TBI’s top ten stories of 2017

BIG-DISTORTED-HARVEYIn many ways, 2017 was a landmark year for television and the wider world, with significant changes, good and bad, in both spheres. Here, TBI runs down ten stories that defined the past twelve months.

10. Movers and shakers

The big trend last year was the exodus of television executives to lead commissioning teams for the emerging digital giants.

With Apple’s move into the industry this year, it is unsurprising that some of TBIVision.com’s most popular stories have been about who the tech giant has hired to support its venture. Jay Hunt’s move to become European creative director of worldwide video was perhaps the biggest surprise.

Hunt (left), the former Channel 4 chief creative officer, will now commission original content for the company from Europe, having previously been linked with a move to Netflix.

Hunt will be working under former Sony bosses Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, who shocked Hollywood by joining Apple to oversee all aspects of video programming.

For Amazon Studios, Georgia Brown moving from FremantleMedia International made waves, as she became European originals chief. She joins former Fox Networks Group exec Sharon Tal Yguado, who moved in January and is running scripted, and Heather Schuster, now in charge of unscripted.

Over at Fox cousin Sky, Nicola Bamford moved to another affiliated company, Endemol Shine Group, to become CEO of international operations as Martha Brass departed.

Warner Bros. Television Production UK experienced major transition, as it saw its top bosses, Claire Hungate and Nick Emmerson (right), depart. The duo had run Shed Media before it became part of the Time Warner studio.

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal International found a replacement for its managing director for the UK and emerging markets, Colin McLeod. Marketing chief Lee Raftery now holds the position, with Jeff Wachtel coming in to become its new production international production chief following the planned exit of Michael Edelstein.

Of course there were those that began their own ventures. Warner Bros.’s Emmerson launched production house Koska with ITV Studios.

Also heading in ITV’s direction was DR drama chief Piv Bernth and her number two, Lars Hermann, who launched a new prodco, Apple Tree Productions. They went into business with the broadcaster, expanding its European production capabilties.

The Grand Tour season2

9. Demanding more results

TBI’s work with Parrot Analytics has revealed some of the most popular original programmes watched in Europe this year.

Coming up top in our exclusive data, Amazon Prime Video’s unscripted series The Grand Tour repeatedly reached the highest demand in the region for digitally-produced originals, beating Netflix shows 13 Reason’s Why and Orange is the New Black.

The series is currently driving four demand expressions for every 100 made across the region, ahead of the 3.6 from 13 Reasons Why and the 2.7 from Orange is the New Black.

When combining the range of stats our top ten lists provided this year, the top five most mentioned digital originals (those appearing on the charts) are Orange is the New Black, which appeared 26 times, Stranger Things, which appeared 25 times, House of Cards (24), Black Mirror and 13 Reasons Why (both 21).

While shows like Black Mirror have rarely appeared to generate enough demand expressions to get to the top spot, they provide a recurring popularity which viewers come back to time and again.

When it comes to the overall most viewed shows, The Walking Dead appeared in 25 top tens, Game of Thrones in 24, Pretty Little Liars was in 20, The Big Bang Theory in 12 and Vikings in 11.

Ratings-wise, Game of Thrones became HBO’s biggest ever series in 2017, with episodes reaching more than 30 million viewers using combined metrics, while a number of perceived plot missteps saw AMC zombie drama juggernaut The Walking Dead drop to its lowest ebb in five years (it still remains basic cable’s biggest show).

8. Endemol Shine’s rollercoaster ride

A number of the most read stories of the year on TBIVision.com focused on Sophie Turner Laing’s Endemol Shine Group. One was the closure of the 20-year-old UK prodco Princess Productions, which shuttered after its key production, The Wright Stuff, was put out to tender.

The news, which emerged in May, followed a period of management upheaval after co-managing director Conor Baily departed in 2016 followed by remaining MD Emma Hardy later in February.

Endemol Shine Turkey also filed for insolvency in July, in a story that took a surprisingly public profile. The move came after Endemol Shine Group fired Endemol Shine Turkey bosses Hakan Eren and Gokan Tatrer after “serious” management issues were discovered. The execs have countersued and the situation remains in flux.

Elsewhere, Endemol Shine India’s managing director and CEO Deepak Dhar handed in his notice after eleven years in the business. Asia chief Fotini Paraskakis and Northern Europe boss Marcus Wolter are also leaving the production and distribution giant, which remains arguably the world’s most influential indie.


7. Content quotas in Europe

Despite the increasing investment in localised productions from Netflix and Amazon last year, EU chiefs were determined to impose quotas for the SVOD services hoping to operate in the area.

EU ministers formally agreed that there should be a minimum of a 30% quota on European works on on-demand providers established in the area. Initially, ministers had set this at 20%, but this was likely adjusted as Netflix had stated that it already fulfils that quota.

Amazon has more to answer for in terms of European content, but both providers have invested quite a bit more in localised programming as the year developed, with Amazon buying in its first French acquisitions such as Le Sang de la Vigne, Candice Renoir and Witnesses in December, having launched its first German original earlier in the year.

Netflix, which has made a much bigger investment in content in general, has invested in a range of originals in Benelux, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Spain and the UK.

While a formal quota is yet to be reached, it certainly seems that the major SVOD players would have no problem reaching the agreed level, though Netflix’s tax deal with Canada shows just how little it likes having business dictated to its executives.

6. Rejiggery pokery

There were structural changes at companies ranging from Discovery Communications, UKTV and the BBC last year, as the TV business got ever more complex. In particular, European companies and departments saw reshuffles.

British channels group UKTV created five channel director posts to reflect a major increase in investment in original programming. Emma Ayech, Luke Hales, Gerald Casey, Adam Collings and Vicky Walker all gained promotions in the rejig, but Sally Quick exited and question marks were thrown up over the future of others.

Discovery changed the structure of its EMEA business after it named Susanna Dinnage as global president for Animal Planet. The move saw Discovery consolidate business units that were previously split into the UK, Nordics, Southern Europe and what is calls ‘CEEMEA’.

Easily one of the biggest moves of the year, UK pubcaster the BBC merged its production arm, BBC Studios, and commercial division, BBC Worldwide. Tim Davie will lead the combined division, with Mark Linsey the production chief. Tom Fussell will be CFO and Anna Mallett COO.

The Corporation claims the move will bring it “into line with the rest of the industry in an increasingly competitive and global market for production and distribution”.

Essentially, the BBC, whose production division became a commercial entity in April, claims it is following the same model of companies such as Endemol Shine Group, All3Media, Fremantle, Banijay and ITV Studios. Indie reaction has been mixed, at best.

Fremantle and Warner Bros. both also restructured their UK arms. Warner Bros. placed its Britain-based prodcos in its international production division under Ronald Goes after Nick Emmerson and Claire Hungate left, while Fremantle rejigged its unscripted division, bringing its UK prodcos Talkback and Thames back together as Channel 4’s Liam Humphreys took over the division as CEO.

5. In remembrance

A number of well-known faces from the international TV business passed away last year, leaving friends, family and colleagues behind.

There was a significant outpouring of grief over the passing of Proper Television president Guy O’Sullivan, who launched the Canadian company in 2004 after moving from the UK.

O’Sullivan has success with formats such as CTV’s MasterChef Canada and original series Vegas Road Rats, and his unexpected death was a sad moment for factual and format television.

Minos Kyriakou, who founded Antenna TV in 1989 and formally launched Antenna Group a decade later, passed away in July, before the much-loved former Fox, National Geographic and FremantleMedia North America chief David Lyle died in September. The executive, known for a wry sense of humour and sharp intellect, succumbed after a fight with cancer.

In the same week, colleagues were also paying respects to former SVT programming chief Annie Wegelius, who succumbed to breast cancer. Wegelius had a long career spanning four decades in both Swedish and international television, and truly embodied the international TV exec.

Then in October, former Optomen Television chief Patricia Llewellyn passed at age 55. Llewellyn is credited for being the executive behind now-famous Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, with both citing her as key influences in their careers.


4. Social looks to originals

Twenty-seventeen was marked by tech and social companies all attempting to take a piece of the content pie by creating original programming for their platforms. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have been pushing the agenda for half a decade, but last year saw Apple, Google, Snapchat, Facebook and, temporarily, even Vimeo join the mix.

Apple took the deepest plunge, hiring Sony Pictures Television’s co-presidents Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, and later Amazon international content chief Morgan Wandell and Jay Hunt, who surprised everyone after missing out on the CEO job at her previous firm, UK broadcaster Channel 4.

Apple commissioned its first two original scripted shows after taking rights to new episodes of Carpool Karaoke and launching Planet of the Apps. First was a remake of Steven Spielberg’s anthology series Amazing Stories, and next was an big-budget unnamed comedy created and fronted by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

Facebook also moved into originals, launching a new platform in the US, Facebook Watch, to host episodic programmes. The social media service is currently playing host to original programmes such as Tastemade’s Little Kitchen and Bae or Bail from A&E Networks, but aims to become home to a wide range of shows, including in reality, comedy and live sports, with Facebook funding some of these to “help inspire creators and seed the ecosystem”. Expect Watch to go global this year.

Snapchat also made moves to keep up with the competition by teaming up with TV giant NBCUniversal to create a digital content studio in California that looks to build original telly-style shows on the platform.Original videos will appear in the ‘Shows’ tab of the popular app and be around three to five minutes long. Snap has already had some success with its unique version of The Voice US, specifically created for the app.

Less successfully, Vimeo launched an originals plan last year that ultimately lasted just two months. Initially claiming that it would “follow in the footsteps of Netflix”, Vimeo hired and then fired Paramount Pictures’ Alana Mayo and Kesila Childers from Bunim Murray Productions as it rallied back on its strategy, claiming the opportunity to “empower creators is too large and too important for us to attack with anything other than absolute focus and clarity”.

3. Carriage clash of the year: Discovery vs. Sky

Discovery and Sky engaged in a bitter carriage dispute in January 2017, keeping TBI readers hooked as the drama unfolded in public over whether the two companies could eventually reach a deal to keep networks such as Discovery Channel and Animal Planet on the Sky service service.

The dispute began with Sky claiming that Discovery demanded as much as £1 billion (US$1.3 billion) for its portfolio of channels in carriage talks. Discovery in turn refuted the statement, with the company claiming that Sky was making misleading and aggressive claims.

A swathe of public media statements were exchanged, which is rarely the way business in done in Europe. Yet neither was willing to back down from their demands or give an inch, with both claiming their affiliate partner was holding them – and by extension, their customers – to ransom.

At the last minute, the media giants managed to come to an agreement for an undetermined sum, which both sides claimed as a victory over the other.

Discovery has met with other carriage disputes this year, as it continues to press for better fees due its major investments in content. Towards the end of the year, Finnish pay TV operator DNA said that it could drop its channels after being refusing meet the factual content company’s demand for higher distribution fees.

Over in the US, retransmission fees and carriage disputes are far more common, and December saw CBS networks such as Smithsonian Channel go dark on US satcaster Dish Network just before the holidays. It took three days for the companies to reach a multi-carriage deal for an undisclosed figure.

The Walt Disney Company Studios

2. The race to scale

Despite global economic uncertainty, M&A activity in television has been prolific. The news was largely dominated by Fox’s plans to sell assets to The Walt Disney Company, Discovery Communications buying Scripps Networks Interactive, AT&T’s Time Warner takeover and CBS’s acquisition of Australia commercial broadcaster Ten Network.

The US$66 billion deal that will see Disney snap up most of Fox’s entertainment assets came as a huge shock – Rupert Murdoch as a seller!? – but makes sense in context. Traditional media companies need scale in their fight to continue to control content against the threat of tech content giants like Amazon, Apple and Facebook, who are investing heavily.

The deal is expected to close either late 2018 or 2019, just as Disney gears up to launch its ‘Netflix killing’ SVOD service.

US telco AT&T’s deal for Time Warner, priced at well over US$80 billion, has gone through a rollercoaster. The agreement got shareholders approval and, as a vertical acquisition, looked solid, with AT&T chief Randall Stephenson saying that the merger was “moving along as expected”.

It all came to a halt in November when the US Department for Justice filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger, claiming that is not the best move for consumers. AT&T, among others, rather pointed to US President Donald Trump as the main reason for the unexpected twist.

Trump is a vocal critic of Time Warner’s CNN, and of the deal, appearing to go against his capitalist business sensibilities. It’s also notable he immediately showed support for Disney-Fox, despite that horizontal deal creating a mega-studio in Hollywood and concentrating content down one stream. AT&T will head to court to push its deal through later this year.

Network Ten’s struggles throughout 2017 became a fable in modern media economics. The broadcaster faced an uncertain future as News Corp owner Lachlan Murdoch, James Packer and WIN owner Bruce Gordon pulled financial support, leaving the network with no option but to slip into voluntary administration.

CBS has since closed a takeover deal with the broadcaster gaining the core Ten channel, cleverly transferring debts relating to a major content output deal into equity and then convincing administrators its plans were better for the business than those of Murdoch and Gordon, who had made their own takeover offer.

Many predict more major M&A deals will follow in 2018.

1. Weinstein fallout

The Weinstein scandal caused shockwaves throughout the industry this year, leading to the dismissal of key figures within the business and further afield. The revelation served as watershed moment for victims of sexual harassment, which has been particularly prevalent in the entertainment industry.

Producer extraordinaire Harvey Weinstein was initially accused of sexual misconduct by a handful of actresses. This then turned into a full-blown exposé involving dozens of individuals, implicating a range of industry figures. New allegations continue daily.

Weinstein is currently being formally investigated by a range of legal departments both in the US and the UK (he denies all allegations of sexual assault and rape), and others are falling with him. One company in particular to have felt the pain is Amazon – an organisation that lost top programming executives.

Kicking off the downward spiral was Roy Price, who left his role as head of Amazon Studios after sexual harassment claims from The Man in the High Castle producer Isa Hackett. His team tumbled in the fallout, with head of international productions Morgan Wandell leaving for Apple, head of half hour and drama Joe Lewis seguing to a production deal and unscripted head Conrad Riggs also exiting (none of the three have been accused of sexual impropriety).

Many others have lost jobs and productions have halted due to allegations. Louie C.K., Ed Westwick, Kevin Spacey, Chris Savino and Jeffrey Tambor have all exited influential posts, and there is undoubtedly more to come. TV will never be the same in the post-Weinstein world.

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