“Is bigger generally better?” was one of the hot button topics being debated at a Series Mania panel on Wednesday and the answer in general was there is always room for growth in a rapidly expanding market, albeit with some caveats.
Weighing in on the topic were the heads of Europe-based companies, each of which operate several labels across territories. They included Christian Vesper, president of global drama at Fremantle, Julie Meldal-Johnsen, executive VP of global content at ITV Studios, Federation Entertainment MD Lionel Uzan, Asacha Media Group co-founder and co-CEO Marina Williams and Lars Blomgren, head of scripted at Banijay. The panel was moderated by Variety international editor Manori Ravindran.
“It’s not necessarily about just getting bigger, it’s about strategically, what do we need within the group to support our current producers as well as our distribution,” said Vesper. Meldal-Johnsen likened the 60 plus labels within the ITV Studios group as self-captained ships with their own creative and entrepreneurial cultures that could take advantage of being part of a larger flotilla in times of global crises like COVID-19.
Blomgren spoke about the advantage of sharing best practices within the group companies, saying that there’s always someone who has or has had the same problem elsewhere. Blomgren also talked about the advantage of the group having deep pockets during scenarios like bidding wars. Banijay recently acquired control of Italy’s expanding Groenlandia Group.
“Scale is important – the question is how big? It has to be manageable,” said Williams. “Our view is that the synergy between the producers within the group is very important,” Williams said, “so that the talent doesn’t get lost.”
In a red hot market, identifying and retaining talent is one of the key elements to success, the panelists agreed. “We are all battling for the same talent – but the reason why they would choose one or the other is really related to the type of culture of each company,” said Uzan. The Federation listed flexibility, entrepreneurial spirt and distribution strengths as some of the desirable factors for talent. “For the talent, the question is, why am I choosing this home? If it’s just the money there are even bigger players than all of us.”
The U.S. agents of these talents sometimes quoted too high a price for them, leading to disruptions in the European production models, the panelists said. “It’s also a question for them, how do you keep your talents? How do you get your talent to be able to work on bigger shows, not just pure local shows, that’s where the independent groups are a good asset for the local agents,” Uzan said.
Uzan’s thoughts segued neatly into the ever-present question of streamers and there were differing views expressed. “There is quite a lot of supervision, a lot of micromanagement, a lot of demands, which is putting pressure, because it’s taking your creativity a little bit away when you spend too much time on administrative,” said Williams, referring to dealing with the global streamers.
On the other hand, Meldal-Johnsen said that ITV Studios’ experiences with the global streamers were “almost overwhelmingly positive” and “very fast to react.” “Yes, there’s a lot more communication and they’re across a lot of details, but very supportive,” Meldal-Johnsen added.
Some of the global streamers are just entering mainland Europe and the panelists agreed that there is “room to grow.” “What we’re for is to help them [producers] grow, to help them manage that growth and advise them,” said Vesper.