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Amazon’s Entry into Italy Could Prompt Quantum Leap for Local Industry

Amazon Studios’ official move into Italy last week with a robust slate of both scripted and unscripted shows is shaking up the local industry and may give the country a welcome boost in terms of raising its profile on the global production map, where Italian TV output for global viewing lags behind nearby territories.

The streamer, being an arm of a global retailing powerhouse, is pushing into Europe at its own pace and with a more multi-genre approach than its competitors, in particular compared with Netflix, a standalone service. During a Jan. 23 presentation in Rome, Amazon announced four new Italian originals, comprising “Bang Bang Baby,” a high-concept Milan-set mob dramedy with a mostly female cast, “Vita da Carlo,” a comedy series centered around popular local star Carlo Verdone, and an unscripted food travelogue titled “Dinner Club.” 

Previously Amazon had announced other Italian projects, most notably the Italian component of global thriller multi-series “Citadel,” being produced by former ABC Studios president Patrick Moran, on which Amazon is working in Italy with Rome-based Cattleya, the ITV-owned shingle behind “Gomorrah,” which has been exported widely.

“The show [‘Citadel’] we are producing with Cattleya will be totally standalone,” Amazon’s director of European originals, Georgia Brown, told Variety. But, she added, “What you’ll see is the characters in our Italian show will cross over into other territories and have cameos.” She noted that the ambitious multi-series show’s world “becomes very intertwined, if you want it to.” Anthony and Joe Russo (“Avengers”) are directing the “Citadel” show’s “mothership” U.S. series toplining Priyaka Chopra Jonas (“Quantico”) and Richard Madden.

Italy being literally spun into a global narrative of this heft and scope is certainly a positive.

However producer Lorenzo Mieli, who heads Fremantle’s The Apartment – which is making “Bang Bang Baby” – points out the parallel importance of Amazon entering the unscripted market in Italy with shows such as “Dinner Club” and an adaptation of British format “Celebrity Hunted.”

“It was since the days of when Sky Italia launched 10 years that we hadn’t had a breath of fresh air when it comes to having a new player in [unscripted] entertainment,” he said. “And that could shake things up a bit,” Mieli added.

Mieli, who produced RAI and HBO’s “The New Pope” and “My Brilliant Friend,” which are emblematic of the edge and quality that make Italy’s high-end TV output stand out, sees “Bang Bang Baby,” which revolves around a shy, insecure teenage girl who joins the Milanese mob, as potentially being in that league.

For veteran Italian producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, whose late uncle Dino De Laurentiis is a Hollywood legend, Amazon’s arrival is a definite game-changer.

De Laurentiis, who owns Italian top league soccer team Napoli and smaller club Bari, said he had been a bit sidetracked by his soccer activities before scoring the comedy series deal with Amazon for “Vita Da Carlo” (Life as Carlo).

“Amazon has given us the opportunity to get back into scripted content production for the international market,” Aurelio and his son Luigi De Laurentiis said in a joint statement. But they both see greater opportunity than just a comedy show from their rapport with Amazon, which in December secured German rights to a package of soccer Champions League matches.

“Who knows if we will be able to persuade Amazon to enter a bid and become a competitor for Italian soccer rights around the world?,” they said, adding: “We can’t think of a better platform to bring Italian soccer into the world, given its reach in 220 [territories].”

Enthusiasm in Italy for the arrival of Amazon Studios – which in terms of output puts the country roughly on a par with other European territories, Amazon execs say – comes as Netflix is expected to ramp up Italian productions. Netflix, which will soon open a Rome office, has four Italian scripted originals in various stages including witchcraft series “Luna Nera,” helmed by a trio of women directors that will be unveiled Tuesday.

Netflix is estimated to have 2.1 million-2.2 million subscribers in Italy, while the figure for Amazon Prime is between 1 million and 1.5 million. The Sky Italia pay-TV service has roughly 5 million customers.

Those numbers pale compared with France where Netflix says it has 6.7 million subscribers.

Mieli noted that with Disney Plus launching in Europe in March and gearing up to produce locally “there is now the perfect nexus” because the platforms are coming at a time when there are enough Italian producers, talents and creatives “who are up to the task of making local product that can travel.”

The next step for Italy, Mieli said, is to rise to the challenge of becoming a pillar of European production and “not be content with being relegated to the margins.”

“We are a bit behind,” he noted. “We have to conquer a larger portion of the global audience to rise to the same level as Spain, France and Germany.”

“The level of investment has to grow,” he said. “And we have to prove that we are worth it; that it’s not just a matter of quotas,” Mieli added, referring to the European Union directive that requires that at least 30% of content on streaming platforms be made in Europe.

 

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