British Series Distributors Enjoy ‘Buoyant’ Demand for Content

Courtesy of ITV Studios

With Mipcom cancelled as a physical event, one might think that British distributors would be fearful about the business impact of not travelling to Cannes for their busiest TV show market of the year.

Far from it. While Brit distributors lament not being able to meet with clients over a glass of French rosé in October, most say they are gearing up for a busy month full of online video pitches amid heightened demand for content from broadcasters and streamers in the COVID-19 era.

Because of uncertainty about whether Mipcom would or wouldn’t take place, ITV, for example, has run its own three week-long event, the Fall Festival, a series of virtual sessions for buyers that began on Sept. 14.

BBC Studios has also launched its own virtual sales portal, BBC Studios Connect, to host its content catalog during the Mipcom period. The site opened on Sept. 28 for three weeks, and includes access to its latest titles, unseen footage from new shows and producer and talent sessions.

Meanwhile, Banijay, having recently completed its acquisition of Endemol Shine, is using the month of October that is usually set aside for Mipcom business to share its new and combined catalog with clients.

The distribution business “feels very buoyant at the moment,” says Tim Mutimer, exec VP for sales and acquisitions at Banijay Rights, which has new titles such as Oz action drama “Royal Flying Doctors,” Swedish true crime tale “The Hunt for a Killer,” and dark comedy “Two Weeks to Live,” starring “Game of Thrones’” Maisie Williams.

He says Banijay Rights’ supply of new content hasn’t been as badly disrupted by COVID-19 as feared. Banijay’s global footprint – which now spans over 120 labels in 22 territories – hedged its distribution arm against the worst impact of the COVID-19 production disruption, with filming continuing in parts of the world. “We’ve had a couple of delays, but nothing substantial,” says Mutimer. “That’s partly due to the global nature of Banijay, partly luck – a lot of stuff had already filmed – and people also got back up and running very quickly.”

It’s a similar story at ITV Studios, which has more than 80% of its shows back in production. Its drama slate includes submarine thriller “Vigil” (pictured) from World Productions, the makers of “Bodyguard,” and serial killer tale “The Pembrokeshire Murders,” while new formats include celebrity rowing race “Don’t Rock the Boat” and dating show “Let Love Rule.”

Ruth Berry, managing director of global distribution at ITV Studios, says “hundreds” of people have attended market meetings and sessions at its online Fall Festival. “There seems to be a high level of engagement, which says to me there is demand.”

This is partly driven by commercial broadcasters, which are seeing a rebound in advertising. “They need really good content to secure those advertisers – they are still hungry for programming,” says Berry, adding that there’s also been a rise in demand from regional SVODs, as well as global platforms, as audiences have pivoted to non-linear during the pandemic. “There is still a real hunger for good quality content. We have been busier than ever in the last six months.”

Berry notes that audience tastes have shifted slightly, citing a demand for light-hearted, feel-good shows like the ITV Studios-repped “Schitt’s Creek.”
It’s a point echoed by her colleague Maarten Meijs, whose is responsible for ITV Studios’ formats business as global entertainment president. “People want to escape from reality,” he says, referencing buyer interest in shows like “Love Island” or quizzes such as “The Chase.”

Over at BBC Studios, acting director of sales planning Katie Benbow, also says a big range of content has come through, including the adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s classic “The Pursuit of Love,” Steve McQueen’s anthology series “Small Axe” through to natural history epic “A Perfect Planet” and season 29 of “Top Gear.”

Benbow thinks the impact of COVID-19 production delays might be felt longer term, at next year’s markets.

In the meantime, she says BBC Studios is working hard to meet the demand for content – and that it is important to think long term. “Mipcom in October is a critical moment in our buyers content planning schedule,” notes Benbow. “They’re not only looking two or three months down the line when they’ve got gaps in their schedules, but they’re trying to plan out their next two or three years.”