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Producers Talk Hard Times and High Times for International Co-Productions

Producers Talk Hard Times and High Times for International Co-Productions

The past year has been the best of times and also the toughest of times for producers in the hunt for international co-production partners.

That was the sentiment shared by four industry veterans who gathered Dec. 10 for a virtual panel, “Betting on International Co-Productions: The Path Forward,” presented by the Producers Guild of America and Monte Carlo Television Festival and moderated by Variety co-editor in chief Cynthia Littleton.

The global demand for original content is showing no signs of slowing down. Prior to the pandemic, there were ample opportunities to assemble co-productions for traditional buyers. But the coronavirus clampdown has accelerated trends for the largest TV and streaming players that make it harder for producers work with multiple partners.

“It’s always like pushing a boulder up a hill to find the right partners,” said Christian Vesper, president of global drama for Fremantle. “Over the last nine months with the continued consolidation among big global platforms… it’s gotten a little tougher.”

Gareth Neame, executive chairman of Carnival Films, sees the pandemic as having a profound and lasting an effect on the business landscape. “The tectonic plates are moving in this industry,” Neame said. “There is the practical problems of COVID, but things were moving massively anyway. When we come out the other end I see 2020 as moving things as only a war does. We’re going to move (the industry) five years quicker than we would have.”

There is no doubt that producers are adjusting to a new era in which global streaming giants want to control worldwide rights to their content as required by the on-demand business model. That’s a big shift for the clutch of U.K. and European production giants that have thrived in part by assembling co-productions that can travel far and wide in market-by-market licensing deals.

Rola Bauer, the international TV veteran who joined MGM in June, said the business climate is complicated but there are deals to be made. She’s poised to unveil a number of projects in the coming weeks. “The intensity of competition is opening things up,” she said. Having worked in the international TV production arena for many years, Bauer joked that she only knows the business of stitching together multiple partners to get a greenlight.

“I don’t know what I’d do if I got 100% of my license fee from a streamer. I’d probably be in shock and still go find another partner,” Bauer said.

Jane Root, founder and chief executive officer of Nutopia, which focuses on unscripted shows, said that co-productions have often been a way to bring a fresh perspective to topic. “Sometimes you put a European lens on an American narrative,” she said. “That’s always interesting when you mix and match.”

(Pictured from top left: Nutopia’s Jane Root, Fremantle’s Christian Vesper, Carnival’s Gareth Neame, Variety’s Cynthia Littleton and MGM’s Rola Bauer)