As global consumers turn towards series produced in their own countries and other non-US content, developing authentic stories for local markets might be the key to global success, pointed out participants of the Berlinale Series Market opening on Monday.
“Great successes can come from anywhere. That’s the biggest learning,” said Jens Richter, CEO at Fremantle Media International, calling South Korean surprise smash “Squid Game” – repeatedly mentioned throughout the event – another “steppingstone towards creating more openness,” – also when it comes to the European market.
As pointed out by executive director at Ampere Analysis Guy Bisson, kicking off the “Mission: Europe. How Local Markets Muscle Up” panel, co-hosted by Film und Medien Stiftung NRW, “Europe is playing the quality game.” With new markets emerging as production powerhouses, including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, certain Benelux countries and Scandinavia, he also noticed some clear patterns emerging such as period-set local stories, adapted from existing, successful content, which are much more likely to get commissioned by the likes of an Amazon or Netflix.
While getting worldwide attention is the ultimate goal, it’s crucial to develop new ideas in an “authentic” way, argued Richter, mentioning “The Investigation,” a six-part series directed by Tobias Lindholm and inspired by the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall.
“It’s based on a true story, from a local territory, but it made global headlines. These headlines plus Tobias brought us global appeal, but you still have that local budget and that local commissioner in mind. You develop for your client, your platform, your territory. Then you have an opportunity to go global,” he said.
“As Guy just showed us, US products used to dominate within Europe. Now, local audiences want more local shows. European audiences want more European shows. That creates opportunities for local producers.”
While the market is still in motion, local players step up their game and theatrical talent works across various platforms and genres, from “The Young Pope” helmer Paolo Sorrentino to Denmark’s Lone Scherfig, also presenting maternity ward-set “The Shift” at Berlinale Series this year.
“There is a clear competition – we all heard about some pretty interesting deals with individual writers or directors,” noted Richter, also praising “new talent” Tony Schumacher, the ex-cop-turned-writer behind Martin Freeman-starring “The Responder,” which launched on BBC One.
“If you are the talent, we are here to help you and support you. If you make a deal with a platform, you work for the platform – some compare it to the studio system in the 1930s. It may sound dramatic, but you will have to make a choice,” he said, noting that finding new – and diverse – talent will be industry’s priority in the future.
Georgia Brown, head of Amazon Studios Europe, also underlined the importance of nurturing local talent, mentioning the collaboration with rapper Fedez who was named social brand ambassador for Prime Video in Italy and stars in docu-reality series “The Ferragnez” alongside wife Chiara Ferragni.
“It’s all about being innovative,” she said, noting the importance of building local teams on the ground. “You have to really think about what you are in a market to do. People were expecting us to come with these huge, scripted shows, but we set out to be local and never moved from that,” she added, teasing upcoming fantasy series “The Gryphon,” based on the work of bestselling author Wolfgang Hohlbein.
“Years ago, people looked to the Americans to make shows like that. Now, we can make them in Europe. It’s not about making local shows people are used to seeing – it’s about elevating that,” she added.
Leveraging local expertise was also underlined by Christina Sulebakk, general manager at HBO Max, and Sabine Anger, senior VP of streaming for central and northern Europe and Asia at ViacomCBS Networks International, the latter mentioning a global content deal with South Korea’s CJ ENM. “It’s a unique partnership and a great opportunity to allow for cross-cultural production,” she said.
While the audiences look for the next big thing, shows that embrace their cultural heritage seem to be gaining traction, as proven by the trailer of Mallorca-set “The King of Palma,” launching by the end of February.
“We work with shows connected to German culture and ‘The King…’ is a good example of that,” noted Hauke Bartel, head of fiction at RTL Deutschland. “It’s not set in Germany, but it has all the qualities we are looking for: it’s broad and appealing, entertaining, has a certain look and feel. I believe that what’s [considered] ‘mainstream’ is constantly evolving.”
“Streaming is the best thing that has happened to the TV industry. We were a bit conservative and now we need to find new ways of using technologies and telling stories. It’s interesting to see how you can have a broader dialogue with your audience now,” added Arne Helsingen, head of TV at NRK. And while new streamers are moving into the market every day, offering subscriptions “cheaper than a pint of lager,” staying close to the local consumer might prove beneficial in the end.
“This shift challenges us in so many areas,” he added. “We don’t have any manuals, so you need to have a vision and strategic direction, and test and learn in order to move forward. But we have to stay unique.”
The eighth edition of the Berlinale Series Market will wrap on February 16, 2022.