TBI Weekly: Berlinale spotlights Netflix’s sour reception amidst Europe’s scripted boom

The growing influence of European series was evident at Berlinale’s fourth TV market, which hosted some of the biggest small-screen players, including Netflix – which, at times, received a less than desirable reception.

Netflix was on the charm offensive at this year’s event, bringing titles to screen and a list of execs to schmooze with European producers, but the reception to the streamer was mixed, to say the least.

While the tech giant laid out intentions to “aggressively” pre-buy European film, as revealed by its head of EMEA co-pros Brian Pearson, and continue to expand and invest in series in the territory, many were rattled by its presence – and what’s interesting is that it didn’t all come from the world of cinema.

Numerous TV execs told TBI about the ambivalence they felt about the platform, which brings great opportunity and co-financing ability, but can also come across as overly domineering in the business.

Beta Film MD Moritz von Kruedener said: “Many haven’t decided how to respond to [Netflix’s presence] yet. On the one hand, it’s a huge opportunity for bringing European content to the world, but then it’s a huge challenge with them concentrating all the talent and producing for their own purposes with best of the best in the world.”

Another exec said some producers are known to do deals with Netflix solely for their branding power, but then go on never to collaborate with the business again because they don’t enjoy its methods of working.

In Berlin, the film world showed open opposition to the platform. The International Confederation of Art Cinemas (CICAE) called for an outright ban of the streamer – which showcased its first film at the festival with Isabel Coixet’s Elisa and Marcela – in an open letter to festival director Dieter Kosslick.

However, Netflix shows no signs of slowing down its European ambitions. At a roundtable event, the platform’s international team, including its VP of international originals for Europe, Turkey and Africa Kelly Luegenbiehl, revealed that the business plans to hire more international execs, invest in more originals and work with more European talent than ever.

Despite reservations from some, queues for the Netflix panel were the busiest of any TV screening or panel held during Berlinale’s Drama Series Days.

Europe’s scripted boom

Europe’s rapid rise in the international drama space dominated the conversation at Berlinale, with many delegates highlighting how European content is quickly catching up with the demand previously enjoyed only by US content.

Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke said that the industry is “shifting” and that European dramas such as Amazon’s Hanna, which premiered at Berlinale on Monday, are no longer perceived as unambitious when compared to US counterparts.

A large part of this is down financing, which initially came from SVODs, and has ultimately elevated the work of European talent.

“The skillset has grown and the investment from SVODs has allowed the budgetary thresholds to go up,” Tom Coan, SVP of scripted programming at NBCUniversal International Studios, and the producer of Hanna, told TBI.

You only have to look at the financing that producers were looking for at Berlinale’s Co-Production Market to see how much has changed. Germany’s Jumpseat and Real Film Berlin are looking to spend €1.3m ($1.5m) per episode for Immunity; the UK’s Saltire Entertainment and Field Entertainment are looking to spend €3.4m per episode for Napolean; and Satel Film and Superfilm Austria, which ultimately found a partner in Beta Film for Big Bones, are looking to spend €2m per episode.

“With the presence of SVODs, a global sense of narrative and the globalisation of viewership, shows that would have once been thought of as local are now international. It’s no longer an American hegemony. The US is not the only territory making big shows and throwing them out to the world,” added Coan.

“There’s this levelling that’s going on and there are so many amazing first-run European shows that get better ratings then US shows. It has reset the balance.”

Even the concept of European productions has become a branding exercise, according to Guilbart, who said that local producers are now referring to their work as a ‘European production’ rather than ‘German’, ‘Spanish’, or ‘French’.

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