London Screenings Takes Off as Global TV Distributors Defy Pandemic Year

Anna Italian Movie Coronavirus
Greta de Lazzaris/SKY

In just a few years, the London Screenings have coalesced into a significant event for the international TV business.

Taking place virtually over the next two weeks, London Screenings is organized by a group of leading London-based international distributors — All3Media International, Banijay Rights, Entertainment One, Fremantle and ITV Studios — to showcase their latest scripted and unscripted fare.

The distributors have been working together since 2018 to coordinate their spring screening events, which sprang up to take advantage of the many international buyers who travel to the U.K. for the long-established BBC Studios Showcase in late February.

In recent years, the quality and importance of these screening events has grown, says Greg Johnson, ITV Studios executive VP of sales and distribution, EMEA & Americas. Johnson says ITV has made a “significant investment to provide an unforgettable experience for our buyers,” including immersing them in the distributor’s content at London’s iconic Roundhouse concert venue through the use of a 360-degree screen.

Fremantle has also upped the scale of its screening offer to buyers. Previously, it hosted buyers at the stylish but intimate Ham Yard Hotel. Last year, Fremantle held its showcase for 350 buyers at the Picturehouse Central cinema in London’s Piccadilly, focusing on a select number of high-end drama and factual projects.

In November, the distributors formally announced the launch of London Screenings, and confirmed that it will take pace as an annual event led by the group. Although virtual this year, plan is that it will return as a live physical event from 2022.

Jens Richter, CEO of Fremantle International, says the timing of London Screenings is perfect for distributors to kick off their slates at the top of the year. It’s also a relaxed screening experience rather than a deal-making market where everyone meets at tables for half-hour meetings, he points out.

Fremantle will focus on five or six big shows, rather than running through everything on its slate. “You can talk about the shows in a much more in-depth way,” says Richter. Fremantle, which has 10 local sales offices, will then follow up conversations started at London Screenings with buyers around the world.

In recent years, eOne has used London Screenings to launch major U.S. shows including “Designated Survivor,” “The Rookie” and “Deputy.” Stuart Baxter, eOne’s president of international distribution, says the “essential event” represents an opportunity to connect with clients in the first quarter of the year.

Baxter points out that the distributors have worked together to facilitate a schedule that makes attendance for buyers as simple as possible. EOne, for example, will present its preview event on March 9 with a first-look at series such as “The Newsreader,” starring “Mindhunter’s” Anna Torv. There will also be an in-depth conversation with “Cruel Summer” exec producers and stars, and a behind-the-scenes peak at the psychological thriller, ahead of its international launch this year.

The day after, March 10, ITV will update buyers at three virtual festivals — the ITV Studios drama festival, non-scripted festival and formats festival. Each will go live at different times of the day to cater for buyers in different time zones, and will talk about new dramas such as “Harry Palmer: The Ipcress File” and “Grace” through to the new castle version of “I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!”

Meanwhile, on Friday, March 5, Fremantle will showcase Niccolò Ammaniti’s post-apocalyptic series “Anna” (which has “nuances of ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘The Walking Dead,'” according to Jens Richter), South African crime thriller “Reyka” starring Kim Engelbrecht and Iain Glenn, and Scandi human trafficking drama “Cargo.”

Elsewhere, Banijay Rights will present highlights from its newly combined 88,000-hour catalogue on March 3, while All3Media International will host its Scripted Upfront, Formats Upfront and Factual Upfront on March 4. Keshet International is presenting on March 8.

The rapid growth of London Screenings has inevitably led to talk that it could seriously rival the MipTV market, held the following month. MipTV’s star has waned in recent years as U.S. studios have focused on May’s LA Screenings and October’s Mipcom market instead.

However, distributors say it’s a mistake to compare London Screenings with MipTV, with the former focused on showcasing new shows and the latter specializing in speed-meets and deals.

“The London Screenings are definitely set to grow in importance year on year,” says ITV’s Johnson. “Larger international markets are not quite in the same space; you wouldn’t be comparing apples with apples, so I’m not sure a comparison should be drawn.”

eOne’s Baxter adds that London Screenings will be “a cornerstone market next year, and for years ahead.”

The London Screenings, and the large indies behind it, have of course been buoyed by the launch of new streaming services in 2019 and 2020. “The demand from the new players plus all the traditional broadcast commissioners has continued to grow,” says Baxter, who points out that buyers are much more willing to look at broader sources for content, as well as being more open to second window options.

The content that independent distributors showcase at London has also become more important to many buyers as a result of major U.S. studios holding back their own shows for their global streaming platforms.

“A by-product of the U.S. studios clawing back content for their own platforms is that our long-standing linear broadcast partners and their catch-up VOD services are even hungrier for content,” says ITV’s Johnson.

The shift from linear to streaming also means that buyers are no longer thinking in terms of acquiring content for specific season launches — they now need new content every month, says Fremantle’s Richter. “They have to launch fresh products from January to December every month to stay agile and competitive.”

For now, London Screenings is largely an event for larger distributors. In the past, smaller U.K.-based distributors have ridden off the back of London Screenings to host their own events for buyers. But it could be tricky to stand out this year when London Screenings is being held virtually, and Zoom fatigue is running high.

New distributor BossaNova, run by former TCB Rights founder Paul Heaney, decided to do its own thing in January instead, holding a virtual development day in which it presented 77 projects to 51 buyers. However, Heaney expects to take part next year when London Screenings are a physical event. “If you’re a Londoner like myself you want to welcome buyers to your city and give them a nice time,” says Heaney.