We asked the industry whether the drama golden age had hit its peak and it’s safe to say, received varying opinions, from “no, it’s just getting started” from Amazon UK’s film and TV strategy director Chris Bird, to Barcroft Media founder Sam Barcroft’s unequivocal: “Yes, it is over.”
For others, the golden age continues but has probably peaked: “I think we are still seeing the sun shining on drama but I think it maybe setting rather than rising,” says ZigZag Productions boss Danny Fenton.
The boom in high-end scripted drama production has swollen the coffers of content owners and lengthened viewers’ lists of must-see shows. There’s so much that FX Networks released data showing there were 409 dramas in the US last year, a 9% year-on-year rise and 94% rise since 2009.
Whether there is too much drama and whether the golden age is set to continues is a moot point within the industry. Outgoing Fox International Channels boss Hernan Lopez says the boom will continue… for the time being at least. “We’re at least one recession away from seeing any significant decline in output,” he says.
“Only hindsight will tell us that,” says Lee Morris of Sid Gentle Films, which is behind the high concept UK-produced drama SS-GB. “But my guess is there is plenty more to come.”
Fernando Szew, CEO of LA’s Marvista Entertainment, notes a “two-thirds increase in series since 2010”, but believes there’s more to come. “At Marvista, we don’t think the golden age of drama and series has reached its peak,” he says.
History and A&E president Paul Buccieri echoes those sentiments. “I do not believe the golden age of drama has reached its peak,” he says, adding that channels need to hold their nerve to allow the best content to find its place and flourish.
“This environment certainly makes it more challenging for programmes to break through, but the great shows do find a way,” Buccieri says. “As broadcasters, if we believe in a series, we need to be patient and give the audience the opportunity to discover it.”
He adds that amidst this golden age, the best creative are more sought-after than ever. “The competition for that talent pool is fierce,” he says.
AMC’s martial arts epic Into the Badlands (left) typifies the golden age’s wave of high-concept, high-budget, filmic TV series. Its creators and showrunners Al Gough and Miles Millar say: “Critically and socially television now dominates the cultural conversation. There are so many new players that want to make their mark by making bold shows. Even so, it does feel that we are reaching a tipping point.”
The creative pair, however, note that ‘there is going to be a shakedown’. They say: “Audiences have come to expect Game of Thrones production values, jacking up the costs of production. It’s going to be more difficult and prohibitively expensive to make and market an ever increasing number of shows. Ad revenues are spread thin across too many networks/platforms.”
The current golden age has, however, built strong foundations for whatever follows: “Whatever the future, it will be paved by this era of creative expansion and daring,” the Badlands pair say. “The medium will emerge and settle stronger and richer.
The golden age is not, actually, an age, rather a reflection of how the TV industry has changed and how viewers will consume programming in the future, says Simon Cornwell, CEO of The Ink Factory, which adapts John le Carré’s novels for TV and film.
“What counts is having a few shows that audiences will seek out and that define your channel or (in a post-channel world) your brand,” he says. “And that creates demand from channels and distributors for exciting, original material, with great production values and recognisable talent. That’s not a fad, it’s a function of the way the world is changing.”
The rise and rise of Netflix and other OTT platforms is driving an increasing demand for scripted according to eOne Television CEO John Morayniss. “If anything, the proliferation on a global basis of new platforms and on-demand subscription viewing has created even greater demand for high impact, high quality, provocative and compelling content,” he says, adding that this is a good thing. “I think creative risk taking has never been greater among buyers and sellers and, increasingly, high-end drama is being put together through creative, production and distributions partnerships throughout the world.”
UK indie Whizz Kid Entertainment’s Malcolm Gerrie, says Netflix has pepped up the drama sector. “The new kids on the block like Netflix and Amazon will continue to inject vitamin C into the genre and we have seen the more traditional platforms having to pull their socks up to compete,” he says. For Gerrie, scripted keeps getting better, with more international projects coming to the fore and raising standards. “Scandinavia has raised the bar in more ways than one and continues to impress with the likes of The Bridge and Arne Dahl,” he says.
Clearly not everyone is streaming shows legally. The latest numbers show HBO’s Game of Thrones remains the most illegally-downloaded programme in the world, with 14.4 million people watching the season finale through BitTorrent last year. This means the show has been the most-pirated worldwide for the past four years, and that the numbers of those watching illegally exceeded the number that watched legally through pay TV or on-demand routes.
There are those, meanwhile, who see commissioning slowing. Samuel Kissous from French indie Pernel Media believes the golden age is ending, “but this peak may last for a while”, while Chris Hilton (right) from Australian indie Essential Media sounds a note of concern that the huge demand for drama is affecting quality: “There’s a mad scramble for drama, and every time that happens the quality drops and people start looking for the next thing,” he says.
So, has the golden age of drama reached its peak? Lucas Bertrand, CEO of streaming specialist MoMedia concludes: “I think it’s pretty peaky right now but SVOD and binge viewing is driving it to new heights,” he says.
“When it comes to drama, especially as seen throughout Europe, the market has just begun to unveil its potential growth,” he says. “Traditional channels continue to develop their local fiction as this gives them a unique signature to compete against digital global series. OTT platforms base approximately 90% of their offer on drama series, and investments will multiply within the next five years.”
Breton’s company has been an early beneficiary of that localised OTT strategy and is making Marseille out of France for Netflix and is also involved in Amazon’s period drama The Collection.
“European creativity and talent for developing fiction as of yet, has still not been exploited globally in comparison to the US,” the Federation chief says. But things are starting to change. The UK will redirect an important share of investment towards the development of ‘international’ drama series, as opposed to just home grown fare. This will allow for even more growth for channels such as Sky, the BBC and ITV, as well as creating exceptional potential for scriptwriters, filmmakers and English actors.”
New investment within Europe will mean Euro-originated drama taking the global stage he adds: “New creativity and new investments from major European broadcasters such as the Scandinavian countries that we have seen over the past 10 years, and more recently France, Israel and followed by Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey, I believe will create a strong wealth pool when it comes to fiction programming coming out of continental Europe, and this will have a strong influence on the world market.”