Although the COVID-19 pandemic forced a production slowdown in Hollywood, European shows are gaining unprecedented global traction, becoming a significant catalyst of an ongoing shifting dynamic in IP dominance.
Streaming giants have prompted a fundamental shift towards non-English scripted content conquering more global eyeballs, says Guy Bisson of London-based Ampere Analysis. Although he points out that this trend was “well underway before COVID came along,” within this scenario, shows from continental Europe are now making “unprecedented inroads.”
The most recent case in point is “Lupin,” which rapidly reached more than 70 million global households after its January premiere on Netflix, becoming the streamer’s biggest French original to date and marking the first time a French show appeared in the Netflix Top 10 in the U.S. on its launch date, in addition to scaling the top spot in dozens of other countries.
“Lupin,” which launched with just five episodes and will see its second half debut this summer, marks “a milestone for Netflix beyond France because it sits in the category of major series for Netflix,” says Damien Couvreur, head of original series at Netflix France, who points out the streamer’s “unique ability to bring stories to members across the globe.” (“Lupin” was available in more than 30 languages when it launched.)
“We live in a world in which European stories — because of that unique ability to find audiences [through streamers] and to offer them content in different languages across the globe — have a unique potential and a great future,” Couvreur says.
Italian animation mogul Iginio Straffi, creator of “Winx Club,” also recently pulled off a coup that he proudly calls a “watershed” for European producers when a live-action adaptation of his animated teenage fairy franchise launched. Helmed by “The Vampire Diaries” executive producer Brian Young and aimed at a slightly older demographic, “Fate: Winx Saga” scored the third highest-rated spot in the U.S., according to Nielsen, after its January debut — and the second among Netflix originals after “Bridgerton,” which had much more marketing muscle and critical support behind it. “Winx Saga” also became the No. 1 Netflix original in more than 50 countries.
Straffi knew his “Winx” had a built-in global fan base. But he did not expect a hit on this scale.
“I was really struck,” he says. “At a personal level the thought that I had reached so many million people with something I created, it’s a strong feeling that has no price.”
Perhaps more importantly, Straffi says, “We debunked this dogma whereby strong global product could only spring from the minds and production capabilities of the U.S. studios.”
Not surprisingly, in February Netflix greenlit a second season of the live-action “Winx” series.
In March, Amazon Prime Video unveiled a ramped up slate of French originals, including Cold War era spy series “Operation Totems,” currently shooting — and produced by Gaumont, the company behind “Lupin.” It’s about a Gallic scientist working for the French secret services and the CIA, who becomes romantically entangled with a pianist who becomes a KGB agent. Amazon has several high-end shows in early stages in Italy, still being kept under wraps, and got the rights to German coming-of-age series “We Children From Bahnhof Zoo,” an update of the bestselling Berlin-set memoir “Christiane F” about drug addiction and prostitution in 1970s West Berlin. That show will be available in most English-language territories on the streamer, as well as in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Benelux.
“Global platforms have brought customers across the world to discover [European] content that they previously would have not discovered — shows that simply would not have been programmed on a linear U.S. channel,” says Andrea Scrosati, chief operating officer, Fremantle.
Scrosati oversees a slate spanning more than 50 shows around the world, including Danish crime series “The Investigation,” which airs in the U.S. on HBO. And Fremantle, he points out, is producing three times more drama shows outside the U.S. and the U.K. than any U.S. studio. A substantial portion of these are from Europe.
Scrosati cites Spain’s “La Casa de Papel,” retitled “Money Heist” in the U.S., as a textbook case. It’s a show that originated as something “super local,” he says, on Spain’s Antena 3 channel, but went on to become a massive hit not just thanks to Netflix’s distribution muscle, but also, crucially, because streamers are willing to dub.
“Obviously that has created an additional potential for some of these shows, and ‘Casa de Papel’ is a very good example,” he says.
Concurrent to European IP getting more global traction is the European Union’s game-changing Audiovisual Media Services Directive, kicking in this year. It states that streamers must offer a 30% quota of European content to European subscribers, so platforms also need European content for regulatory reasons.
In February, Disney announced a slate of 10 European projects commissioned for its Disney Plus and Star services, and vowed to commission 50 European shows by 2024. Upcoming European originals from Disney include “Sam – A Saxon,” the real-life story of Samuel Meffire, East Germany’s first Black police officer, produced by “Deutschland 83’s” Jörg Winger.
But ultimately, it’s the market that is creating a fantastic opportunity for European producers.
“The fact that the studios are going direct has changed the supply model,” says Bisson. “Now that [studios] have their own direct platforms they are increasingly retaining that content for themselves, which leaves a gap that has to filled.”
“Then you couple that with better quality; budgets going up, big talent being drawn into that sector; audience acceptance of European stories, characters, and narratives; acceptance of non-English language,” Bisson adds. It’s a cycle from which European content is poised to benefit.