Paco Plaza.

But sales news flow, even by MipTV standards, was notably slower than normal. One reason: Many super-indies have offices in most major territories. So the Banijay Group has focused this last week not on sales but commissions to its local companies – for instance, Germany’s Brainpool TV on the SAT-1-ordered “Like, Stay at Home” –  of COVID-19 pick-me-up shows.

Development The New Priorities

As production halts, all over the world companies are piling into the major activity in the supply chain that can certainly continue amid COVID-19 lockdown: Development. Late last week, at Paris-based Federation Entertainment, MD Lionel Uzan told Variety that it will “not decelerate, but accelerate” first-stage new development,” calling it “a big, big focus.” “We’re not producing, which is complicating our business, but we’re developing more than ever, looking at material, consolidating our slate,” said Juan de Dios Larraín, at Chile’s Fabula, whose “La Jauría,” was brought onto the virtual marketplace by Fremantle.

A New Independent Aristocracy 

Why, apart from Sony, weren’t Hollywood’s studios hitting this week’s virtual marketplace? Some amy be waiting for the L.A. Screenings. Many don’t need to. “The largest producers are increasingly serving internal needs as they themselves look to go direct to the end-consumer,” Guy Bisson, at London-based Media Research company Ampere Analysis, observed at a MipTV Online presentation. He cited Disney, which makes available only 10% of its production output to entities outside the Disney family. The impact of that is that “independents like Banijay, Fremantle and Endemol, where most of their production is for third parties, become increasingly important in the wider market and in terms of what is getting made and commissioned,” Bissson sai.  It is super-indies – Fremantle, France’s Federation, Germany’s Beta Film – which are leading the charge into a virtual market, rolling off their dominance of Series Mania and Canneseries competition selection and a shortage of product for markets. A new aristocracy is being born.

It’s Not Just History, It’s Personal

As Europe’s high-end drama series industry battles to stand out in scale and ambition, driven by huge competition, some of the the buzziest series brought onto the market – Federation’s “The Bureau,” Fremantle’s “No Man’s Land” and “Enslaved,” Lagardère’s “Commandos,” Beta Film’s “La Unidad” – are intimate globe-trotting geo-political eyeopeners combining social and political issues with full-on action scenes and character-driven stories with big geo-political contexts. Global platforms are currently going local. But global stories can impact global audiences as well.

Character, Not Content, Is King

This last week has seen shows from some of the greatest drama series writers in the world unveiled to buyers and the press. But what did these writers get really passionate about, in presentations or interviews? In one word: Character. Though it weighs in as a sci-fi mind-bender, “The Grave,” the new show from Israel’s Omri Givon (“When Eagles Fly”) is about parent-child relations, and how they define peoples’ lives, he says. For social-issue dramas, “the key is for the social part to evolve from character,” “No Man’s Land” co-writer Amit Cohen tells Variety. The fascination of Movistar Plus’ upcoming Basque conflict drama “La Línea Invisible,” sold by About Premium Content, creator Mariano Barroso said at an online presentation on Monday, is the contradiction of its characters. “No heroes are perfect,” he argued. Nor villains totally heinous.  Whether –  as with many portraits of such divisive conflicts – everybody will agree with him remains to be seen.

Good Doctors

Scripted format and book adaptions. the most popular IP source for series, have hardly moved the dial, marking 4% and 15% of all fiction bows this 2019-20 season, vs. 4.5% and 17% over 2018-19, The Wit’s Virginia Mouseler said at Fresh TV Fiction, addressing MipTV Online viewers from her kitchen.

In contrast, new medical dramas launches are up 53% this 2019-20 season. Blame “The Good Doctor,” and a general need for feel good shows where people get better, as the world gets worse.

NBC Universal Intl. Distribution’s “Transplant” and eOne-sold “Nurses” have proved English-speaking Canada’s biggest hits. In Spain, Amazon/Mediaset España’s “Mothers: Love and Hope,” sold by Mediterráneo, has been renewed for Season 2, before Season  1 has begun. Lux Vide/rai.com’s “Doc,” about an amnesiac medic, is another example.

“The trend has been growing for two seasons now,” says The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas. He adds: “There was a gap in the market to fill with the increase of the demand for fiction. It’s more of a cyclical interest in a classic sub-genre, with nothing really new in the form (nurses, doctors, private lives…).”

What Else is Hot in Early 2020?

Incredibly, virus thrillers, though many bowed in January, before the brute impact of COVID-19 was apparent to the West, said The Wit’s Mouseler. France’s No. 1 hit broadcast network in 2020, for instance, was TF1 Studio’s “Fear by the Lake,” about a new Ebola virus strain devastating locals. No. 1 in French-speaking Canada was “The Outbreak,” where, in a mixed  medic/contagion drama, a woman medic battles men who know better and a virus pandemic. To broadcast this month on TV3, the pumped-up, pulsating “The Outbreak” has security forces shooting quarantined Moscovites.

“The series probably reflect the anxiety in the world over the last few years about the future of the planet, ecology etc.,” says The Wit’s Bertrand Villegas. “’Virus,’ from a dramatic point of view is an easier ‘enemy’ to face (good vs evil, life vs death) than elusive global climate change. It… ‘embodies’ all threats and fears.”